The Beginnings of Evolution
Bloodtrail sent us the official pressbook for Dragonball: Evolution. The “first” part of the kit, “The Action of Evolution,” was posted by Badtaste.it on Wednesday (although they left out information), and now we’ll be posting the rest of it in parts. Enjoy the “second” part (it’s actually the first), in which a detailed synopsis of the film is given, as well as history on how it all got started.
Goku’s quest – with nothing less than the fate of our world at stake – begins innocently enough in the backyard of his grandfather’s home, where Gohan is training the young man in some exotic martial arts moves. It is Goku’s 18th birthday, and Gohan’s gift to his grandson is a Dragonball, a small, round ball whose surface is smooth and pearl-like, but with a milky translucence that gives it depth. Four stars float inside the ball. There are only six others like it in the world, and it is said the seven Dragonballs together will grant the holder one perfect wish.
Connected to the legend of the Dragonballs is Goku’s own mysterious past – he never knew his parents – as well as the coming solar eclipse, which superstitions mark as a sign of a coming apocalypse. Gohan promises to reveal all to Goku at the special birthday dinner Gohan is preparing for his grandson.
But Goku skips out on Gohan’s feast, to attend a party hosted by Chi Chi, a fellow student to whom Goku is drawn. As the two teens get to know one another, a tragedy at home is triggered by the arrival of a dark force – propelling Goku, Roshi, Bulma, Yamcha and Chi Chi into a race to collect all seven Dragonballs. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Goku will face the deadliest enemies on Earth, master a powerful force called Ki, which marshals the energy of the universe – and learn the truth of his incredible past…and of a potentially unthinkable future.
Turning a beloved global property into a motion picture event is no easy task, and it took years after Twentieth Century Fox acquired the rights to the graphic novel series Dragonball to make that happen. A big-screen adaptation finally began to come together when filmmaker James Wong, who has worked extensively in the science fiction/fantasy genre, took an interest in the property. Wong recalls: “I read the mangas, which really sparked my interest in the property. The graphic novels take us to a fantastic world with great characters – and they’re a lot of fun.”
Inspired by the manga, Wong and screenwriter Ben Ramsey worked to achieve a mix of action, humor and character relationships for the new movie. “We strove to hit the right combination of the fantastic and the relatable,” says Wong. Huge action set pieces, state of the art visual effects, and elaborate martial arts sequences would be key elements of “DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION,” but there was also much to explore with the characters, their rich histories, and their evolving relationships.
“I believe that the appeal of Dragonball, beyond its super-cool action, is the richly creative world that Akira Toriyama invented,” says Ramsey. “There is a complexity and humanity to the superhuman characters who inhabit that world, as well as an overwhelming sense of optimism that its lead character (Goku) embellishes.”
The challenges in adapting Dragonball for the big screen were formidable, starting with creating a story that would satisfy the hardcore fans and introduce the world to non-fans. “So the concept was to start off in a world that felt familiar, then gradually introduce the fantastic elements of Dragonball, so by mid-movie we are in full on Dragonball mode,” notes Ramsey.
“The biggest challenge in adapting a manga or animated series for a live action movie is the burden of reality,” he continues. “Once characters are brought to life by flesh and blood humans, the rules change, if ever so slightly. Animated characters can get away with a lot more than live action characters. Writing for live action characters has to allow for nuance in dialogue, character dynamics and action.”
Ramsey and Wong took note of the fact that the manga’s characters and environments are central to its universal appeal and relatability. “DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION,” like the manga, is set in the near future, in a multi-cultural environment. It is a world where “future and past become one,” says Wong, and where “race plays no significant role.” To that end, the casting process for the film was, as Wong puts it, “color blind.” The production set up casting offices in Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, London, Hong Kong and Japan – “the broadest net we’ve ever thrown over a casting process,” notes the director.
Justin Chatwin landed the role of Goku after an exhaustive worldwide search. Goku is a high school student whose innocence and guilelessness are left behind when he begins his hero’s journey. “The character has a great arc – from high school nerd to the planet’s savior,” says Wong. “One minute, Goku is a high school student who doesn’t fit in with his peers; the next, he’s on an incredible quest.” Chatwin sparked to the idea of the hero’s journey, having long been an admirer of the work of mythologists like Joseph Campbell, whose writings often dealt with the role of the hero figure. “Goku begins his journey as an everyday teen who discovers he’s meant for something more,” says Chatwin. “He becomes a symbol of moral good.”
Goku’s transformative journey is all well and good, as are his martial arts skills, but a subject of equal scrutiny was the character’s….hair. The legions of Dragonball fans identify Goku through his uniquely styled, spiked coif. “That was my first question to Jimmy Wong,” says Chatwin with a laugh. “‘What are you going to do with the hair?’ It’s so important, that even the hair has an arc!” (Goku’s hairstyle evolves through the film into its signature, spiky “do.”)
