Dynasty Warriors is a Hong Kong-produced video game film adaptation that never finds a firm tone and flip-flops between being unintentionally funny and tacky. Armed with its big cast and visually stunning CGI action scenes, it plays like a string of video game cut scenes jam-packed with a lot of ham and a lot of cheese. It's a mess but a fun entertaining mess.
Director Roy Chow Hin Yeung and his wife screenwriter Christine To Chi Long take an uber literal approach in adapting a video game. The heroes in Dynasty Warriors are demi-gods walking amongst humans with special abilities. When they fight, energy crackles around them. Like in any hack-and-slash game, every hero has special moves where they can hit soldiers into the air and then unleash a lethal combo. Wide shots of the armies gearing up for battle look like a screencap of a real-time strategy war game.
From beginning to end, I honestly couldn't tell if Dynasty Warriors was ever in full control of its tone. At times, it's laugh-out-loud hilarious. Lam Suet's General Dong Zhuo's costume, decked out in a gold and black garb and darkened skin, looks too much like Judge Pao for it to be a coincidence. Phillip Keung cameos as General Zhang Jiao and performs it as a shaman dressed like Big Bird from Sesame Street.
At other times, the story gets dramatic when it tells the origin of Cao Cao, who is played by Mainland actor Wang Kai in the film's most scene-stealing performance. Wang Kai plays Cao Cao as a proud scheming lonely visionary who wants to fix the world in his own way, providing a much-required gravitas to the film's scattered canvas. Tony Yang's Liu Bei, the other MVP, delivers a nuanced performance and creates a fascinating dynamic with Wang Kai. The scenes between Cao Cao and Liu Bei, who are shown as two sides of the same coin, are my favorite moments. At times, it feels like they're in a completely different movie.
The rest of the cast is all over the place. Louis Koo hams it up as Lü Bu in a performance completely dialed by eye glares and ends up coming off as a bland villain. Han Geng's Guan Yu and Justin Cheung's Zhang Fei are unfortunately compromised by poor costuming and make-up that reduces them to be cosplayers. The eye shadow and the black powder that darkens their skin look too obvious, especially when they're standing next to Louis Koo, the Lord of the Skin Tan.
It was fascinating how all the Three Kingdom heroes are portrayed to the level of mythic Olympian gods. There are many aerial drone shots of the heroes perpetually standing on mountain tops overlooking mankind while they converse about worldly matters. They go everywhere holding their hundred-pound weapons and never tire. They all admire each other and casually engage in friendly matches on steep cliffs while discussing their life philosophies.
Due to the jarring tone, the dramatic seriousness comes off more like deadpan comedy, like the actors are holding these beats for a dry laugh in what seems more like a parody of wuxia films. The main issue I had with Dynasty Warriors was I never knew whether the film was being funny or serious. If it is supposed to be serious, then it's a miscalculated mess. If it is funny, then director Roy Chow Hin-Yeung has failed to put in the irony. It seems like he wanted both and got lost in the mix.
That said, I chose funny every time. My wife and I laughed through Dynasty Warriors while roasting it in a full-fledged Mystery Science Theater experience. There's no way to watch Dynasty Warriors seriously. Anyone who's critiquing this film in historical or literary terms can just save their breath. I just enjoyed it in a Sharknado type way.
I could even see myself rewatching Dynasty Warriors with guy friends over beers, laughing and making fun of it along the way. At its 300 million RMB budget, I doubt that was the filmmakers' intention. It seemed like there were higher hopes.
4 out of 10 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.