Video game franchise Dynasty Warriors has been raking in sales for well over two decades, and while the emphasis of the series is unashamedly on the relentless, almost cartoon-levels of sword-slashing violence, the plots are tangled up with a rich and detailed storyline.
That storyline is, sometimes tenuously, linked to the Three Kingdoms period in Chinese history. An era you’ve almost certainly seen in other media, or perhaps even read about since the 14th century book, Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a literary classic. Sadly, while the source material from whence the game was inspired might be classic, this modern incarnation is anything but.
Like a gamer mashing buttons, the film’s writer Christine To has thrown everything she can at the storyboards and kept anything that stuck – and perhaps even elements that didn’t. In among all the assassination plots and ridiculously large and utterly unrealistic CGI battles we find the story of three men: Zhang (a questionably made-up Justin Cheung), Liu (Tony Yang) and Guan (Geng Han) – a trio hell-bent on overthrowing a bad guy, who is also the target of assassin Cao Cao (Kai Wang). Their journey is epic, and sees them breeze through myriad fights against backdrops that look like they were rendered on a SEGA Mega Drive.
While it seems as though a coherent story is forming here, it’s important to understand that none of this story is clearly told. Eschewing the traditional expositionary dialogue that’s the staple of pretty much every other film, Dynasty Warriors elects to throw information up on screen in writing, appearing so briefly you won’t get a chance to read it. Even with the storytelling issues in mind, big budget Chinese flicks rarely translate for a western audience. What works for China can often lead to an uneven tone when translated to a Western audience, as is the case here with a particularly ill-fitting rock and roll soundtrack playing out over fifth century action (which itself requires feats of magic to liven it up).
It’s clear a lot of money has been spent lavishing the film with special effects, it just hasn’t been spent very wisely. Ironically for a video game adaptation, the graphics are abysmal. Not that the script is worthy of more. The dialogue may be suffering from translation, or it might be that god-awful on both sides of the world. Given the film’s paltry performance in China, it may very well be the latter.
Like the writer, director Roy Chow has tried a bit of everything in his quest to make this work. His camera squeezes into the most unlikely, and often unnecessary of places, and while it does occasionally work to create a memorable image, it’s more luck than judgment as he too mashes buttons in the hope of completing his quest. Brand recognition will help Dynasty Warriors receive some attention on its Netflix debut, but it won’t take long for audiences to realise there’s little to be gained from persevering with a franchise that is destined to remain on console and PC for the foreseeable future.
- Director: Roy Chow
- Starring: Louis Koo, Kai Wang, Ray Lui
- Release date: July 1 (Netflix)