REVIEW: Dragonball Evolution (2009)

If the US attempt at a Dragonball Z remake is considered an “evolution”, then Charles Darwin would be crying in shame.


By Jason Yu
Last updated on

Dragonball Evolution

Original Title: Dragonball Evolution
Year: 2009
Country: USA
Language: English
Genres: Action, Martial Arts
Director: James Wong



On his 18th birthday, Goku (Justin Chatwin) receives a special magical ball, known as a Dragonball, from his grandfather, Gohan.

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For years, he has been teaching Goku martial arts, non-violence, and the ability to defend himself from high school bullies.

Not understanding what the Dragonball does, Gohan explains that there are seven Dragonballs and together they can grant a “special wish”.

He felt Goku was ready to receive such a gift, now that he is 18.

Later that night, he heads to a party to have fun and see his crush, Chi-Chi (Jamie Chung). The night is normal as can be until he comes back home.

Goku arrives in shock as he finds his home destroyed and Gohan near death. As Gohan explains that the demon Piccolo (James Marsters) has set forth in finding the seven Dragonballs. Piccolo’s intention was to take Goku’s that very day. Before his death, he tells Goku to seek out Muten Roshi, who also holds a Dragonball as well.

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For the sake of avenging his grandfather’s death and defeating Piccolo, Goku goes on a journey to find the seven Dragonballs. Along the way, he meets people, allies and enemies alike. But his nemesis, Piccolo, will be racing him to collect the legendary treasures. Will Goku unite the Dragonballs to defeat the evil demon?

All the blessful memories of seeing cool action scenes, fights, colorful characters, and the big fireball known as Kamehameha, will be shattered after seeing this incarnation of a movie.

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You know when the best part in the whole movie is the line, “The Dragonballs are within my grasp,” you’re in for a long, painful watch.

While many viewers know that remakes – especially of video games and anime – are likely to be terrible, Dragonball Evolution does something incredible. It makes another horrible film that same year, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, look like a halfway decent movie.

The movie also does the rare feat of turning off all viewers equally. Fans of the beloved anime and manga series will be mad that the movie stemmed so far off from the original source material. Viewers that just want a decent movie with a fun story will also be unsatisfied. Newcomers that have always wanted to dive into the Dragonball Z mythos will utterly be confused, as they randomly introduce characters without any explanation or even brief backstory.

Even Joon Park (right), member of the Korean pop band, G.O.D, is shocked how bad the movie turned out.

Even Joon Park (right), member of the Korean pop band, G.O.D, is shocked how bad the movie turned out.

And the people that just want action will be disappointed, as you can count the number of fights scenes with one hand. In fact, your last trip to the supermarket or to Burger King was probably more eventful than this movie.

So what kind of mistakes did the movie perpetuate?

For starters, the cast was Westernized. Too Westernized. While it was to be expected that not everyone could be Japanese, let alone Asian, in the film, American mannerisms and direction steered it away from anything remotely Dragonball. Piccolo looked especially out of place, as this version was nothing like the Namekian villain we’ve all come to love.

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The overacting of the film is also quite apparent. Jamie Chung and renowned actor Chow Yun-Fat (as Master Roshi) are especially guilty of this act. Both of them try so hard to be cute and likable, but end up making their characters look worse. The rest of the cast felt like they were just there, trying to justify the importance of their individual nonsensical roles.

Many of the scenes throughout the film also felt unbelievable, fake, or forced. This was none more apparent than the love connection between Goku and Chi-Chi. After all, there needs to be romance in every high-budget Hollywood movie, even when it feels awkward, right?

The special effects were even a mixed bag. Noted as a strength of the film, it is apparent that much of the film’s budget went into this. Yet many of the special effects felt rushed and cheap, such as the trademarked Kamehameha, as well as the “enhancements” added onto the “martial arts” techniques performed by the characters.

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While the first fight scene had some cool effects reminiscent of The Matrix, the later battles were not as inspiring. I felt more inspired after playing a round of Dragon Ball: Raging Blast, which was released the same year.

When you add all the faults of the movie, it really feels like a cheap Power Rangers knock-off with America slapped all over it. The film panders to the new generation of teenagers with no knowledge of the Dragonball mythos or Japanese culture.

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The 2013 film, Dragonball Z: Battle of Gods, thankfully, was a bit better. This version is an actual evolution in the Dragonball Z series, because we surely can’t say the same for the US remake.

Sorry Toriyama Akira, Hollywood just butchered your classic. It’s as if Dragonball GT wasn’t enough reason to apologize.


Watch this film…

…if you want to see a cheap imitation of a beloved Japanese series.


About the Author

Jason Yu

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Jason is all about Asian films, as he especially likes the horror, thriller, crime, and war genres. For some odd reason, he likes bad movies too. When he's not watching Asian movies, he's playing video games or working in the Korean music industry as media in Seoul, Korea. If you're interested in Korean music, check out his other site at Popsori.