Length: 118 minutes
Director: Ray Chow
Writer: Christine To
Cast: Louis Koo, Carina Lau, Wan Kai, Tony Yang, Han Geng, Justin Cheung, Lam Suet, Ray Lui, Gulnazar, and Philip Keung.
Streaming on Netflix from 1 July
4 out of 5 stars
The Dynasty Warriors games are some of the most entertaining adaptations of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story, as they reimagine the characters with superheroic battle prowess and add an addictive rock soundtrack. It's special because most game adaptations of Romance of the Three Kingdoms are strategy games or war games, but Dynasty Warriors is a hack and slash series. It's so popular that even the teen drama The O.C. featured main characters Ryan and Seth playing it throughout the series (although it was often called "the ninja game") with several screenshots confirming that it was Dynasty Warriors 4. But since this movie is an adaptation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, what sets it apart from the many other film adaptations of the story? The exact same elements that set the games apart — fun action and rock music.
Dynasty Warriors is a historical fantasy action film that's based on the video game series of the same name. It is a reimagining of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms saga, and it sees many warlords from different parts of China uniting to defeat the evil tyrant Dong Zhuo and his mighty general Lü Bu. In the aftermath, several great leaders arise — leaders who will one day hold the fate of China in their hands.
As if to allay any doubts about how faithful the movie will be to the games, Dynasty Warriors opens with a battle that seems like it's taken straight out of the games. Liu Bei (Tony Yang), Guan Yu (Han Geng), and Zhang Fei (Justin Cheung) arrive on the scene, and take out hordes of soldiers just like in the games — with powerful swipes literally sending the entire battlefield enemy combatants flying and flashy special effects accompanying their moves. All that's missing is for them to find a bao (a Chinese meat bun) to restore their health. It's accompanied by a rock music score, which completely evokes the feel of the game.
The costumes also resemble those of the game (the character designs get updated with every game), and are mostly recognisable thanks to the colour scheme and signature details (such as Zhang Fei's belly and Lü Bu's helmet "antenna"). The characters also wield the traditional weapons that they do in the games. The make-up could do with a little more work though — Guan Yu and Zhang Fei have significantly darker complexions than the other characters, but the amount of make-up slapped on to achieve this is painfully obvious. Nevertheless, the costumes and make-up are pretty well done for the most part.
Given that it follows the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story, viewers who are familiar with that will be unsurprised by the plot. But since it's an adaptation, most viewers aren't here for the story — they're here to see how this rendition of it will turn out. It still manages to cover a good portion of the traditional story in the film and all the key moments of the saga, although it's clear that there will be Dynasty Warriors sequels that cover the rest of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story.
What's more surprising is the amount of character development that the film manages to give to its characters. Even though we're watching an adaptation of well-known characters, it still manages to root most of the characters' motivations in believable human desires. And given the sheer number of characters in the story, that's a rather impressive feat. This isn't just a mere film adaptation of a video game — there's a proper plot and characterisation in the film.
However, given the tremendous amount of CGI needed in the film, some portions had to get the short straw. This is most evident in the mass battle scenes, and you can sometimes see less polished rendering of tens of soldiers flying in the air. Nevertheless, the film focuses its animation budget on where it's important, such as the individual attacks of the main characters and the duels between the generals.
Dynasty Warriors is one of those rare video game movies that's not only good, but faithfully adapts the key elements of the game itself. It manages to recreate the feel of the games, albeit with Cantonese speaking characters (although you can sometimes change the language settings in the games). Most of all, it's plain fun to see generals smacking armies and sending soldiers sailing in all directions, as these titans clash on the field of battle.
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