REVIEW: ‘Dynasty Warriors’ Is Action-Packed But Needs A Deeper Story

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Dynasty Warriors

Dynasty Warriors, directed by Roy Chow, is based on the video game franchise of the same name developed by Koei Tecmo. The film takes place during the downfall of the Eastern Han Dynasty, with the power-hungry Dong Zhuo (Suet Lam) taking control of the throne. Multiple warriors rise up to stop him, including swordsman Liu Bei (Tony Yo-ning Yang) and his blood brothers Guan Yu (Geng Han) and Zhang Fei (Justin Cheung), who were loyal to the Han Dynasty’s young emperor. Cao Cao (Kai Wang) also seeks to assassinate Dong Zhuo, which leads him on a journey across China to Liu Bei.

The film has had a long road to its debut, first filming in 2017 and undergoing a lengthy post-production process as well as shifting release dates due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also serves as another highly anticipated video game adaptation, as the Dynasty Warriors games have become a long and successful franchise-even spawning multiple spinoffs featuring characters from Mobile Suit Gundam and Fist of the North Star. However, I felt that the results were mixed, as the film crams nearly two movies’ worth of story into the space of two hours.

A key example concerns Lu Bu (Louis Koo), Dong Zhuo’s main general, who encounters the lovely Diaochan (Coulee Nazha) and prevents her from committing suicide. What happens next is the most lightspeed romance I’ve ever seen: she says she doesn’t want to get married to Dong Zhuo, and he promises to marry her. Dude, you JUST MET HER. Get to know her before popping the question! Likewise, the ending feels rather abrupt and sets up multiple threads that led to a sequel. This is a growing pet peeve of mine: many films that try to launch a franchise, especially those based on existing IP, often overstuff their first entry with various Easter eggs that scream, “We’ll get to this in the sequel!” Dynasty Warriors is no different, and I feel like Chow and screenwriter Christine To could have crafted a smoother and more compelling narrative that left the door open for a sequel.

The CGI is also extremely wonky; massive cracks in the ground and elemental blasts feel less like they belong in a massive blockbuster movie and more in an episode of Power Rangers. I have no problem with CGI in films, but it should be a tool used to enhance the narrative and not the major feature. To the film’s credit, it leans into this hokiness throughout the entire runtime-which led to a few genuine giggles from me while I was watching it.

A key element of the film that works wonderfully is the fight scenes. The Dynasty Warriors franchise is best known for its hack-and-slash combat, and Chow manages to replicate the sheer adrenaline rush of those scenes. Fighters leap into the air, delivering crushing blows. And many of the major warriors, including the trio of blood brothers and Cao Cao, manage to strike blows that send scores of enemies flying. Much like Mortal Kombat, viewers will probably view the fight sequences and mystical elements as the major draw. One such element features Lu Bu wielding the Heaven’s Halberd, which summons thunder and lightning in a manner similar to Thor’s hammer Mjolnir.

The acting is also fairly solid across the board, with Koo and Wang being the standouts. Wang’s Cao Cao is driven by a desire for vengeance, which leads him to make a rather shocking decision near the film’s halfway point; the film takes care to show that his quest for vengeance has a legitimate cost which I think adds some much-needed gravity to his character arc. Koo is also a twist on the “villain’s right-hand man” trope, as Lu Bu actually holds himself up as an honorable warrior and is fairly clever when it comes to warfare strategies. I wish we had gotten to see more of Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei; their dynamic is highly reminiscent of the one Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli shared in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and I would have gladly watched a whole movie of that.

Dynasty Warriors could have benefitted from an expanded runtime and a stronger screenplay, though its high-octane action sequences and performances will undoubtedly be a draw for audiences. Fans of the video game series or wuxia films should definitely give it a watch, and if a sequel does manifest, I hope that it takes as much care with characters as it does with action.

Dynasty Warriors is currently available to stream on Netflix.


Dynasty Warriors
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Dynasty Warriors could have benefitted from an expanded runtime and a stronger screenplay, though its high-octane action sequences and performances will undoubtedly be a draw for audiences. Fans of the video game series or wuxia films should definitely give it a watch, and if a sequel does manifest, I hope that it takes as much care with characters as it does with action.