When I heard that they were making a Dynasty Warriors film, I thought to myself, are they for real? I thought Dynasty Warriors is not exactly a good idea for a film. To my surprise, for real they were making a Dynasty Warriors film. Is it good? Is it bad? Well, if you played the game, you will know the story because this film doesn’t really try to build much story or character development. Each of the characters are exactly as they were at the start of the film. Lu Bu being brash and formidable on the battlefield. Liu Bei’s unwavering loyalty to the Han Dynasty. Guan Yu’s honor and bravery. Cao Cao (pronounced Tsao Tsao and not Cow Cow) being a cunning and scheming anti-hero. By the end, I felt like some battle occurred and there were some differing opinions, but nothing was resolved.
The film assumes that you know about the Romance of the Three Kingdoms or at least played a bit of Dynasty Warriors. If you have played one, you know the drill. The story follows a set path from Yellow Turban Rebellion, Hulao Gate, Guan Du, Chang Ban, Chi Bi, Mt Ding Jun, He Fei, Yi Ling to Wu Zhang Plains. Did I miss anything? (Plenty of in between battles and key moments, but real fans know the gist.)
Liu Bei comes to the rescue
Like the games, the film starts with the Yellow Turban rebellion where Liu Bei and his sworn brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei stand atop some hill to come to the rescue of Dong Zhuo’s army.
Past the small introductions, we are introduced to the first mini-antagonist, the leader of the Yellow Turbans Zhang Jiao who wields the power to create revive and create fury induced zombie Yellow Turban fighters. A formidable power that one would expect could win the day and allow an individual to conquer a country, but somehow Zhang Jiao is too dumb to be able to use the powers properly. Against this horde of zombies is the overpowered Dong Zhuo, who’s obese exterior is a façade to something more deadly, plot armor. Dong Zhuo can somehow hold his own, despite being overwhelmed, and be on the vanguard with his army. (Well, it is Dynasty Warriors after all and someone like Dong Zhuo who would normally take a backseat in real life, takes a front seat.)
In terms of aesthetics, it is clear that the battlefield is filled with computer generated soldiers as some scenes become blurry and hard to follow. (The budget wasn’t there.)
In typical Dynasty Warriors styles, blades do not need to connect physically on an enemy’s body for it to cut a body. So we get to see ridiculous sword slashes that happen to slice the wind and cause minor characters to fly into the air.
Then come to the rescue the three brothers Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei charging into the Yellow Turbans and saving the day for Dong Zhuo, whose forces are being chewed on by zombie possessed Yellow Turbans. What is interesting is that the film then plays a iconic Dynasty Warriors soundtrack battle theme. It sort of works. Most of the film’s soundtracks actually comes from the panned and disliked Dynasty Warriors 9.
The Yellow Turbans don’t stick around long in this film thanks to the efforts of Liu Bei and his brothers.
The characters certainly dress like their Dynasty Warriors counterpart, but I would have liked Guan Yu to be a bit more stocky. He seemed to be too thin and not menacing like he appears in the games.
Cao Cao is the anti-hero of chaos
If we consider that Liu Bei is the protagonist, though it doesn’t always feel like it is, then Cao Cao is clearly the anti-hero. Cao Cao’s story and background is given some depth and there are many iconic moments that I found interesting that are glossed by the Dynasty Warriors game, from Cao Cao’s origins, his attempt to assassinate Dong Zhuo and his chance encounter with Chen Cong.
There is even a pursuit section of the film where Cao Cao on horse is being chased down by Lu Bu. Unfortunately no Xiahou Dun or Xiahou Yuan to come to rescue as they aren’t introduced in this film. I found it crazy that Lu Bu wasn’t able to to kill Cao Cao, despite the clear advantage that Lu Bu had, and equally I found the computer animation of the horses when they were dashing across roofs a tad ridiculous and poorly done.
Dynasty Warriors is about its weapons
One thing the film really gets right is the look of the iconic weapons. Each of the warriors wield their weapons, from Liu Bei being a dual wielding swordsman, Guan Yu with his crescent blade, Zhang Fei with his cobra pike, Lu Bu with the sky halberd and Sun Ce with his tonfa. The film adds that these legendary weapons are bestowed on the warriors from some random woman in the misty forest (though I don’t think she will make an appearance in film 2).
The weapons grant the warriors the power to use various elements. Guan Yu can call upon fire, while Lu Bu can summon lightning.
The climax and the three brothers fighting the beast Lu Bu
In terms of the film’s story, it just covers the early sections of the game from the end of the Yellow Turbans to the end of the Battle at Hulao Pass (or Hulao Gate). From the games, you may remember Hua Xiong, who usually appears at Si Shui Gate, making his mark by taking out various officers by slicing the heads of 6 officers before Guan Yu comes along to do the same to him. I thought the film did this moment some justice, when the heads rolled into Yuan Shao’s headquarters one by one. It also was nice that when it came to Guan Yu’s turn, Cao Cao offered Guan Yu some hot wine only to be turned down. Guan Yu would return with the head of Hua Xiong while the wine remained warm. (I think this moment is to build to the eventual close relationship between Guan Yu and Cao Cao.)
There aren’t too many characters introduced in this film, which I think is a smart move. But I think they needed to focused on building their existing stock of characters by giving them purpose and some developments. Characters kept being flung into the film like Diao Chan, who was introduced at the 75% mark, and while I knew who she was in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think many people realize that she becomes the integral person in the fall of Dong Zhuo. I think her role in the whole film could have been left out.
I also found it odd that the final battle at Hulao Pass that the director thought it would be a good idea to have the two armies standing on either side of a bridge without any battle ensuing with archers or projectiles. It seemed unnatural and weird when you consider that they are at war and are standing so close to each other.
When it came to the fight between the three brothers and the beast, Lu Bu, I would also say that the climactic battle was filled with fantastical action. While it was ‘cool’ to see the three brothers take on a brute, it seemed like there was no stakes at all on either side. Lu Bu cooly fending off attacks, while the three brothers try to take him down. (There is also an unnecessary moment when Guan Yu thinks ripping off his chest armor is a good idea…)
The film’s original language is Cantonese and it has a lot of familiar faces from Hong Kong cinema, but you can also watch it in Mandarin.
The film certainly sets itself up for more films as it ends with the Three Kingdoms is about to commence. Hulao Gate is actually a good place to start, but they should have taken a leaf from Red Cliff and focused their attention on the stakes then just ticking some boxes.
The film was definitely watchable. I didn’t get bored, but I wasn’t thinking at the end that this film is worth sharing with the world. Fans will appreciate that the film has been made, though they, like me, will have mixed feelings about its future.
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