E3 | FILM: Dynasty Warriors

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By Reese Chanson and The Reese Chanson Network. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

1 out of 5 ☆ stars from me

Dynasty Warriors isn’t the video game-to-film adaptation you’ve been waiting for. Dating back to 1997, and composed of nine separate games, the hack-n-slash action franchise is a single-player tactical role-playing game that on first blush lends some potential for a cinematic rendering. For one, the over-the-top battles should equate to big-screen action sequences. The epic world-building allows plenty of creative flexibility. And the historical lore ought to imbue the proceedings with a potent aura. But director Roy Hin Yeung Chow’s Dynasty Warriors is a two-hour slog, missing the dumb hijinks and sharp fighting precision needed for an ultra-fun adventure.

The script for Dynasty Warriors is tragically underwritten. Three traveling soldiers Liu Bei (Tony Yo-ning Yang), Guan Yu (Geng Han), and Zhang Fei (Justin Cheung)—drawn together by honor and loyalty to the Han dynasty—work to restore the child emperor Liu Bian to the throne following the takeover of his nefarious chancellor Dong Zhuo (Suet Lam). Chow and screenwriter Chi-long To expect viewers to have a healthy dose of prior knowledge. It’s why the characters are without any type of backstory: how the trio of warriors came to unite or their individual origins. But unless you’ve played one or more of the games, you’ll be totally lost.

Worse yet, Chow makes little effort to connect any of the hanging threads. The most powerful fighter in Dong Zhuo’s army, Lu Bu (Louis Koo), surprisingly falls in love with his commander’s unknown lover Diao Chan (Coulee Nazha). The committed Cao Cao (Kai Wang), a loyal servant to the young emperor who’s prepared to sacrifice everything and everybody to restore the Han dynasty to power, carries out a bloody heinous crime that’s never revisited.

And the three soldiers, who are granted a trippy hallucinogenic vision and powerful weapons by the mystical Master of the Sword Forge Castle (Carina Lau), never display the combined might one would expect from such magical abilities.

With regards to the ragged visual effects, the onscreen production value barely rises to the level of The Last Airbender. The large-scale confrontations between armies are rife with ghastly visual artifacts. Likewise, the soldiers’ robotic movements, akin to barely rendered stick figures, distract from the vicious scale of the carnage. The charitable inference would say these shoddy graphics are meant to hark to earlier gameplay iterations. Even if one affords such excuses, this is a film, and that carries a certain expectation of style and quality -- both of which Dynasty Warriors lacks.

Chow further disrupts the line between cinema and gaming through cheap, repetitive compositions meant to mirror the game’s cutscenes. It’s as though he began designing a game first. Gave up. And then repurposed the already shot footage for the film. The visual narrative choices make the underlying story to Dynasty Warriors incomprehensible, adds unnecessary fat to a bloated two-hour runtime, and barely provide the aesthetic quality of a low-res screensaver. If you want to watch a series of overexposed landscapes streaming in succession, skip this film. Turn on your television. And let the Chromecast slideshow do its cheaper work.

It’s difficult to quantify exactly what Dynasty Warriors does well. The gilded Han-era production design does add a resplendent sheen to the onscreen action. As do the vibrant, colorful armor. But that’s about it. The performances are without merit, struggling to add a coherent emotional throughline between the “1 vs 100” bloodshed. It’s why the final third of the action flick feels rushed. The soldier trio face-off in an anticlimactic battle with Lu Bu: replete with movesets like lightning-charged Spirit Bombs — only for the story to jump ahead five years into the future wherein Bei and Cao are now frenemies.

One can only guess that Chow and Co. want to turn this into a movie franchise. That would be a mistake. As they’d have to figure out what a movie is before making more.


The Verdict

The film adaptation of the video game series Dynasty Warriors, by Roy Hin Yeung Chow, disappoints at every turn. While the film clearly worships its source material, both narratively and aesthetically, part of changing mediums is cohering to the rules of the present artform. A route Chow seems to purposely thumb his nose toward. At one point a character explains, “Only out of chaos do heroes emerge.” At the core of this messy big screen interpretation is less than chaos. It’s nothingness. A film that even heroes can’t save.

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