One of the first steps in Goku’s journey is to seek out Roshi, an elderly Master who completes Goku’s training, helps him unlock the secret of his past – and joins him in a quest to save the world. Roshi is unlike any Eastern Master you’ve seen before; he has an eye for the ladies and favors Hawaiian shirts. According to Wong, the role required nothing less than an iconic actor who could convey the character’s many dimensions and incredible abilities. “We had to really reach high to find our Roshi,” says Wong, “and we decided to just go for it and approach Chow Yun-Fat,” the legendary international superstar who has toplined some of the cinema’s most acclaimed action films, including the Oscar
-winning “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Chow wasn’t an obvious physical match to the Roshi fans know from the manga and anime. Wong explains: “In the manga, Roshi is a quirky, elderly figure, who’s unpredictable. He’s definitely not your traditional Master who dispenses sage advice.” While no amount of makeup and prosthetics could transform the strapping Chow – whom People magazine called one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world, and the Los Angeles Times termed “the coolest actor in the world” – into the diminutive, aged figure of the manga, Chow worked hard to capture the character’s spirit. “I’ve never had the kind of challenge I’ve had with the role of Roshi,” says the actor. “There is so much to him – humor, action, romance, emotion. He has extraordinary powers, but he’s still funny, recognizable and human.”
One of the many ideas the actor proposed for the character was donning gray-tinted contact lenses, hinting at the onset of cataracts. “I thought the lenses would add to the realism and relatability of Roshi,” says Chow, who also regularly practiced Tai Chi and mediation before and during the shoot.
Thrilled to be working with a cinema icon, the cast and crew were equally impressed with Chow’s work ethic off camera. He never retreated to his trailer to relax between scenes, and would often help out the camera crew – including moving heavy equipment (becoming the most high-profile grip in the business). “Chow never left the set,” marvels director of photography Robert McLachlan, ASC/CSC. “He was like part of the crew.” But to Chow, his behind-the-scenes work was not a big deal. “It’s how we’ve been doing things in Hong Kong since the beginning of my career in television,” he points out. “The crews were tiny, and we always helped each other out.”
Chow was an inspiration to all, especially the younger actors like Justin Chatwin and Jamie Chung. Chung has the lead role in the popular ABC Family series “Samurai Girl,” whose title character possesses fighting skills that came in handy for “DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION”. One of today’s brightest and most appealing young stars, Chung brought much more to Chi Chi than martial abilities. She has the sparkling energy necessary to fully capture the two sides of the character. “Chi Chi is the ‘It Girl’ – the most popular girl in high school,” says Chung. “She comes from a wealthy family, and everyone expects certain things from her. But she has a second life – a secret life – marked by her passion to fight. She comes off like the girl next door, but when she turns it on, she kicks butt!”
The burgeoning relationship between Chi Chi and Goku comes from, in part, them being kindred spirits. “Chi Chi is drawn to Goku’s secret ability to fight,” says Chung. “She feels there’s something really special about Goku, and she’s able to bring that out in him.”
Another beautiful young woman joining Goku in his quest is Bulma, a scientist described in the manga as the “smartest girl in the world.” The film retains the manga character’s confidence, intensity and intelligence – and the fact that she knows exactly what she wants. And what Bulma wants is the Dragonball stolen from her father’s company. Wielding a laser-guided, high-tech magnum pistol and a Dragonball-tracker, Bulma will do anything to retrieve the five-starred Dragonball, which she thinks will supply an unlimited source of energy – and immense financial rewards.
Emmy Rossum appreciated the challenges of playing such a multi-faceted character whose hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners attitude begins to change after she joins Goku and Roshi on their search for the Dragonballs. “Bulma comes to realize that life is about much more than her personal quest,” says Rossum. “The character in the manga and now our film is so alive, funny and spunky. She’s anything but ordinary.” A bonus for the actress was learning to ride Bulma’s speedster, which the production created from a Harley motorcycle.
In the manga, Bulma sports a blue bob, which became her signature look. Rossum recalls that the filmmakers tried different ways to capture that coloring and style, including dyes, hair extensions and wigs, but ultimately went in a more realistic direction. Nevertheless, there are traces of blue and purple laced throughout the character’s wardrobe.
In their search for the Dragonballs, Goku, Roshi and Bulma face their adversary, Lord Piccolo. As depicted in the manga, Piccolo is a complex and intriguing figure whose journey sees him embodying both good and evil. For in the Dragonball mythos, any character can turn from good to evil, and vice versa. James Marsters, beloved to millions of fans around the world for his lengthy stint as the vampire Spike in the hit television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” portrays Piccolo in the film. His Piccolo is the story’s antagonist – “In the film, Piccolo is a figure of decrepitude, and his goals are centered on revenge,” says Marsters – but there are hints that his journey is very much an evolving process.
Working with Piccolo is Mai, an exotic beauty tainted by malevolence. Her weapons of choice are throwing knives known as shiruken. Japanese-born actress Eriko, who came to “DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION” after wrapping a recurring role on “Heroes,” says she enjoyed playing a “strong, tough woman on a mission.” James Wong adds that Eriko gives the role a “special quality and toughness.”
Rounding out the starring cast is Joon Park as Yamcha. Looking to get rich, quickly, Yamcha traps Goku, Roshi and Bulma in the desert. But eventually, he joins them in their journey. Park, a rock star in his native Korea, has performed in front of 100,000 screaming fans – an experience that helped him capture the essence of the character. “Joon has all the qualities necessary for Yamcha, including charisma and a sense of mischief,” says Wong. “Yamcha is tough on the outside, but inside there’s a soft heart,” adds Park. “Something in his past has scarred him, and he likes to skim across the details of life, looking for money.”