Directed by: Gordon Chan, Starring: Vincent Zhao, Sammo Hung, Yasuaki Kurata. Action/History, 2017, 128mins, Cert 15.
Released on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital in the UK by Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment on 16th October 2017.
In 16th century China, ruthless Japanese pirates (samurai and rogue rōnin in an uneasy alliance) invade the east coast, looting, pillaging and generally being far naughtier than Captain Jack Sparrow ever was. Having built themselves a seemingly impenetrable fortress (think Irontown from Studio Ghibli’s PRINCESS MONONOKE), stubborn old Chinese General Yu (Sammo Hung) still persists in marching his troops up the muddied slopes only to be repeatedly repelled by their better-armed Japanese pirate foe. The powers that be are understandably none too impressed with General Yu’s ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ approach and replace him with the younger, smarter strategist and niftier all-round solider General Qi (Vincent Zhao).
Whilst it’s undeniably impressively mounted, the rather simplistic narrative spends far too much time examining the minutiae of Chinese political shenanigans and military strategy, and even (criminally) cuts one major battle scene off in its prime.
Vincent Zhao’s fresh-faced General Qi livens proceedings up with his Rambo-like solution for penetrating the pirate’s fortified encampment and he’s also pretty nifty with those long bendy poles. Lady QI (Regina Wan), is supportive and loving one moment, but unreasonably stroppy when Qi is late home and the food’s gone cold. Yet she proves to be an accomplished and ruthless warrior herself when called upon to defend her kingdom (which isn’t even hinted at previously).
There are several incidental pleasures such as the sight of General Qi’s Ming army skimming across mudflats on wooden scooters which resemble large Dutch clogs, or the rogue Japanese pirates signalling their murderous intent by fanning themselves with light reflecting fans.
The final pirate ship showdown between the younger General Qi and Yasuaki Kurata’s elder pirate Commander Kumasawa is a splendid bloody and fiery climax (albeit one which really didn’t need the entire preceding 2 hours build-up).
Its lavish production design, sets and costumes are consistently eye-catching, and the battle scenes are visceral and not obviously CG enhanced. And whilst it didn’t quite blow me away like one of General Qi’s deadly three-eyed hand canyons, I’d take this grand scale 16th century pirate enactment over those Disney Caribbean ones any day.
***(out of 5*)
This review was originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.