An action-packed Chinese historical war film directed by Gordon Chan and starring Vincent Zhao, Sammo Hung, and Yasuaki Kurata.
Vincent Zhao stars as “General Qi Jiguang”. Zhao, who is often credited as Chiu Man-cheuk in his earlier films, is a former Chinese wushu champion, who is also proficient in Tai Chi. He was talent spotted by producer and director Corey Yuen whilst studying at the Beijing Sports University where Zhao was also a martial arts instructor. He is best known for taking over the role of Wong Fei-hung from Jet Li in the “Once Upon a Time in China” films, and for his heroic roles in the television serials of “Wong Fei-hung” and “Huo Yuanjia”, as well as starring in Tsui Hark’s “The Blade” and Yuen Woo-ping’s Drunken Beggar origin story, “True Legend“.
Needing no introduction, action superstar Sammo Hung appears as “General Yu Dayou”. Known in the Hong Kong film industry as Da Goh Da, “Big Brother Big”, or “Biggest Brother”, Sammo has constantly redefined martial arts movie action with his innovation for five decades. His vast filmography ranges from “Enter the Dragon“, through to “The Prodigal Son“, “Eastern Condors“, “Encounters of a Spooky Kind“, “Wheels on Meals“, “The Bodyguard” and many, many more classics.
Appearing as “Commander Kumasawa” is action veteran Yasuaki Kurata. He is no stranger to fans of martial arts action having featured in some of the best ever onscreen dust-ups, with roles in “Legend of a Fighter”, “Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars“, “Millionaires Express“, “Eastern Condors” and “Fist of Legend“, to name but a few.
Chinese actress and singer Wan Qian, credited as Regina Wan, plays “Lady Qi”. Japanese actor Keisuke Koide appears as “Lord Yamagawa”.
During the 16th century, Japanese pirates continually increase in number, attacking the Chinese coastline. In 1557, the pirates take over Cengang in Zhejiang. After months of futile advances, Commander Yu finally defeats them under the leadership of the newly promoted General Qi, who uses his tactical genius to gain victory.
In 1561, the pirates regroup and once again attack the coastal cities of China. Outnumbered twenty-to-one and with both the cities of Xinhe and Taizhou under attack, Qi’s army is caught between two fires. Even though most family members of his soldiers are located in Xinhe, Qi makes the tough decision to go to Taizhou. He leaves his wife, Lady Qi in charge of defending Xinhe from the pirates. In a deadly gamble, General Qi is banking on the defeat of the pirates’ elite soldiers in Taizhou to finally bring peace to the coastal cities.
This film is based on real historical events of the Ming dynasty military fighting off the coastal attacks of Japanese pirates. These aren’t the Pirates of the Caribbean or Treasure Island however, they are an army of thousands of highly trained Japanese soldiers led by Ronin – Samurai without masters.
Sammo leads the storming of a fort. Soldiers’ boots splash puddles of scarlet blood as they race towards a torrent of musket fire and arrows. This isn’t an intimate martial arts duel, but an historical re-enactment with hundreds of soldiers getting muddied and bloodied on the battlefield.
When a fortification is brought down there are some incredible high falls from a multitude of stunt performers. A village raid sees Vincent Zhao have to adapt the use of his spear to close quarters battle, as Sammo slices and dices his way through with a sword. There is little in the way of “pretty” choreography, just brutal efficiency.
Sammo and Vincent have a friendly spar with wooden poles. Parts of it are delightful to watch as these old school stars perform some stylish but authentic moves. However, there are just one or two moments, and it is literally one or two, where the two stars look a little slow. Is age inevitably catching up with our screen heroes? Even so, the rhythm and technical expertise is still of a gold standard that many younger action stars can only dream of emulating.
Vincent Zhao has an intricate fist fight with a bandit leader that he tries to recruit. There are some nifty little grapples but this is far removed from the more energetic wire-inspired fights from his extensive filmography. During a beautifully filmed training montage on a beach, Zhao does however reveal that he is still in fantastic shape, with rippling muscles and an impressive snippet of qiangshu (wushu spear).
General Qi Jiguang’s assault on the town that the Japanese pirates are occupying is a chess game of alleyways and out-flanking. Not a great deal of action for martial arts fans, but an intriguing battle of wits between the two generals. Conversely, the siege of Xinhe is much more raw with just 200 soldiers joined by General Qi Jiguang’s wife and the women folk fighting off the pirate attack. Blades flash and makeshift grenades detonate in an emotionally explosive skirmish.
There is a bizarre battle featuring dozens of soldiers on what I can only describe as “mud scooters” – basically a wooden, wheel-less scooter that the soldiers drive over the mudflats with one leg! I would love to know if such a thing existed in the 16th century, but I suspect not!
Although Yasuaki Kurata is in his seventies, when he finally kicks off, although he is obviously doubled for the acrobatic parts, I personally think he moves the best out of all our old school stars in this production.
From the first scene it’s obvious that this film has multi-million dollar production values. The sets, costumes and most of the special effects are of the highest standards.
Vincent Zhao is perfectly adequate as a dutiful and intelligent tactician, but such a role rarely allows him to dazzle in the acting department. Yasuaki Kurata although best known for his action skills, here, quite deservedly, earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the 37th Hong Kong Film Awards, for his charismatic portrayal of the once noble samurai turned pirate commander. Sammo Hung is hardly stretched in his role and his character sadly disappears more or less after the first act. Regina Wan is a revelation in her performance as a wife who is as tough and resourceful as her military General husband. There are occasional moments of some genuine emotion on display, as soldiers become tearful about having to leave loved ones behind as they go off to fight the enemy. Such anti-machismo is pretty unique in this type of movie.
It pains me to say it, but it’s a tad overlong. It annoys me that epic films like John Woo’s “Red Cliff” were drastically cut for western audiences. But in this case, I think 10 or 15 minutes of dull political exposition trimmed from the middle act would improve it no end.
Having set an incredibly high bar with Jet Li’s “Fist of Legend” in 1994, director Gordon Chan has struggled to get close to such heights with his subsequent movies. With “God of War”, he has delivered a flawed war film that even so, is probably his best movie of the new millennium.
Fans of movies such as “Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon”, “The Warlords” and “Red Cliff” should enjoy this high-quality Chinese historical epic.
- Qi Jiguang was a real-life 16th century general who defended China’s coastline from marauding pirates and Japanese samurai.
- Sammo Hung’s eldest son Timmy Hung appears as one of the villager’s soldiers.
- “God of War” had a limited big screen theatrical release in the USA in the summer of 2017 courtesy of Well Go USA.
- Gordon Chan has directed most of the major Hong Kong action stars including Jet Li (Fist of Legend), Stephen Chow (Royal Tramp, King of Beggars), Jackie Chan (Thunderbolt, The Medallion), Donnie Yen (Painted Skin), and Sammo Hung in this
movie. Sammo had previously worked with Gordon Chan as action director on The Medallion.
- “Benevolence is not enough. We need strategy.” – Commander Kumasawa
- “An inch longer, an inch stronger.” – General Qi Jiguang
- “An inch shorter, an inch deadlier.” – General Yu Dayou
- “I am not worried. My wife is invincible!” – General Qi Jiguang
- “That’s the amazing thing about Qi. He made them believe they could become stronger.” – Commander Kumasawa
- “He who can prevail in chaos will become regarded as a God.” – Commander Kumasawa
Film Rating: 7.5/10
“God of War” is available to own on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download, and is currently on Netflix UK. What are your impressions of this epic-scale movie and which other historic titanic battle FU-flicks do you rate most? Let us know in the comments below, join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter . (Check out our other movie reviews that just might rock your world!)