Following periods of strife, contention and numerous deciding battles, three warring states emerged and solidified their own kingdoms: The Kingdom of Wei in the north ruled by the callous and malicious Cao Cao (Damian Lau), The Kingdom of Wu in the East, ruled by the warlord Sun Quan, and the weakest of the three, the Western Kingdom of Shu, ruled by the benevolent warlord Liu Bei (Hua Yueh). Liu Bei was the rightful heir of the “Han” empire as he was the imperial uncle. Cao Cao had surreptiously taken control of the imperial court and its emperor during this time.
The film itself deals directly with a hero of the Three Kingdoms period named, Zhao Zilong (Andy Lau), who rises up from commoner to foot soldier to become a feared and cunning warlord in his own right earning the rank one of the “Five Tiger Generals” of Shu Kingdom. Luo Ping-an of Changshan (Sammo Hung) who hailed from the same area as Zilong takes Zilong under his wing in the military service and becomes a brother to him.
Already having years of service in the army, Ping-an during a planned attack on Cao’s encampment earns the honor of protecting Liu’s family (with the modest help of Zhao). This undeserved honor and skill reveals the truth when Ping-an loses the royal family and receives the brunt of anger from the Liu’s brother Zhang Fei (Chen Zhi Hui). Zilong steps in to prevent impending of his friend and the two battle it out. Thwarted by Liu himself in mid battle, Zilong offers to rescue the royal family himself and charges forth without any regard to death.
Zilong eventually finds saves the young lord from an onslaught of Cao’s troops. Gaining massive praise and rising rocketing up the ranks, Ping-an becomes secretly jealous and harbors a deep seeded resentment for his old comrade. As Liu’s chief strategist Zhuge Liang (Quanxin Pu) had assisted his lord, so has he continued to serve his son, and has plotted a major campaign to overthrow the Cao’s Northern Kingdom. The kingdom is now ruled by his granddaughter, the equally skillful and callous Cao Ying (Maggie Q). A battle of wits, strategy and martial skill ensues where the showdown between Cao Ying and Zilong erupts center stage and an unsuspecting betrayal of trust by Ping-an strikes Zhao at his very core.
The film moves at a very quick pace with flashy stylistic cinematography worthy of the subject matter. Action direction was fast and furious with some audience members remarking that it was too fast to catch a glimpse of who was fighting whom. The friendship between Ping-an and Zilong seemed to be rushed, sworn to be brothers and sharing bread for the cause doesn’t seem to be enough to foster a deep affection for the characters’ sworn brotherhood. Nevertheless, there were funny moments, some intentional others not. For example, when Zilong rescues the young lord from a multitude of Wei troops, the only escape route seemed to be by leaping over a chasm with his trusty steed.
What appeared to be a short distance to leap was revealed to be rather expansive in the end…hence excessive laughter at the screening. Sammo Hung as Ping-an was someone you did feel sorry for in the end, Zhao Zilong was a formidable adversary and a just person to contrast Maggie Q’s devious Cao Ying, who had a fair amount of learning of the Mandarin language, playing the stringed instrument, pipa, and learning battlefield martial arts to assume the role. If you seek “Ran” like battlefield action scenes, this film is for you. If you want deeply emotional characters you feel for, then it’s not. Keep watch on the next version of the famed classic by John Woo, entitled, “Red Cliffs”.
Weak: 1 Star Average: 2 Stars Good: 3 Stars Very Good: 4 Stars Excellent: 5 Stars