Directing Dragonball: James Wong Talks 'Evolution'

James Wong Talks Directing Dragonball

Poster for 'Dragonball: Evolution'
Poster for 'Dragonball: Evolution'
Poster for 'Dragonball: Evolution'

Director James Wong may have helped teenagers cheat death twice in the Final Destination franchise but arguably, nothing is scarier than adapting a pop culture phenomenon like Dragonball into a feature film such as Dragonball Evolution. In the works since 2002, the script has received numerous treatments although it wasn’t until Wong became attached to the project that things truly began shaping up.

“At one point, Stephen Chow was going to direct the movie and somehow that didn’t work out,” recalls Wong. “20th Century Fox called me and asked if I was interested in looking at a script. I wasn’t a lifelong fan of Dragonball because I didn’t know much about it. I said I would look at it and the script they sent me was interesting, but it was really when they sent me the manga from the Toriyama that it intrigued me. I thought the manga was fun, inventive, and amazing.”

Nonetheless, condensing all of Dragonball’s rich material into one cohesive story was not an easy process.

“This movie is really about a teenage boy’s journey into becoming the person he was meant to be, or the hero he needs to be the save the world,” reveals Wong. “As we have Goku in the movie, he’s about to turn 18-years-old and he’s been trained all his life by his grandfather. He doesn’t know much about his past; he’s supposed to learn about all that when he turns 18. For a present, his father gives him a dragonball, which he discovers is one of only seven in the world.

"By itself, each dragonball doesn’t do anything but if you get them all together, the legend is they will grant the holder one perfect wish. Goku gets this crazy gift on his birthday, but is trying to be a normal teenager. He’s interested in a girl too but what happens is his grandfather is killed by Piccolo, who is also looking for the dragonballs. We discover in Earth’s history, Piccolo was a warrior who came from another planet to conqueror us. In the past, he was captured by these mystics and entombed. Piccolo, Goku, and his band are in a race to get these dragonballs because something is going to happen when the blood moon eclipses the sun in a few short days.”

Casting really spread their net to find the perfect actor to embody the heroic lead character and they were ultimately wowed by Canadian Justin Chatwin.

“For the part of Goku, we looked all over the world,” says Wong. “We read lots of people from different ethnic backgrounds. In the Dragonball manga, the world was representational of ours, but what was interesting was culturally, there was no sense of one place. I thought it would be cool to have a movie where race didn’t really matter and there was a feeling of a multi cultural world. The most important thing about Goku was his genuineness, a sort of openness he has, and a feeling he is without guile. When Justin came in, you got a sense that no matter what, this was a really good person. There’s an innocence about him no matter what he’s talking about or how he’s behaving.”

Playing Goku’s mentor Master Goshi is none other than Chow Yun-Fat and Wong made sure to capitalize on his mad martial arts skills.

“We had Jonathan Eusebio as our fight co-coordinator,” notes Wong. “He and his team trained our actors. Chow knows his own abilities and would embellish the fights Jonathan choreographed. For instance, Chow would say ‘I like what you are doing, but I can do it better this way.’ That is how he put his signature on the fights.”

None of the other actors shied away from any physical demands either.

“As soon as we cast anybody, we sent them into training,” reports Wong. “Jonathan and his gang worked on lots of stuff including X-Men, and a bunch of Bourne Identity and Supremacy stuff. When we talked about this movie, certainly Dragonball has its own style, but it was important to have a sense of fun and incorporate different fighting techniques. However, we also wanted to incorporate some dance or hip hop moves. It’s not to make it dance-like, but to add a little fun into the fight. There’s a part where Goku is avoiding the bullies at a party and he actually slides on his head. That’s more of a hip hop move so it’s a mixture of stuff with the criteria for it being fun.”

Ironically, Chatwin never displayed any extraordinary fighting prowess in his previous films, War of the Worlds or The Invisible.

“Justin did great,” notes Wong. “He also had a great stunt double whose name was Jackson [Spidell]. This guy was amazing. Justin really trained hard and you could tell his body was changing as we got into production. He was on a special diet and working out all the time. If anyone of us wants to get in shape, we have to be actors.”

Dragonball Evolution promises plenty of action, special effects, and good old fashion fun, yet nailing all those elements can be extremely challenging.

“It didn’t seem like we had an easy day on this movie at all,” concludes Wong. “The one I didn’t know how it was going to turn out, because there was so much CGI involved, was the end sequence. There’s so much against screen when you shoot it, that you’re worried if it’s going to look good. Also for the actors, you are fighting against green screen and there are lots of wires.”


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