Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon Review
The FilmThree Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon is freely adapted from one of the classic novels of Chinese literature, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Its great success at the Asian box office was that of beating John Woo's Red Cliff movies to the punch and mining some of the same events as Woo for modern action fans first. Both films ramp up the action set pieces, deploy CGI and boast some of the biggest stars of the continent in order to deliver on epic stories of war and nation building.
The eventual circle of the story told in this film is one where the personal is worked through with the background of war. War is all spectacle, carnage and opportunities for personal endeavour - as it is represented it is merely a battle for power between people we don't really get to understand. In the place of such explanation is a sort of woolly philosophy that aren't we all used as pawns in a greater chess game, a dumb fatalist thinking which allows the film to decry war as arbitrary and cruel whilst enjoying the blood and guts it presents.
In addition to his epic story, good cast, and martialled resources, director Daniel Lee brings a facile soapy insight to love, war, and friendship. Actors are forced to emote wildly to inject emotion into a story which concentrates on the personal with no ability to actually make this feel authentic. So when our hero learns of deep betrayal that has killed his loyal retainers, he merely forgives the scamp responsible because of their gurning grief. The empty-headedness of the film could best be summed up as war can look great, but it hurts people.
In my eyes, the worst crime of Lee's film is that it wastes two of my favourite actors, Sammo Hung and Andy Lau. Any attempt to build camaraderie between these supposed brothers is flawed by their lack of real interplay and the film's unyielding focus on Lau. Hung is relegated to watching from the sidelines and playing the underachiever in the shadow of his friend. It's not that I have a problem with Hung asked to be dramatic rather than rely on his action skills, and he is getting on, but here playing against type it just doesn't work.
The real star of the film is the music. Henry Lai shamelessly apes Ennio Morricone, and does it with such charm and commitment that he actually succeeds in making some of the silly drama here affecting or stirring. His score almost offers the cohesion and continuity that the direction doesn't, but finally the shallow approach to an epic subject can't be hidden, and the superficial is all that we are left with to enjoy.
Transfer and SoundThere are a few high definition presentations of this film available and I am sure that many will shell out a few extra quid rather than pick up this transfer. It isn't bad, but it does struggle with detail and contrast at the beginning, has a small element of noticeable edge enhancement and, worst of all, burnt in subs. these subtitles contain some odd choices of words -"encircle" instead of surround or overcome - and some lapses in grammar which do draw attention to the subtitles permanence.
Discs and Special FeaturesThis is a two disc set with 70% of the first disc used on the film itself and one subtitled trailer. The second disc has the same mixture of poster art and scene excerpts on the menus and includes four interviews, along with a 90 minute making of documentary. Now I must admit that the life of a reviewer must seem rather good to yourselves - free movies, the chance to interview movie stars, and cocaine sent directly from Colombia to the thighs of your particular loved one for you to snort as you will. Still, having to sit through making of documentaries for films that you haven't enjoyed greatly is an occupational hazard. These documentaries are sometimes as long as the film itself, filled with PR hype, and nonsense where ordinary actors and shoddy directors are fêted as gods, and full of the kind of delusion you don't usually find outside of Gordon Brown's cabinet. There are times when reviewing such "product" is akin to having your veins tapped and being exanguinated very, very slowly whilst the most boring person you know tells you about their wedding/children's births/DIY. Now this was one of those times. The documentary is an hour and a half of footage shot whilst the film was being made with no narration, intertitles, or explanation for the order of what you see. Sporadic English subtitles pop up to poke you into consciousness and, hey presto, you're 93 minutes older having seen Maggie Q be sheltered from getting sand in her hair and Andy Lau get a nick on his face. Perhaps you may like the film more than me and this will all prove fascinating to you, perhaps.
The interviews feature the director and three leading cast members. Andy Lau astounds us all with the notion that this film is not a "documentary" and claims that the film is serious about taking a stand in the modern world. He praises Hung as an actor whilst his eyes wander off suggesting he's left the oven on, and he paints the director as a collegiate visionary type. Hung is much more fun and animated, talking about his previous experiences acting in stories based on the same source. He explains how he muscled his way into his role and is far more convincing from a promotional point of point of view. Maggie Q speaks in English and says the least before the constantly nodding director talks about how he prepared the project, how he cast the project, and how it all turned out so well.
Bar Maggie Q, there are burnt -in English subs throughout.
SummaryI sometimes like a big dumb movie but Three Kingdoms is simply too superficial and empty and pompous. If you enjoy it more than I did and can bear burnt-in subs then this is a handy set to purchase.
5 out of 10
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6 out of 10