This movie is a little hard to describe. It’s definitely fantasy – hard to distinguish if it’s an ancient civilization (with sporadic impressive technology), some post-apocalyptic but rebuilt future, or just an alternate universe, but in any case, picture ancient China but let’s call it two basic nations: north and south. The north and the south are predisposed to war against each other of course, but there’s been 10 years of peace up until this recent kerfuffle. The kerfuffle has necessitated the 10 neighbouring clans to each send a team of 3 to establish the very best warriors, who will be declared the grand marshals for the coming war. The clan where we’re embedded has few people volunteering for the likely deadly positions, so when Dong Yilong (Henry Lau) throws his hat in the ring, he’s immediately approved, even though he’s literally strung up by the ankles during this meeting, having only moments before been caught for stealing and about to be executed. No one in the village would miss him. Known as The Bastard, he’s always been an outsider, and his clan sees him as expendable if not worthy. The next volunteer is known as The Deserter (Peter Ho) because he was the sole survivor in the last war. These two (yes, there’s a third, but let’s not get too attached to him) set out toward what promises to be an extra bloody competition, but the road there is also filled with peril. The Bastard has nothing but a broken comb, the only thing left to him by his mother who died in childbirth, and The Deserter carrying a broken spear that returned from him from the last battle.
If the plot sounds confusing, don’t worry. This movie is all about the action. If you’re here for anything else, you’ve got the wrong film. But as an action adventure fantasy, it’s pretty much everything you could want. First off: nonstop action. They don’t wait until they get to the war games, they encounter lots of danger from lots of sources before they even get to the part that’s supposed to be the challenge. And in fact, we meet Dong Yilong as he’s being pursued for theft. So: An Aladdin-style pursuit, a near-execution, a giant Scorpion thingie that’s definitely learned some tricks from Tremors, and a sandstorm that could stop a horse, but not the intrepid young woman (Chenhan Lin) who’s destined to be their third (the generic, unnamed member of the original trio has no backstory and no special possession, so you know he’s not going to make it to the end, but he barely even makes it through the beginning!).
And that’s just the cost of travelling! The actual warrior competition is going to involve shackles, impalings, a ferocious puppy, and a beast who makes dragons look like mosquitoes. Plus some supernatural shit for good measure.
The fight choreography is gorgeous, the CG is flawless, and the action’s non-stop. We went in with low expectations and were pleasantly surprised by a fun watch that helped curb those summer blockbuster cravings.