History has never before taken such a walloping than in Roy Chow’s bombastic video game adaptation.
“The strongest warriors absorb energy from heaven and earth, growing stronger with each battle, amassing cosmic energy of unimaginable power.”
Dynasty Warriors, the heavy action hack-and-slash franchise of videogames developed by Omega Force has never been known for its subtlety, nor its firm adherence to history. The game, based somewhat loosely around the events in the historical fiction Romance of the Three Kingdoms has players take the role of the many important generals and political figures from the story and reimagines them as one-man armies with ludicrous anime weapons.
In short, it’s great fun. The franchise was popular enough that the developers also created a number of similar games based around other historical periods – such as Japan’s sengoku people – and properties, from Legend of Zelda to One Piece and even Gundam. Given China’s love of big wuxia action and over the top stunts I’m surprised it’s taken almost 25 years for a film to be produced.
Like its source material, Dynasty Warriors retells stories from the novel, notably the Yellow Turban rebellion, the end of the Han Dynasty and the start of the Three Kingdoms period. Following the death of the emperor, general Dong Zhuo (Lam Suet) seizes power and forces his half-brother on the throne as a puppet. Warlords from across the nation band together to form a coalition, led by the charismatic Yuan Shao (Ray Lui). Among the generals in the band are future antagonist Cao Cao (Wang Kai) and the legendary Three Sworn Brothers: Liu Bei (Tony Yang), Guan Yu (Han Geng) and Zhang Fei (Justin Cheung) – ostensibly the primary protagonists of the story.
From there the movie retells a number of popular moments from the games and novel, including Guan Yu’s duel with Hua Xiong, and the ever-popular three-on-one battle between the three brothers and the movie’s primary threat, the deadly Lü Bu (Louis Koo). And if it feels like I’ve said a lot of names and alluded to tonnes of historical, contextless battles, then that’s exactly what it feels like to play any Dynasty Warriors game or to watch this film. The movie doesn’t really do much in way of introductions, expecting the viewers to be familiar enough with the novel or the games to fill in the blanks for them, although it does drop their names on screen for anyone to quickly google should they need to.
A film like this can use our pre-existing knowledge of the characters to forgo introductions and development, and that can sometimes go a long way. After all, no one going into Detective Pikachu needed or wanted a tedious explanation of the Pokemon franchise and it did just fine, but the downside to this is that if they don’t do any character work, then it ends up feeling like you’re just watching someone else play the game and end up with the worst of both worlds.
The action in this is better than its character work, but it’s also kind of janky in a lot of places. It’s certainly a great deal of fun to watch people get thrown about en masse, but the big battles often look cheaply made and somehow more CG than the games they’re based off. The one on one fights are certainly more entertaining, with stakes feeling high at times, but the anime physics still don’t necessarily translate all that well to live action. And with that being the main draw of a Dynasty Warriors adaptation, it’s hard to recommend when films like Red Cliff do big, over-the-top action but in a way that feels grounded and dangerous.
Fans of the series might get a kick from seeing their favourite weapon or combos being thrown about, and it has decent fan-service thrown about but there’s not a lot else to talk about. It’s nice to see a different side of the often-villainous Cao Cao, and all of the performers do a good job – especially Wang Kai, Lam Suet and Carina Lau in a very goofy cameo, but it’s not enough to hold a film together. Remove the interactive elements of the game and you’re left with a film that’s trying hard to drain blood from a rock – and not those fancy 1,000 year old blood-drinking rocks you can forge giant weapons from either.
Verdict: Dynasty Warriors tries to be entertaining, and while it can be at times, more often it feels more like you’re watching your brother hog the Playstation controller.
Overall entertainment: 5/10
Violence: A highly cartoony and bloodless 6/10
Sex: One defiled imperial harem/10
Music: Top quality electric guitar riffs for all the main characters
Cao Cao: Apparently sees the world the same way a Terminator does. Also he’ll casually kill your family and you
Decapitations: About fifty
Dynasty Warriors (2021)
Also known as: 真·三国无双
Director: Roy Chow
Writer: Christine To
Louis Koo – Lü Bu
Carina Lau – The Master of the Sword Forge Castle
Wang Kai – Cao Cao
Tony Yang – Liu Bei
Han Geng – Guan Yu
Justin Cheung – Zhang Fei
Gulnazar – Diaochan
Ray Lui – Yuan Shao
Lam Suet – Dong Zhuo
Philip Keung – Zhang Jiao
Law Kar-ying – Lü Boshe
Eddie Cheung – Chen Gong
Jonathan Wong – Cao Ren