Dynasty Warriors (Hong Kong/China, 2021)

Two years after its teaser trailer, the live-action adaptation of the Koei-Tecmo video game franchise finally comes to life.

In the late 2nd century China, Zhang Jiao is leading a rebellion against the Han Dynasty and their leader Dong Zhuo. As the Han forces are close to being outnumbered, three warriors emerge out of nowhere to help Dong defeat the Yellow Turbans. They are Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei, who have tapped into a special power that allows them defeat multiple opponents at once. As Zhang Jiao retreats, the three heroes are recognized for their assistance, much to the chagrin of Dong Zhuo.

Dong’s ego is slowly getting the best of him, and he has found a secret weapon in Lu Bu, whose special power has made him virtually invincible as he has destroyed anyone in his path. When Dong takes in Cao Cao, an attempt on Dong’s life turns Cao into a fugitive. A narrow escape from Lu Bu forces him to be nursed back to health by Chen Gong, who takes him under his wing. When Yuan Shao is ready to lead a rebellion against Dong Zhuo, he gets help not just from Cao Cao, but Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei as well, whose power has been getting stronger after meeting the master of the Sword Castle.

As far as video game adaptations, there have been great ones like Mortal Kombat and then there are bad ones like Super Mario Bros. Where does this long-awaited live action version of the Koei-Tecmo franchise lies. It is a middle point movie. It’s not spectacular, but it’s not bad either. Not by a long shot. What director Roy Chow and writers Christine To (Chow’s wife) and Li Rui did may actually excite some fans of the games but in some aspect, could offend those who enjoy the source material of the game, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It’s sort of a double-edged sword if you will.

The film opens with the opening point of the ROTK novel, the Yellow Turban Rebellion. Philip Keung makes a well-done cameo as rebellion leader Zhang Jiao while Lam Suet, a usual supporting actor in most films, gets one of his best roles as Dong Zhuo. What is great about the battle scenes unlike a certain Jackson-directed trilogy, they rely on real stunt performers to create elaborate scenes. The trio of Yo Yang, Han Geng, and Justin Cheung make the most of their roles as heroes Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei respectively. They are the real heroes of the film when compared to top-billed Wang Kai, who plays the eventual villain of the novel, the dastardly Cao Cao.

If there is a highlight character, it is the villain of this film, Lu Bu. Excellently played by Louis Koo, who reportedly had to get stitches after getting injured during a battle scene, Lu Bu is a total villain who has his powers intact to full level. When he goes into Musou Mode (a staple of the games), he doesn’t just injure. He destroys. He has an even excellent chase scene when he chases Cao Cao through the forest after Cao’s attempt to kill Dong Zhuo proves futile, but Lu Bu is the type to not hold back. He destroys virtually everything in his path and forces Cao Cao into the river seriously injured.

As for the battle scenes, Dion Lam does a pretty good job that would make the action directors of John Woo’s adaptation Red Cliff proud. Using all real stunt performers and the use of New Zealand locations, Lam crafts the scenes quite well as if he did his research on the source novel itself. Of course, with this being a live-action adaptation of the video game, he even impresses when it comes to the use of the powerful Musou Mode. However, the only gripe with this is when the Musou Mode is used, it feels more like we’re seeing shoddy greenscreen effects as a replacement for its location background and yet we see the stuntmen fly in the air via wirework and it’s more of a mixed bag. Nevertheless, the best fight scene of the film clocks in just over mid-point where Jin Song’s Hua Xiong challenges and eliminates many of Yuan Shao’s allied soldiers until Guan Yu comes to the challenge.

Dynasty Warriors is clearly a middle point when it comes to live-action adaptations of video games. It’s not completely bad at all. But some of the visual effects prove to be a bit cheap, but thankfully, we have definitive homages to the games in the form of narrative scenes, Musou Mode, and Yusuke Hatano’s excellent music, which is lifted from the last game itself.

WFG RATING: B-

A Koei Tecmo/China Star Entertainment/HMV Digital Group/Sun Entertainment production. Director; Roy Chow. Producers: Albert Lee, Roy Chow, and Christine To. Writers: Christine To and Li Rui; based on the Koei Tecmo video games and the novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” by Luo Guanzhong. Cinematography: Tse Chung-To. Editing: Cheung Ka-Fai.

Cast: Wang Kai, Louis Koo, Han Geng, Yo Yang, Justin Cheung, Ray Lui, Lam Suet, Eddie Cheung, Carina Lau, Gulnazar, Philip Keung.

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