Chinese cinema is a strange one. It doesn’t have the classic allure of Japanese or French cinema. But rather sits on its own with a few special outliers. Most people will think of the films of Jackie Chan, and maybe this year’s The Great Wall starring Matt Damon.
Warriors’ Gate (Cong Chien Binh) is a joint French-Chinese production which follows the story of a teenager named Jack (Uriah Shelton), as he his thrust into a quest to save a princess (Su Lin) from the clutches of an evil warlord (Dave Bautista). On his quest, he is joined a great warrior named Zhoo (Mark Chao).
Starting positive, I think Bautista does a pretty great job in this. He looks menacing in a cartoonish way but manages to bring some bits of humour to the film. It’s easy to see him becoming a huge star based on the performances we have seen from him in Guardians of the Galaxy. And this doesn’t put a stop on that. He’s a shining core on this film and I was glad to see him in it.
Carrying on from that there are some scenes I found quite funny, specifically a running joke between Bautista and his right-hand man which involves said right-hand man killing the wrong person. And there are a few moments like this that really remind me of some Chinese cinema, because Chinese cinema never takes itself too seriously, it’s always willing to play a scene up to almost parody for the sake of getting its point across.
Unfortunately, that’s not something we do in western cinema and so these scenes seem almost out of place when the rest of this film seems to want to take itself very seriously and doesn’t do that very well. A big issue the film has is a lot of manufactured conflict, just to resolve it some way later on. We hear a lot about Jack’s mother having money problems, but its told to us via exposition and has no real effect on the plot or characters. In fact, it’s only brought up 3 times in the whole film and in scenes that could be cut completely.
The main conflict in the action film (phim hanh dong 2020) is also completely manufactured. Early on, when Jack first meets Zhoo. There is a scene in which Jack explains that he isn’t a warrior. But Zhoo leaves the princess with him anyway. So, when the princess is inevitably captured and the real adventure begins there is a conflict between our characters in which Zhoo calls Jack worthless. Which, yeah. Jack kinda said that. Why did you leave your super important person with the guy? Especially when we watch you take down legions of men all on your own? Seems like a bit of a stupid move to me.
I found action in the film as passable. It has the feeling of something like Crouching Tiger but suffers from the typical over-cutting we get from any big budget blockbuster which makes it hard to appreciate the choreography. And this is the best example of what I found was the films biggest problem. It takes something about Chinese cinema and puts a western tint on it. So it loses all its charm and just ends out feeling a bland atypical and forgettable action film.
And while you are here can we talk about ‘White Saviour Narrative’? This is where a minority group is saved by a person of Caucasian skin. Basically, this a film that takes place in ancient China where the cast is predominately Chinese. But most of the film is spent building up this white teenager, and after ONE kung fu lesson. He is able to hold his own against bone-fide warriors. There is no reason for the lead character to be white and this film would be a lot better without him. Even if you want to keep the whole ‘growing up and learning to fight your battles’ lesson. There’s no reason why you couldn’t have an Asian lead and this is becoming a huge problem.
But, to conclude, Warriors’ Gate is a pretty average level action film which suffers from missing out on the charm of Chinese cinema and decides to take a flat and boring western approach. It some has moments where to comes close to ‘good’ but quickly recedes its quirky roots for a safer, scowling protagonist.
Directed by Mattias Hoene, Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. Warriors’ Gate stars Mark Chao, Ni Ni, Dave Bautista and Uriah Shelton.