2008 action war drama film loosely based on parts of the 14th century Chinese classical novel, “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. Written and directed by Daniel Lee and starring Andy Lau, Sammo Hung and Maggie Q.
One of Hong Kong’s most popular actors and singers, Andy Lau stars as “Zhao Zilong”. Lau has consistently been one of Hong Kong’s most commercially successful film actors since the mid-1980’s, performing in more than 160 films while maintaining a successful singing career at the same time.
He had early action roles in films such as “Shanghai 13” and “Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars”, eventually finding widespread critical acclaim as a leading man in 1988’s “As Tears Go By”. Since then he has forged a hugely successful career be it in comedy, romance, thriller, action or drama movies. Some of his best known films include “God of Gamblers”, “A Moment of Romance”, “Casino Tycoon”, “Moon Warriors”, “Infernal Affairs”, “The Warlords”, “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame”, “Shaolin”, “Shockwave” and “Chasing the Dragon”, to name but a few.
In 2005, Lau was awarded “Number One Hong Kong Box Office Actor 1985-2005”, his films having earned a total box office of HK$1,733,275,816 from 108 films in two decades, out-grossing even Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Stephen Chow.
Needing no introduction, the legendary Sammo Hung stars as “Luo Pingan”. In a career spanning six decades, he has worked with some of the best in the business, from Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan. His work as a performer, choreographer and director helped to reshape and evolve modern screen fighting action as we know it.
From his earliest works such as “Iron Fisted Monk”, “Warriors Two”, “Knockabout”, “The Prodigal Son”, to his comedies and collaborations with his fellow “Fortunes” opera brothers, including “Encounters of the Spooky Kind”, “My Lucky Stars”, “Eastern Condors”, “Wheels on Meals”, to modern-day hits such as “SPL/ Kill Zone”, “Call of Heroes”, “Ip Man”, “Paradox” and “The Bodyguard”, there are very few others who have delivered such a variety of action to consistently high quality levels over such a long career.
Maggie Q stars as “Cao Ying”, a female warrior. Maggie is best known for her roles in the international box office hits “Mission: Impossible III” and “Die Hard 4.0/Live Free or Die Hard”, as well as playing the lead in the popular television series “Nikita”. Her career in movies began in Hong Kong when no less than Jackie Chan saw her potential to be an action star. Her acting career has gone from strength to strength with roles in films such as “Gen-Y Cops”, “Dragon Squad”, “Naked Weapon”, “Rush Hour 2” and the “Divergent” series of films.
Former Taiwanese boy band star Vanness Wu stars as “Guan Xing”, Guan Yu’s son. As well as a solo singing career, Vanness has had a successful acting career in television and film, and has appeared in the movies “Kung Fu Fighter”, “Dragon Squad“, “Kung Fu Chefs”, “Monk Comes Down the Mountain” and “Ip Man 4: The Finale”.
Part of the new generation of Hong Kong action stars, Andy On appears as “Deng Zhi”, a Shu general and a subordinate of Zhao Zilong. On has featured notably in films such as “The Lost Bladesman“, “Invisible Target“, “Fatal Contact“, “New Police Story”, “True Legend“, “Special ID“, “Blackhat”, “Zombie Fight Club” and “Kung Fu League”, to name but a few.
Actor Ding Haifeng plays “Zhang Bao”, Zhang Fei’s son. He has appeared in “The Empress and the Assassin”, and the blockbusting box office hits “L Storm”, “P Storm” and “Wolf Warrior 2”. A veteran of the Shaw Brothers golden era, star of “A Better Tomorrow” and Jackie Chan’s dad from “Drunken Master 2“, Ti Lung appears as the legendary “Guan Yu”.
Chinese martial artist and actor Yu Rongguang makes a guest appearance as “Han De”, a Wei general and subordinate of Cao Ying. The son of a popular Peking Opera actor, Yu has appeared in films such as Donnie Yen‘s “Iron Monkey”, and several Jackie Chan films including “Shanghai Noon”, “New Police Story”, “The Myth”, “Little Big Soldier”, “The Karate Kid” and “Police Story 2013: Lockdown”.
With his country torn apart by civil war, Zhao Zilong, a common man heeds the call of duty. From the humblest of roots he rises through the ranks on wings of courage and cunning to command an army charged with liberating the land from an evil warlord.
