By Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
There is a group of people who never needed a lesson in diversity and inclusion. A group of people who fraternize every weekend with not only other humans of all backgrounds and ethnicities, but also orcs, wizards, halflings, and elves. These are Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) players, the devotees of the tabletop game first published in 1974 and still with a worldwide following. These are the people that came out for opening weekend of the latest D&D film—“Honor Among Thieves”—and who signaled their approval with heartfelt laughter and applause.
A more friendly group you could not find. Just the fact that several of them were open to this weird reporter approaching them out of the blue and asking to hear their impressions of the movie was testament to their openness, and of course their eagerness to talk about their favorite thing, D&D. The guys I spoke with have been getting together every weekend for years to play, sharing not only an interest in all things D&D, but also in loyal companionship. They approved this installment of the franchise—which notably is not a continuation of the prior three, and which they all agreed was the best and most true to D&D, the game, thus far.
I think so, too. In “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” we follow Edgin, a harper who has left his faction and taken up a life of thievery. I’m going to leave out why, but along the way, he forms a like-minded group and in short order gets himself into enough trouble to be put into prison for two years with buddy Holga. That’s where we start. On his mission to reunite with his daughter, Kira (Chloe Coleman), Edgin, played deftly by Chris Pine, is drawn into a web of intrigue surrounding his former colleague, Forge, played by Hugh Grant, a rogue (the class but also the noun and the adjective) who is definitely not honorable and is in league with the Red Wizards, a cruel bunch, in the form of Sofina, a singularly nasty specimen.
The guys I talked to were happy to debrief the movie. We went through their roles in the game and I found out their group included, at present (they’ve all played multiple classes), a Game Master (GM, the person that runs the game), an elvin ranger, a trollkin bard, a rogue, an alchemist, a paladin, and a war caster, a class from the fifth edition of the game.
“It felt like a proper D&D campaign movie,” Eli, the GM, told me. “The whole thing overall made me happy. I have no negatives about it right now.” They agreed they would have done “the exact same thing” the druid Doric (Sophia Lillis), a tiefling (humanoid possibly demonic, with horns), does at the end (not going to tell you but it gets a good laugh). And they enjoyed the attention to detail that included use of legit settings, places, names of spells, and whatnot.
“It was miles better than the last one,” they said. In other words, they loved it.
“Honor Among Thieves” is safe for all ages. I won’t soon forget the paladin in the group’s son shouting, “the chonky dragon!” when I asked for their favorite part. The movie is designed to appeal to fans old and new, with what has been described as a Marvel Avengers-like setup, with a team of heroes going out on a quest and solving various dilemmas along the way. But honestly, that goes back to Tolkien and The Hobbit, or farther. It’s been a part of nearly every RPG (role-playing game) video since people were first playing them on their Radio Shack Tandy computers back in the day (I mean me, lol). It’s a sure win for most audiences, especially when you’ve got a strong lead and a good villain, as well as winning humor, serviceable special effects, and excellent and realistic fight scenes—all of which this has.
There is diversity amongst the cast, but not with Asian Americans. It’s a hard call, right? Every group of color is underrepresented and you can only cast so many people. The AAPI choice was Jason Wong, a Singaporean Chinese actor soon to be in Guy Ritchie’s “The Covenant.” I was disappointed at the small scale of his part as Dralas—a henchman for Sofina (Daisy Head), the Red Wizard, when he could have been a peer. He seemed to have been cast mainly for his martial arts skills—he practices wing chun kung fu and jiu jitsu—but his presence each time on screen was so dynamic that it was obvious he was ready for more and should have had a larger part.
It would have been easy to squeeze him in elsewhere. I adored “Bridgerton’s” Regé-Jean Page in the role of Xenk, the pure and good paladin who can only walk in a straight line (one of the best jokes of the film). If I can think of a replacement, it would be for Justice Smith as Simon. Yawn. He just wasn’t spellbinding (pun intended) in the role of cleric and how nice it would have been to see an up-and-coming AAPI there instead, male or female. What was also offensive was the supposition that if Simon just honed his skills and was persistent enough, he would win the love of Doric, when there was no chemistry and it seemed more like she was just stuck with him.
It would be remiss not to mention Michelle Rodriguez as Holga, who is fantastic. Not only does she kick butts very convincingly, but she has a soft heart, and is just all around likable and fun to watch. I’m glad to see Rodriguez with a life beyond “Fast & Furious.” When Holga stops by her “ex’s” house to “get some closure” and “pick up some things,” we get treated to a hilarious cameo and big surprise as to who and what her ex-husband is. Afterwards, Edgin plays his lute to cheer Holga up and they end up singing together in a way that actually brought tears to my eyes. Instead of being unbearably hokey, it was a demonstration of real friendship and the type of bonding that goes on around a gaming table with perhaps a tankard of ale. Cheers!
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.
Amari Karter says
Sometimes, a film like this just needs to have slightly lower stakes. “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is a film for both fantasy fans.