Die-hard fans should definitely watch the Dynasty Warriors movie, if only out of morbid curiosity. Much like the video games themselves, it’s a mindless romp that occasionally excites with some set piece action. However, the film is a poor gateway for those who haven’t played Dynasty Warriors but want to know what all the fuss is about.
Based on Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Dynasty Warriors is an extremely sensationalised re-telling of an already fictionalised account of China’s ancient history. As with every entry in the main video game series, the Dynasty Warriors movie opens with the Yellow Turban Rebellion.
It’s during this peasant revolt that the saga’s heroes first emerge. Traditionally, the games have focused on a triad of main factions – Shu, Wei, and Wu – who will eventually come head to head in the war of the three kingdoms.
This adaptation covers every major event in the saga up until the iconic battle of Hu Lao Gate. Considering the movie’s running time of 118 minutes, it makes sense to choose this as the climactic point, though gamers and historians will know that this only scratches the surface of a much bigger saga.
Humble Shu general Liu Bei (played by Tony Yang) can be labelled the main protagonist. He is forever flanked by his oathsworn brothers, Guan Yu (Han Geng) and Zhang Fei (Justin Cheung), though it’s his bond with Wei leader Cao Cao (Wang Kai) that is most notable.
As they witness the Han dynasty choke on its corruption, they stop at nothing to thwart the despotic tyrant, Dong Zhuo. However there’s a realisation that, once he’s been dealt with, the power vacuum will pit these virtuous heroes against one another.
So, what about the acting? Or, more importantly, what about the action?
Don’t expect the English dub to carry this movie on its back. The Dynasty Warriors games aren’t exactly known for their superb voice acting and it’s no better here. The localised script is serviceable, yet does nothing to accentuate the handful of dramatic character monologues.
Aside from being based off Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the only thing linking this movie to Dynasty Warriors is its over-the-top fight scenes. The Dynasty Warriors games have always featured a “one versus one thousand” philosophy as players wipe entire screens of enemies using ridiculous supercharged combos. There’s definitely some of that here. We get to see the legendary Lu Bu (played by Louis Koo) blow away entire armies with his hefty halberd.
That said, there’s an unshakeable cheap vibe to the whole thing. For a big budget 2021 release the CGI is subpar and only steps up during those final battle scenes as Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei face off against Lu Bu.
Speaking of battle scenes, there’s one that stands out above the rest in terms of sheer ridiculousness. We won’t spoil exactly what happens, though it borders on practical comedy, sapping any sense of gravity to an otherwise tense stand-off.
It’s this same chunk of the movie where we get to see live action versions of the wider Dynasty Warriors cast. It’s hard to pick some of them out, though there’s no mistaking the exuberant Yuan Shao. With the video game series boasting over 90 playable characters, we didn’t expect all of them to get a look in, yet the ones who do appear mostly blend into the scenery. Perhaps the strongest cameo here is the Dynasty Warriors soundtrack.