Dynasty Warriors (2021)

Posted in Reviews by - July 05, 2021
Dynasty Warriors (2021)

Hot on the heels of Mortal Kombat, Double World and Monster Hunter, the much-maligned video game adaptation appears to be enjoying something of a renaissance. This Hong Kong film is based on a long-running Japanese video game series set after the fall of the Han dynasty and during China’s turbulent Three Kingdoms period – a familiar setting for many a wuxia film. Tonally, this is less Red Cliff and more Marvel’s Avengers, only with subtlety, character development and story in very short supply. The film instead favours weightless CGI spectacle in which entire landscapes are rearranged and scores of extras are flung around like matchsticks in stupendously over-the-top battle sequences. Filming in New Zealand obviously lends the film another fantastical aspect, complemented by swooping drone footage and the sort of epic hero posing last seen in music videos for 90s power ballads. Characters fly at each other shooting fireballs and lightening from their magically possessed swords, spears and halberds, with seemingly little consequence. Even when it stops being bonkers in an attempt to tell a semblance of story, it never quite settles into focus, jumping incoherently between a range of different characters. These include three apolitical Han patriots who use their supernatural martial arts powers to support efforts to restore and unite the country under Han rule; a traitorous warlord, Dong Zhou (Lam Suet), who has taken over the imperial palace and kidnapped its rightful heir; his bodyguard, the borderline psychotic Lu Bu (Louis Koo), who drinks blood, carries a ‘heavenly halberd’ and poses a huge threat to restoring order; and famed military hotshot Cao Cao (Wang Kai), who would lay the foundations for the Wei Kingdom, depicted here as a dashing if untrustworthy figure with a bright strategic mind and a lust for power. The characters may lack the sort of development we have come to expect from Christine To (writer of Fearless, Rise of the Legend and Knockout), but in capturing the bombastic nature of the video game – complete with pumping heavy metal score, clunking big weapons and colourful costumes – it may well win over some of its already converted fanbase.

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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a keyboard in London, UK.

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