GOD OF WAR (2017) review

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A genre that dominated the 00’s in China and culminated with the massive success of John Woo’s Red Cliff and Peter Chan’s The Warlords, the war epic has been much scarcer in the 10’s, and much less successful in general, as indicated by the high-profile underperformance of passable examples of the genre like Andrew Lau’s The Guillotines and Ronny Yu’s Saving General Yang, not to mention the downright flop of Frankie Chan’s Legendary Amazons. It remains to be seen if Gordon Chan’s God of War can re-ignite the Chinese war epic’s popularity (even the success of Daniel Lee’s Dragon Blade in 2015 didn’t manage that), but it is, on its own merits, one of the finest examples of the genre. Set in the 16th century and based on historical events, it follows the efforts of Ming general Qi Jiguang (Vincent Zhao) and commander Yu Dayou (Sammo Hung) to defeat an army of Japanese pirates and Ronins led by Kumasawa (Yasuaki Kurata), and that has been pillaging the Chinese coastline for the enrichment of a Shogun whose son Yamagawa (Keisuke Koide) is among the pirates but disapproves of their treatment of civilians. General Qi enlists local peasants and trains them into a new and better-equipped army.

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LADY OF THE DYNASTY (2015) review

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A troubled project which started pre-production in 2009 with My Sassy Girl director Kwak Jae-Yong at the helm and Fan Bing Bing, John Lone and Wang Leehom as its leads, Lady of the Dynasty finally reached completion and release in 2015, after a series of starts and stops that saw Kwak replaced by Shi Qing (a man whose sole previous credit is as a writer on the 1989 Zhang Yimou thriller Codename Cougar) on the basis of artistic differences, while Leon Lai and Wu Chun stepped in to replace Lone and Wang, respectively ; Zhang Yimou and Tian Zhuangzhuang (director of The Go Master) chimed in as consultants and get co-directing credits. But for a film that spent so much time in the oven and had so many cooks, Lady of the Dynasty turns out oddly half-baked. It focuses on Yang Guifei (Fan Bingbing), one of the “Four Great Beauties of Ancient China” who has already been the subject of many films and TV series, most notably Kenji Mizoguchi’s Princess Yang Kwei-Fei (1955), the 1962 Shaw Brothers film The Magnificent Concubine and the 2007 mini-series Lotus Garden of Tang Dynasty, already starring Fan Bingbing. Chosen by Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty (Leon Lai) and his concubine Wu (Joan Chen) to marry their son Li Mao (Wu Chun), she then left him to be a Taoist monk, before being chosen by the emperor to become his concubine. Later, when a rebellion broke out, the emperor fled with her but was then asked to execute her as a scapegoat.

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DRAGON BLADE (2015) review

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Note: This is a review of the original, 127-minute cut of the film screened throughout Asia. The international cut runs about 20 minutes shorter and cripples the film. Avoid watching it first if you can.

Daniel Lee’s Dragon Blade isn’t just another Chinese period epic. Its price tag of 65 million dollars makes it the most expensive Chinese film in history, while its opening numbers at the domestic box-office broke records and its final take of 120 million dollars ranks it as the 8th highest-grossing Chinese film. Its cast is truly international : gathered around Chinese A-listers Jackie Chan, William Feng and Karena Lam are Hollywood actors John Cusack and Adrien Brody, Korean actors/pop stars Choi Si Won and Steve Yoo, Australian dancer and scream queen Sharni Vinson, as well as French singer Lorie Pester. And its plot takes considerable licence with history to imagine a meeting of East and West, between the Roman armies and the tribes of Western China.

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THREE KINGDOMS: RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON (2008) review

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the historical novel written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century and chronicling the years of constant warfare between kingdoms that marked the end of the Han Dinasty from 169 to 280, has always been the source of many films and TV series, most notably John Woo’s Red Cliff parts I & II, and a few months ago the Donnie Yen vehicle The Lost Bladesman. A sprawling epic, it provides a bonanza of characters, events and battles, which means filmmakers can always come back to the tried and tested Three Kingdoms source material, each time focusing on a different set of characters or a different chunk of the storyline.

Daniel Lee’s Three Kingdoms : Resurrection of the Dragon follows Zhao Zilong, one of the “Five Tiger Generals” of the Shu Kingdom. The film fashions itself as a biopic of sorts, but takes more than a few liberties with the source material, which itself is already semi-mythical. We follow Zhao Zilong (Andy Lau) from his enlisting in the Shu army, where he forms a long-standing friendship with Luo Ping An (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo), to his becoming a general nicknamed “The Invincible”, to his heroic death during the Battle of the Phoenix Heights, where his outnumbered army was annihilated by Cao Ying’s (Maggie Q) Wei Army.

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