Cinema has always struggled with recreating the thrills of the video game. I’m not just talking about video game-to-film adaptations but the very act of playing video games, it will very rarely be thrilling to watch a person hit a controller or type on a keyboard. It wasn’t interesting when Wargames did it and it’s still not interesting now. Of course, the advantage of the modern day is graphically, films can recreate at least visually, an idea of what it looks like inside the screen, even if there’s still something of the cathartic rush missing. Of course, this has not stopped filmmakers trying and the latest attempt to do this is The Warrior’s Gate, an action adventure from Luc Besson & his Taken collaborator Robert Mark Kamen about a teenager who finds himself sucked into a fantasy version of historical China that is equal parts Soul Calibur, Dynasty Warriors & Mortal Kombat but without the blood because this is for the kids as well ok?
What’s quite gratifying is that it feels like everyone has put more work into the production than they necessarily needed to: the soundtrack has an appropriately fantastical soaring quality, the direction is pacey, the fight choreography is clean and kinetic but best of all is the shockingly lush cinematography that really captures the textures of the locations used as well as highlighting some nice, vivid costume work. It all works together to give the entire story an video game-esque feel, it is, possibly unintentionally, lent a feeling of trying to be a modern day Wizard of Oz what with its hero whisked off to a distant land full of colourful characters but also, a mysterious wizard who looks very similar to someone from the real world. The movie’s real ace in the deck is Dave Bautista as the villain, Arun the Cruel, brings both a physical presence and a well-measured vocal tone to his role that adds occasionally dark comedy but also an entertaining threat to a part that could have been forgettable despite being the main villain.
Sadly, a lot of the rest of the cast do not fare nearly as well with the aforementioned teen called to adventure (as played by Uriah Shelton) lacking the necessary charm and charisma with which to carry a lot of the film, not helped by a combination within the Chinese cast where certain scenes lack dramatic impetus because of a focus on delivering dialogue in English losing some of the humour as well in translation. Not that the humour itself is much to shout about with it sadly sticking to the standard level of young person’s adventure movie. Yes, before you ask, there is a credits dance party because nothing has moved on since Shrek. It can’t be uncommented on that this is a film about historical China, centred around the two, non-Chinese cast members. Not to say it plays into white saviour narratives but…
I expected to dislike this a lot more than I did. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it because the movie’s biggest problem is that it’s just not that exciting with everything being technically proficient but emotionally distant. Yet it’s still good enough that I can’t say it’s not worth giving it a try, especially if you have youngsters in need of a few hours entertainment. Sure, if you’ve ever read any descriptions of the ‘Hero’s Journey’, you’ll work out exactly where each scene is going before it gets there but it certainly won’t be the worst way to get there. All this, and it sure is pretty.
Dir: Matthias Hoene
Scr: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Cast: Mark Chao, Ni Ni, Uriah Shelton, Dave Bautista, Francis Ng, Sienna Guillory, Ron Smoorenburg, Dakota Daulby.
Prd: Mark Gao, Luc Besson
DOP: Maxime Alexandre
Music: Klaus Badelt
Run time: 108 minutes
The Warriors Gate is available on DVD and DHD now
The Warrior’s Gate is out on DVD, Blu-Ray & VOD from 2nd October.