Dynasty Warriors is now streaming on Netflix.
Dynasty Warriors isn’t the video game-to-movie adaptation you’ve come to expect. Dating back to 1997, and made up of nine separate games, the hack-n-slash action franchise is a tactical, single-player role-playing game that, at first glance, offers some potential for a cinematic feel. On the one hand, exaggerated battles should correspond to action sequences on the big screen. The epic world building allows for great creative flexibility. And historical tradition should imbue the debates with a powerful aura. But director Roy Hin Yeung Chow’s Dynasty Warriors is a two-hour job, missing the silly hijinks and sharp combat precision needed for an ultra-fun adventure.
The Dynasty Warriors script is tragically underwritten. Three itinerant soldiers Liu Bei (Tony Yo-ning Yang), Guan Yu (Geng Han) and Zhang Fei (Justin Cheung) – united by honor and loyalty to the Han Dynasty – are working to restore the infant Emperor Liu Bian to the throne following the takeover of its infamous Chancellor Dong Zhuo (Suet Lam). Chow and Writer Chi-long Expect viewers to have a fair amount of prior knowledge. This is why the characters are without any kind of backstory: how the trio of warriors came to unite or their individual origins. But unless you’ve played one or more of the games, you’ll be totally lost.
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Worse yet, Chow makes little effort to connect any of the hanging wires. The most powerful fighter in Dong Zhuo’s army, Lu Bu (Louis Koo), surprisingly falls in love with his commander’s unknown lover, Diao Chan (Coulee Nazha). Cao Cao (Kai Wang), a staunch servant of the young emperor who is willing to sacrifice everything and sacrifice everything to bring the Han Dynasty back to power, commits a heinous and bloody crime that has never been revisited.
And the Three Soldiers, to whom the mystical master of Sword Forge Castle (Carina Lau) bestows trippy hallucinogenic vision and mighty weapons, never display the combined might one would expect from such magical abilities.
When it comes to jagged visual effects, the on-screen production value barely reaches the level of The Last Airbender. Large-scale clashes between armies are replete with gruesome visual artifacts. Likewise, the robotic movements of the soldiers, similar to barely rendered stick figures, distract attention from the vicious scale of the carnage. Charitable inference looks like these shoddy graphics are meant to be reminiscent of earlier gameplay iterations. Even if one allows oneself such an apology, this is a movie, and one that carries a certain expectation of style and quality – both are lacking in Dynasty Warriors.
Chow further disrupts the line between film and gaming with inexpensive repeating compositions meant to mirror in-game cutscenes. It’s like he’s starting to design a game first. Abandoned. And then reused the images already shot for the film. Visual narrative choices make the underlying Dynasty Warriors story incomprehensible, add unnecessary grease to a bloated two-hour runtime, and barely provide the aesthetic quality of a low-res screensaver. If you want to watch a series of overexposed landscapes continuously, skip this movie. Turn on your television. And let the Chromecast slideshow do its job for less.
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It’s hard to quantify exactly what Dynasty Warriors does well. The golden production design of the Han Era adds a resplendent sparkle to the action on the screen. Just like the vibrant and colorful armor. But that’s about all. The performances are without merit, struggling to add a coherent emotional line between the â1 against 100â bloodshed. This is why the last third of the action film seems rushed. The trio of soldiers clash in an anti-climatic battle with Lu Bu: filled with moves like lightning-laden spirit bombs – only to take the story five years into the future where Bei and Cao are now enemies.
One can only guess that Chow and Co. wants to make it into a movie franchise. It would be a mistake. Like they should figure out what a movie is before they do more.