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HONG KONG — Suppose Hector killed Achilles in “Troy” or the Spanish Armada defeated the British navy in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” That’s the equivalent in poetic license Daniel Lee (“A Fighter’s Blues”) took in his blockbuster adaptation of a Chinese classic. This, added to an uneven narrative rhythm, and on a more nuts-and-bolts level, untidy camerawork and jagged editing style that blur and mangle Sammo Hung’s action choreography deny “Three Kingdoms” the stature it tried to achieve with an expensive production.
The film reportedly grossed $5.7 million during its four-day long weekend opening in China — an indication that mainland moviegoers have an insatiable appetite for period war epics. In the West, it may give audiences a feeling of “armor overkill” from watching a surfeit of Chinese war spectacles.
The film follows the career of invincible Gen. Zhao Zilong (Andy Lau), starting with his conscription and fast-forwards to his old age. The Chinese title refers to the denouement when Zhao takes off his armor as a gesture of resignation before meeting his hubris like an aging Nordic hero.
The first hour fails to draw audiences into the milieu by eliding and truncating major events. Zhao’s face-off with nemesis Cao Ying (Maggie Q) at the halfway mark gathers enough momentum to propel the action to a poignant ending.
Though decades too young for the role, Andy Lau’s own professional history enables him to bring a credibility to the portrayal of a successful man hitting midlife crisis forced into a personal career reassessment.
The role of arch villain Lord Cao’s namby-pamby son-in-law has been retailored for Maggie Q as a wily female commander in another blatant flouting of the text. Although she looks gorgeous and does stunts well, her Eurasian looks and noticeable lip-synching seem too exotic for such a specific epoch.
Exquisitely recreated props like a shadow puppet performance and sophisticated weaponry give “Three Kingdoms” a lush period ambience, but widescreen compositions of decisive battles and sweeping exterior shots are often unattractive, and music is an odd mix of stringed Chinese pipa- and Japanese taiko-influenced percussion.
THREE KINGDOMS: RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON
Visualizer Film Prods./Taewon Entertainment/China Film Group/Beijing Poly-bona Film Publishing Co.
Sales: Arclight Films/Easternlight Films
Director: Daniel Lee
Writers: Daniel Lee, Lau Ho Leung
Based on the novel by: Luo Guanzhong
Producers: Susanna Tsang, Chung Taewon, Yu Dong
Executive producer: Susanna Tsang
Director of photography: Zhang Dongliang
Costume designer: Thomas Chong
Zhao Zilong: Andy Lau
Cao Ying: Maggie Q
Luo Pingan: Sammo Hung
Han De: Yu Rongguang
Running time — 102 minutes
No MPAA rating
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