The film adaptation of a video game that is itself adapted from a book has finally hit Netflix. As a huge fan of Dynasty Warriors and the Musou genre as a whole I needed to watch this.
I’ve been curious about this film ever since our first trailer in 2018, however the first trailer left fans of both Dynasty Warriors and Romance of the Three Kingdoms skeptical. It just appeared to be a stand Romance of the Three Kingdoms adaptation, most of the trailer was spent on shots of landscapes or horses running with the end being an attack that takes down a lot of people in Dynasty Warriors fashion, and then there was silence. At least for me, an English speaking fan, I don’t know if there were more updates in China but for years after the first trailer there was nothing said about this film that I could find. It wasn’t until a few months ago that we finally got a second trailer and a release date for the film.
And this second trailer was amazing. This trailer showed what the film would be much more accurately than the first trailer. While the first trailer was essentially Romance of the Three Kingdoms with a small bit of Dynasty Warriors at the end the second trailer was full of ridiculous action, with Three Kingdoms taking a backseat. This trailer is, for lack of a better descriptor, Dynasty Warriors.
The film was released in Hong Kong on my birthday but I would need to wait a few months for it to come to the west and watch it myself. So was this film worth the five year wait? I wondered that in anticipation for so long. The day I sat down to see the film I was very nervous. This film had all the potential in the world to be amazing, but an equal chance of being awful and contributing to the thought online that just because a film is based on a game it’s doomed to be bad.
My fears were quelled as the film started on the Yellow Turban Rebellion, Birth of a Hero from Dynasty Warriors 9 began to play, and the three brothers began to take down hundreds of enemies. Is this film good? Yes. In fact I dare say it’s the gold standard that all video game adaptations should be held to.
This is the best Zhang Jiao design we’ve had in years
Let’s begin by talking about the most notable part of the last two trailers, and the reason many people got interested in the film: the action scenes. The action scenes are easily the best part of this film. Just like the games, although the characters take the actions they do in Three Kingdoms every major character can easily take down a hundred foes at once during battle. Every one of them is extremely over the top, but treated with enough weight that they still have stakes. The fight scenes never feel repetitive as well, even though there are many of them each one feels very unique with different setpieces and different strategies being used in all of them. From Cao Cao’s horseback escape from Dong Zhou to Hua Xiong’s duels with the alliance’s generals, each one left a big smile on my face.
Being the nerd I am, there is a comparison I made while watching this film’s fight scenes. They all give off the same kind of feeling that anime like Fist of the North Star give off with their action. Over the top but grounded enough to be taken seriously.
Let’s take a moment now to talk about another major aspect of the film: the actors. Judging the acting skills of actors who you don’t speak the language of is hard. As a white woman who only speaks English I really have no way of telling if a Chinese man is giving a really good or really bad performance. However there is one performance that surpasses the language barrier and left me in awe: Wang Kai as Cao Cao.
Wang Kai’s performance has a presence that commands your attention. In any scene where Cao Cao is speaking with someone, you can cut the tension with a knife, the laugh he gives off raises goosebumps. The Cao Cao centric portions of the film are some of the best parts and it’s almost entirely because Wang Kai is such a great actor.
The film uses the Dynasty Warriors 9 soundtrack, while this can be seen as an inherently lazy decision I couldn’t care less. Dynasty Warriors 9 has one of the greatest soundtracks in video game history and for it to be stuck in a game that was critically panned is just sad. The soundtrack also fits the tone of the film perfectly; the constant guitars and percussion greatly enhance each action scene and further help the film feel like the games it’s based on.
Tone wise I’ve several times said it captures Dynasty Warriors perfectly, but what about the plot of Three Kingdoms? Does it do that well? I would argue yes, but it’s definitely not the best Three Kingdoms adaptation out there. Covering from the Yellow Turban Rebellion to Dong Zhou’s burning of Luoyang, the film takes many liberties with the very original source material in order to work as a film and incorporate all the action scenes Dynasty Warriors will need. However these liberties don’t take away from the film much for me and I was still enjoying every moment I recognized of the original story.
The film does have one major flaw though, during the first third a strange scene with no basis in either Romance of the Three Kingdoms nor Dynasty Warriors takes place. During this scene a mystical being gives exposition and grants our protagonists magical weapons. This scene is out of place, it fits neither the games, original story, or even the film. Dynasty Warriors (both the game and film) tells a grounded story but with non grounded action scenes. This strange scene takes this grounded story and gives it mystical elements that are largely ignored for the rest of the film aside from one later mention. It’s the only blemish in a film that is otherwise a perfect adaptation in content and tone.
I have now watched this film five times and shown it to several friends who know nothing of Dynasty Warriors. Pleasing me, a fan of the games who can appreciate all the fanservice is one thing, but what about a typical movie watching audience? I am pleased to say that of the eight friends I have shown the film to, not a single one didn’t love it.
This film was simply amazing and blew me away at every possible opportunity. It was everything I could have hoped for as a fan and I would eagerly continue to show it to non-fans. This film is everything video game adaptations should try to be, staying true to the tone of the game in a way to entice fans as well as make a great film. The movie ends fairly early in the story of the Three Kingdoms and I desperately hope that Roy Chow one day makes a sequel to this masterpiece.
Thank you for reading my article, if you would like to read another Warriors related piece from me, please check out my Utawarerumono Zan review
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