Story: China is divided into three kingdoms, whose rulers try to unify the country by leading a war against
each other. Zhao Zilong (Andy Lau) fights for the kingdom of Shu. He is introduced into military works by his friend
Pingan (Sammo Hung). Soon Zilong has quite some military achievements to his credit. When he even saves the son
of emporer Liu from the hands of enemy general Cao Cao (Damian Lau), his military career receives an even
greater boost. His deeds and his combat skills also earn him the respect of the honorable generals Guan Yu (Ti Lung)
and Zhang Fei (Chen Zhihui), so that he soon fights alongside them in the war against the other two countries.
Many years go by, but the empire is still in pieces and the war continues. Zilong is the only one left of the great generals, by now. His victories are countless and he has even become a national hero. However, his biggest battle he has yet to fight against Cao Cao's granddaughter Cao Ying (Maggie Q). Cao Ying doesn't only prove to have extraordinary wits in tactics, but also has a secret ally in Zilong's ranks. The "invincible warrior" enters the stage of his last battle...
Review: "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" is one of the four great classics of Chinese literature and has been
written in the 14th century by Luo Guanzhong. In his work Luo depicts the events of the time of the three kingdoms
during the 2nd and 3rd century. Naturally, director Daniel Lee has to expect quite some criticism when taking on such
a classic, and in fact fans of the novel surely will be pretty disappointed by the end product. The story is told in a
too shallow and jumpy fashion and the focus is chosen without much consideration. Moreover, those familiar with the
original work will disapprove some of the liberties the scriptwriters take. For westerners, who maybe didn't even hear
of the title of the novel, and who at best might think that the names of the generals sound somewhat familiar, thanks
to the videogame series "Dynasty Warriors", this will be no reason to develop an aversion towards the film, however.
And in fact "Three Kingdoms", when not taking into account what I just talked about, can be quite an entertaining
war-epic, which nonetheless remains too insignificant in its core, and which is furthermore also produced in a too bumpy
manner to really impress.
When adapting such an extensive work as the one here, you just have to focus on a few aspects of the story. Daniel Lee concentrates on the heroic and undefeatable Zhao Zilong and his cometlike rise in the ranks of the military. That the director tries to span several decades with his story only intensifies one big problem, however, which is all appearant, anyhow. "Three Kingdoms" lacks emotional impact and well-written characters, whereas the first may be the result of the latter. All the time Zilong remains a character, who we without a doubt believe to live and breathe the heroism Andy Lau bestows upon him with his respectable performance, and who can also stand as a big personality, but unfortunately the viewer never gets to see what defines this character. The more forced feels the attempt of giving Zilong some more colour and tragedy by suddenly throwing in a love story, which heads nowhere in the end, anyway. This addition solely seems to fulfill the purpose of creating some moments later on, in which the hero of the story can have feelings of remorse about the road he has taken in life.
Lee's sketch of a war-epic is equipped with quite some stars. There are names like Damian Lau and Ti Lung to be found, whereas latter proves that his on-screen presence alone is enough to flesh out such an honorable figure like Guan Yu in a way that seems fitting. That's good, because naturally he doesn't get to time to draw some more facets of his character. Apart from that, there is also Sammo Hung, who at first seems a bit out of place in this picture, yet manages to convince later on. His depiction of a flopper isn't really original, but serves the plot.
Of course, there is also Maggie Q, who embodies the character Cao Ying, who doesn't make an appearance in the novel and thus is solely a "fictional" character. I haven't seen much of her, yet, but I know of her ambivalent reputation. Still, she does give a pleasing performance as the cool-minded tactician, who nonetheless also manages to bring a bit of emotion into play, even if it's just in a subtle manner and almost solely concerning one scene with her new foster father. Anyway, that's all there is waiting for the viewer when it comes to emotions, despite numerous characters biting the dust throughout the movie.
As a work that should mainly focus on the different war tactics, "Three Kingdoms" doesn't deliver a good insight into the game and also misses to depict the different battles as moves on a gigantic chessboard. The idea seems to be hidden somewhere, but it isn't transfered to the screen convincingly enough, as the battles lack the necessary wit most of the time and end up being MTV-like edited slaughter fests. Granted, the action scenes are nice to look at, but the undercranking style of cutting and editing makes you wonder what the editor's intention was when cutting the movie. Maybe it was simply to cover up that the choreography wasn't that well elaborated, even though this is hard to believe as no one else than Sammo is responsible for it. Some of the fights are actually quite appealing, but in the end they simply go to waste because of the annoying editing.
The degree of the depicted violence is appropriate for a war epic, meaning that there is a lot of computergenerated blood flowing, which could put off some of the more tender-hearted.
If the movie deserves some words of praise, then it is for the nicely composed picures. You can see that there was enough money involved into the production of the film, also thanks to a Korean financial shot by Taewon Entertainment, so that we get to see lavishly decorated sets, great costumes and huge armies clashing, every other minute.
The first half of the movie, in which we get a glance at Zilong's rise, is entertaining to watch, even if, like all the rest too, insignificant, but from the second half onwards the film doesn't really know what land to cover. From that time onwards "Three Kingdoms" feels dragged out, which is even worse, when taking into account that every minute should be precious in a film like this, since the big goal should be to do justice to a classic of literary genius! At least, director Lee tries to present his movie with a small message at the end, with which he wants to express that war is a fight already lost. Does he succeed in doing that? Hardly...
At the end, there is nothing in "Three Kingdoms" that will stick with the viewer. The emotional gap between audience and events on screen is too big, also thanks to the third-person narrator in the shape of Sammo Hung. The ending also can best be described as disappointing. However, you shouldn't get me wrong. "Three Kingdoms" is no bad movie, but simply commercial cinema, that meets all the demands of such a work. It just can't deliver anything more than that. If you can live with that you can have a fun ride with this "adaption of a classic", if you want to call it like this.