Friday, 19 December 2014

Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2008)

As is probably evident from the title, this film focuses on the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history.  That was also the era in which The Battle of Red Cliff was set.  However, whereas that film revolved around a single battle (in fact, the battle that began the era), this one traces the career of one of the most famous generals of the period.

One thing the two movies do have in common though is that neither of them really gelled for me.  For this film in particular, that's a little bit of a disappointment.  You see, there's a lot to like here, and in two important areas I think it definitely outshines Red Cliff.

The first of those two areas is simple enough: the 'bad guys' in this film are not idiots.  They don't fall blindly into every stratagem the protagonists employ, which is a nice change.  Now it's true that the overall tone and plot of this film allows a lot more freedom for the antagonists to be competent, but still: thumbs up for capable adversaries.

The second area is the battle sequences, which to me feel much more visceral and dynamic than those of Red Cliff.

In terms of this film's strengths, I should also take the time to mention the performances, which are excellent.  It might seem a little odd to praise the actors in a film where I don't understand a word of the dialogue, but it just goes to show how much of the art of acting is in body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice.  I might not understand a word Sammo Hung is saying, but I know exactly how his character is feeling, even when those feelings are quite complex.

So why didn't this film gel for me, given the things I liked?  Ultimately it comes down to the script: although it has competent adversaries and thematic consistency going for it, there are several details that don't work for me, and it has a rather episodic feel to it: it comes across more like a series of vignettes that happen to share the same characters than a cohesive narrative.

The theme I mentioned may also not be to all tastes: despite some pretty 'yay war' dialogue - speaking of the honour of death in battle, and suchlike - it seems to me that the core of the film is 'war is futile'.  No character who pursues something by military means - whether their goal be to finally win peace for the land, or to attain personal glory, or to conquer their enemies - succeeds in their ambition.  It's not the cheeriest of films, it must be said.

Lots of things I liked here, but it is somehow less than the sum of its parts.

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