'I Am Dragon' Sticks To Its Fairy Tale Roots
Don’t get me wrong: as a consumer of stories, I think that many of them are suitably grand, if not downright poetic. It’s just that rarely have I seen them translated well to the silver screen, Walt Disney’s animated projects aside. In some respects, I think it’s that these rather simple tales get “beefed up” and/or complicated with unnecessary subplots in order to make for a 90-minute product; and what gets sacrificed or cheapened is the necessary ‘moral of the story,’ buried under mountains of subtext not in the original legend. Sure, the meaning is still there; but it’s padded so heavily with narrative baggage that it all feels diluted from the process in transforming it from the script to the screen.
Thankfully, Russia’s I Am Dragon (2015) serves more as exception to the rule, and I ended up loving it much more than I thought I would. As imperfect as it is – with some drag throughout an all-too-commercially constructed fabled love story – Dragon ends up being, perhaps, the most traditional adaptation of a fairy tale I’ve ever seen. (And, again, this is leaving out the usual Disney fare.)
On the dragon’s hidden island, Mira discovers Arman (Matvey Lykov), a young man who also appears to have been held captive by the winged serpent. But before the monster can make a meal of either of them, Mira uncovers a dark secret: Arman is actually the dragon in human form, and he’s forever bound by a curse to serve out his days as the fire-breathing demon lest he master the art of self-control.
From there, Dragon picks up all of the usual fairy tale tropes. Igor is destined to attempt the rescue of his bride despite confessing that he may not really love her all that much, much less with a true heart. Mira’s sister has sacrificed her pursuit of nuptials – Igor’s ward – as it defies the rules of what’s an acceptable union between two kingdoms. And the bounds of true love are shown to be powerful enough to navigate uncharted waters, bring peace to the faraway lands, and help a cursed young man control his inner beast.
Nonetheless, the film succeeds, especially the idyllic, almost enchanted setting the young lovers build for themselves on this hidden island. Think of this as “The Blue Lagoon Meets Beauty and the Beast.” Their developing relationship feels organic – as if it’s what Fate intended all along – and the actors – both who look extremely young especially given their ages according to IMDB.com – manage to make this fairy tale work in ways often reserved for animation. Poezzhaeva’s skills could’ve used a bit more polish – the woman has to carry much of the emotional weight behind any classic love story, and she’s a bit rough here – but Lykov rather seamlessly shows us a man tortured by a curse not of his creation but one he’s ready, willing, and able to overcome, even at the cost of his immortal soul.
English-speaking audiences, sadly, have to be a bit older than the material is probably intended for, largely because of having to read subtitles instead of hearing this one spoken. Reading a visual love story definitely detracts from the vicariousness of it, but those interested are heartily encouraged to check this one out. It’s quite magical in all the right ways.