x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Battle of Wits

Oh, just how bad is this movie based on a manga on fourth century China? Let me count the ways.

This film version of a manga comic about China in the fourth century BC is an amalgam of many of the classic scenarios of cinema, which proves to be both its strength and its weakness. The story - a small city state saved by a mysterious mercenary from a huge army - is a variation on a theme most memorably used in Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. This version is intricately restaged and sumptuously filmed. That's about the extent of the beneficial cinematic references, and the overall experience of this movie suffers from the less positive ones. Where to begin? How about the selection of the actors doing the English dubbing, whose accents hark from everywhere other than, apparently, China? While it would be both facile and offensive to use comicbook Chinese accents, there's something offputting about hearing a minor actor sounding just like Baldrick in Blackadder. Then there is the continual use of scenesetting statements - "The Mo-Tsu are here!" and "The Zhao army are here!" - which would have sounded contrived even in the 1960s. Or how about the throwing of obviously polystyrene rocks? Or the inevitability that the sole memorable female character will become the hero's love interest? Or that when chased, the pair will run holding hands in a way that defies physics but was beloved of 1960s American scriptwriters? I was surprised she didn't twist her ankle, although in the event he did end up carrying her, which kind of sums up this film.