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Dynasty Warriors Destiny of an Emperor (2021)

Hong Kong

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Dynasty Warriors Destiny of an Emperor (2021) Review

About the movie Dynasty Warriors: Destiny of an Emperor (2021)

An adaptation of the Japanese hack-and-slash video game of the same title that has spanned 24 years and 15 consoles, Roy Chow’s Dynasty Warriors was shot in 2017 but dragged its feet through post-production for 4 years due to financial issues, finally landing with a thud at the Chinese box-office, with an online release following less than a week later. Like the video game, it follows the epic events of Luo Guanzhong’s fundamental novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms while infusing it with fantasy tropes: no mythical creatures, but near-superhuman heroes wielding weapons infused with supernatural energy. And so the future lords and generals of the Three Kingdoms era: Liu Bei (Tony Yang), Guan Yu (Han Geng), Zhang Fei (Justin Cheung), and their future enemy Cao Cao (Wang Kai), as they lead the resistance against imperial usurper Dong Zhuo (Lam Suet) and his undefeated general, Lv Bu (Louis Koo).

Dynasty Warriors is a true feathered fish: an attempt at a balancing act between honoring Luo Guanzhong’s semi-historical epic source novel, and bringing to live-action life the over-the-top fantasy action of the video games. It is not without its strong assets: the sweeping New Zealand vistas (the Middle Kingdom or Middle-Earth?), Tse Chungto’s gorgeous red-and-gold photography, and lavish production design from Liu Jingping; these are mostly givens for high-profile Chinese epics, but to be savored nonetheless. Yet beyond these visual strengths, it is a narratively clunky, brazenly cheesy spectacle. While reasonably faithful to several chapters of Luo’s book, it rushes through them to stay under 120 minutes, turning character-defining tragedies into listless jokes, such as when Cao Cao slaughters an entire innocent household by mistake, after hearing them talking about slaughtering a pig – and thinking he’s the pig they’re talking about…

And the tonal shifts are simply too jarring and clumsy when stately history scored with Miklos Rozsa swoop by Yusuke Hatano, turns to electric guitar riffs (the video games’ music) overpower battles full of primitive CGI (which some might in all fairness see as a loving faithfulness to the video games). Still, hundreds of CGI extras flailing in a limited range of motions as one or two of the lead strike poses is a sorry sight. Even a more self-contained scene, where fearsome fighter Hua Xiong mows down warrior after warrior in single combat until he’s beheaded by Guan Hu (one of the most famous scenes in the Three Kingdoms narrative), is edited to shreds. And the final fight between Lv Bu and the heroic trio of Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei is a jerky, unwatchable jumble of CGI. Action director Dion Lam may have done a fine job, but Roy Chow made sure we’ll never know.

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