Lionsgate // 2008 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // April 16th, 2010
The honor of a man. The courage of a people. The glory of a nation.
Another day, another epic Chinese period war movie.
The year: 228 A.D. The place: China. The low-down: Three kingdoms are vying for supremacy, waging perpetual war against one another to claim superiority. The man to unite the three kingdoms and...er, resurrect the dragon, I guess...is Zhao Zilong (Andy Lau, House of Flying Daggers). A guy from humble origins, Zilong would rise up through the ranks and eventually lead the armies against some dirtbag warlord and his adopted daughter (Maggie Q, Live Free or Die Hard).
Lately, the Epic Chinese Period War Film has been gracing my doorstep with alarming frequency. Perhaps there's something in the water over in Asia...or maybe a renewed interest in filming gigantic battle scenes of guys flying around with swords and playing traditional stringed instruments. Regardless, I'm content with the trend, having thoroughly enjoyed John Woo's monster outing, Red Cliff. This latest feature showed some promise, what with the stellar cast (Sammo Hung stars as well directs the action sequences) and the R-rating for "bloody battle sequences."
Unfortunately, Three Kingdoms falters. Lau is good parading around in old man make-up, so is Maggie Q as a the bad-ass warrior queen, and Sammo Hung fits in well with his hapless, sort-of-bumbling character -- a role he's obviously enjoying.
It's when those money moments -- the battle sequences -- hit that things fall apart. Director Daniel Lee, who also filmed Black Mask, shoots the carnage in a hyperactive, blurry, headache-inducing style, not unlike the direction he chose with Jet Li's half-baked superhero saga.
He includes plenty of action bits, but none of them are satisfying, whether they're one-on-one match-ups (Lau is an awesome actor but not an action guy) or full-scale cavalry charges. There is a lot of camera shake, motion blur, and quick cuts. The result? Perpetually unsatisfactory battles that never let the audience hone in on what's happening. A lot of style and some random blood bursts from unidentifiable victims, but nothing to latch onto. Worse, Lee further detaches from the realistic aspect with wire-work and visual effects that don't match up with the historical thrust of the storytelling. The worst moment: a CGI horse and rider leaping a wagon and kicking a bad guy in the face. Acch.
Lionsgate spits out an underperforming DVD. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is washed-out and the computer-enhanced battle legions are unpersuasive. The 5.1 surround tracks (Mandarin and English) are properly hectic, though. A series of cast interviews is your only extra.
Wow...Huge battle scenes are boring now.
Guilty. Back to the tomb, dragon.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Mandarin)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R