Inspiring by action, honour and a dream of unifying his divided nation, Zhao Zilong’s heroism becomes legend, but as the years pass and the throne changes hands, the war still rages on.
When a newly enthroned king decides peace can only be achieved by defeating the warlords once and for all, the aging Zhao Zilong embarks on his final and greatest campaign, a road to adventure that will crown his name in glory for all time.
After a little scene-setting and getting to know our main characters, the first piece of action more-or-less sets the template for the rest of the movie.
A night-time raid on the enemy’s camp features broader battle scenes cut together with individual fights. Nearly all the fighting features the historic armoury of the time, especially the pole weapons such as the halberd or spear.
The dreaded shaky-cam is frequently employed to give the feeling of a “war documentary”, along with lots of wire-assistance. There are however enough grounded and more authentic techniques to be enjoyed in the more intimate duels.
Zilong has a tense battle defending himself and a baby strapped to his back from dozens of Cao’s soldiers. Much like the period kung fu films of the sixties, bright red blood frequently sprays across the screen amidst the chaos of the fighting.
Twenty years and the campaigns of the legendary Five Tiger Generals are glossed over with brief, flashback glimpses of their battles, a voiceover, and some exposition, as their heirs are appointed.
The new generation of generals join Zilong for one last, great expedition to defeat the northern armies. Zilong has a couple of decent duels on horseback, not least his fight with Cao Ying, played by Maggie Q. It builds to an epic final stand as Zilong’s troops defend their Phoenix Heights stronghold against Cao Ying’s marauding army.
This is not an historic battle film filled with drama, but more of an historic drama film, with a few battles thrown in. As such, the pacing never really hits a comfortable rhythm. Just as it feels like the action is getting going, the scene is tied off.
The big battle and smaller individual fight scenes look well-choreographed, but the scale and excitement is often lost in the shaky editing.
Outside of the epic battle scenes, the dialogue sequences are beautifully shot.
Andy Lau gives a superb performance, ranging from the young, heroic soldier, who becomes an inspirational leader, to the battle-weary old general.
Maggie Q also acquits herself well as the ruthless Cao Ying, and Sammo Hung mostly eschews the action, delivering a tender performance as Pingan, giving the story some heart.
Aside from a brief hint of romance for Zilong when he returns to his village a hero, his brotherly relationship with Pingan is the closest we get to any emotional connection with the characters. The biggest sin though is in the final third of the film which started to become a bit tedious between the battle scenes. To me, this felt like a long film yet it was just over and hour and a half.
This is a well made but ultimately flawed historical epic, that gets off to a good start, garners performances better than the story deserves, but ultimately unravels from the halfway point. If you enjoy historical movies, this is worth a look, but other films such as “The Lost Bladesman”, “The Warlords”, and the superb “Red Cliff”, cover the same territory with much greater success.
- “A man must dream big and aspire to great achievements” – Luo Pingan
- “Battle and chess are very similar. Instead of hanging on to every chess piece and playing defensively, one must know when to sacrifice a rook to take the opponent’s king… It’s better to lose the rook than lose the game.” – Zhuge Liang
- “Cao Ying, there is no mercy on war. Everyone you see down there are nothing but chess pieces.” – Cao Cao
- The UK version is cut by three seconds to remove shots of cruel horse falls.
- Zhao Zilong, also known as Zhao Yun, was a military general who lived during the late Eastern Han dynasty and early Three Kingdoms period of China.
- Originally a subordinate of the northern warlord Gongsun Zan, Zhao Yun later came to serve another warlord, Liu Bei, and had since accompanied him on most of his military exploits, from the Battle of Changban (208CE) to the Hanzhong Campaign (217–219CE).
- He continued serving in the state of Shu Han – founded by Liu Bei in 221CE – in the Three Kingdoms period and participated in the first of the Northern Expeditions until his death in 229CE. While many facts about Zhao Yun’s life remain unclear due to limited information in historical sources, some aspects and activities of his life have been dramatised or exaggerated in folklore and fiction. In the 14th century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, he was lauded as a member of the Five Tiger Generals under Liu Bei.
- Sammo Hung served as the film’s Action Director.
- Henry Lai Wan-man created the music score. It took its inspiration from the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone’s “Dollars” films and several Hong Kong films, including “Once Upon a Time in China”.