Teddy Chan’s fantasy adventure shows much possibility but never quite delivers on its YA-inspired promise.
“We can’t decide how we live but we can choose how we die”
Set … somewhere with at least two warring nations, Double World tells the story of the Southern Zhao, whose king was recently the target of a failed assassination by the Northern Yan people. The Grand Tutor Guan (Hu Ming), secretly a spy for the Yan, organises a competition where a team of three from each of the Zhao’s eight clans battle it out to become the nation’s new Grand Marshall. Our protagonists are Dong Yi-long (Henry Lau), an idealist young man; Chu Hun (Peter Ho), a tough-as-nails soldier dubbed a traitor, and young rogue Jinggang (Lin Chen-han) who enter the competition, hoping to secure revenge, or peace or whatever.
Originally, I had written some lines about how Double World wasn’t based on any previous media, until I learnt that it was, in fact, based on a popular MMORPG called Zhengtu, from which the film’s Chinese title derives. Suddenly it makes sense as to why it feels established, but in a way that suggests the audience is required to be at least somewhat familiar with the source material. There’s something in the way the world is introduced and the breakneck speed in which the main characters are sent off on their journey that definitely works better when you know the stakes going in. To see Chu and Dong out in the world, losing teammates and fighting their first dire scorpion within ten minutes of the opening credits is a refreshingly brisk change of pace, but did emphasise some of the weaker worldbuilding.
The bulk of the film is dedicated to the three tasks, with only sprinkles of the greater political struggle mentioned, not unlike Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (complete with its own “take the egg from the dragon” challenge) but whereas that film had three previous stories to support it and several more to go, Double World has to stand on its own two feet and has a lot of moving parts to juggle. A lot of modern fantasies, in an attempt to quickly build a possible franchise, will introduce to audiences a brand new world with its own rules, heroes, villains and their inevitable connections and on top of it all tell this iteration’s story.
Double World fails to give us anything meaty because it stretches itself too thin. The political situation is about as simple as you can imagine, the characters are barely more than archetypes and ultimately the twists and turns in the story don’t have any weight to them because it’s hard to care about any of it. I will say that even though they’re all shallow caricatures, the main cast is the best part of the movie. It’s hard to say if it’s thanks to the actors or the fact that at least every character has a personality different to the others but regardless it meant that watching them interact was at least fun. Hu Ming’s Grand Tutor Quan plays his villainous role possibly just a tad over the top, but it’s hard not to when you’re always accompanied by some giant dog-bear monstrosity.
And when the cast get to throw down – either against their common foes or each other – it means that the stakes are high, relative to this movie. The set-pieces are good and the action is distracting and enough of a visual treat to make the movie more palatable. The fight against the giant scorpion and the end skirmish with its fiery waterfalls and hand gliders are among some of the most memorable moments of the film filled with exciting sequences. And to give it some credit, the violence in here is astonishingly dark, featuring some really wince-inducing scenes (mostly featuring women, unfortunately).
Double World was meant to come out theatrically in the West this year but for obvious reasons had to skip to straight-to-Netflix. It’s a shame, because it would have looked good on the big screen. For all its faults, I actually found myself feeling like I’d been too harsh on it in my notes, as I thought back on it. It has its charms, even if they’re mostly drenched in young adult clichés and storytelling. It’s a film that works better in hindsight than while it’s actually on, probably because it’s easier to edit the bad bits out. Much like its most obvious western counterpart Warcraft, it probably won’t be remembered in a few years’ time, but if a sequel came out in the next year or so, I’d probably check it out. I mean, if I bothered to watch Iceman: the Time Traveller then I should at least give Double World another shot.
Verdict: Double World is decent escapism but the script frequently feels frustratingly empty and in dire need of another draft.
Overall entertainment: 5/10
Cheek burns: Way too many
Riots: right the fuck out of nowhere, huh?
Destinies: Sort of pointless
Ten year tax exemption: That’s basically levelling up, right?
Double World (2019)
Director: Teddy Chan
Writers: Liu Fendou, Wen Ning
Henry Lau – Dong Yi-long
Peter Ho – Chu Hun
Lin Chen han – Jinggang
Hu Ming – Guan