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March 03, 2009

Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon

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Saam gwok dzi gin lung se gap
Daniel Lee - 2008
Sun Jian Media All Region DVD

Henry Lai's score to Three Kingdoms owes plenty to Ennio Morricone. Much of the music is reminders of the scores used in the westerns by Sergio Leone. I know I'm not the only one who felt that way about the music. I liked it so much that it gave me reason to watch the DVD until the very end, listening to the heavy drums.

Lee's film was the first of two films two be released inspired by the Chinese literary classic, "Romance of Three Kingdoms". The other film, actually in two parts, is by John Woo, with a much bigger budget. Lee's film is smaller in scope though still with epic battle scenes. In scanning the other reviews of the film, there is some consistency in noting that the film seems truncated. The running time of the version I saw was ninety-seven minutes. Many sources give the running time as 102 minutes. The difference could be written off to a conversion speed of 25 frames per second. Because of the relatively compact running time, with some characters appearing too briefly, there is the question as to whether this was the film Daniel Lee intended to make. Even though the film was still expensive by Chinese standards, though less than Peter Chan's The Warlords or Woo's Red Cliff, it seems like the end result was less than it could have been.

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This is a fictionalized version of Chinese history with Sammo Hung as a soldier who recruits Andy Lau to fight for one of the three emperors battling to unite China. Lau abilities as a soldier quickly elevate him in the ranks until he becomes one of the top generals. Hung remains a humble foot soldier watching Lau from further distances. Hung declares himself to be a person of great dreams and ambitions. Hung and Lau's story could be said to be about the deferment of personal dreams for an ideal greater than themselves. Even though Lau ascends to military leadership, his sense of loyalty to Hung remains solid, initially covering for Hung's incompetence without acknowledgment, as well as protecting the person he calls "brother" from execution.

The fictionalization goes a bit further with Maggie Q as the granddaughter of an opposing general, a character created for the film. Artistic license beats history with the sight of Maggie Q in a fur lined costume, with long, metal fingernails, playing a pipa, a Chinese stringed instrument. The sight of her in battle against Andy Lau is a reminder of her talent in martial arts, with sword, spear, or just kicking ass.

Had Daniel Lee perhaps been more trusting of his material, a good film could have been better. The action sequences, directed by Hung, have too much hyper-editing, slo-mo, and digital manipulation. The effect is as if the filmmakers wanted something between the gritty realism of The Warlords and the magic of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but did not achieve either goal. The most thrilling scene is of Andy Lau battling, on horseback and on foot, hundreds of soldiers, with a baby tied to his back, a scene that may intentionally recall Chow Yun-Fat holding a baby in one arm while shooting it out in Hard-Boiled.

For those interested, here is an interview with Lee about the making of Three Kingdoms.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 3, 2009 12:11 AM


Hi Peter,
Thanks for your nice comment in my blog!
Sadly, I didn�t have time to post in my site last year. But I will try to bring it up-to-date, read the good cineblogs, like yours, and watch a lot of great films! I would love to see the japanese �Departures� that won the Oscar, something new from Johnnie To, and an endless list of korean films.
Boa Sorte!

Posted by: Sam at March 18, 2009 12:03 AM