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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon 三國之見龍卸甲 starring Andy Lau and Maggie Q

I remember THREE KINGDOMS: RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON solely for one reason. It was the one film that was going to screen in Malaysia on the week I left for Japan. Thanks to my departure, I was deprived from my much-wanted Maggie Q dose. I also remember watching the trailer just before the laughably bad (but still laughable) AN EMPRESS AND THE WARRIORS, and realized later that the trailer itself was better than AN EMPRESS AND THE WARRIORS.

But then, overall, this film is definitely better than AN EMPRESS AND THE WARRIORS, though it's much more of a downer, and has none of the unintentional hilarity you see in the other film.

THREE KINGDOMS: RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON is directed by Daniel Lee Yan-Kong, and is the first of the two Three Kingdoms-related film coming out this year. The other one is John Woo's much-anticipated, star-studded RED CLIFF. To me, this is a smaller-budget film with a much more modest ambition, instead of aiming to be a extravagant grand-scale epic of sheer emotional depth and complexity, it aims more to be a MTV-style war film.

Narratively, it's a little weak. You don't get to know the characters too well because of the voiceover narration (of Sammo Hung's character) and its use of montage to push the plot forward. It's like, you just jump to a few decades later before you've even familiarize yourself with anyone. But visually, this film is beautiful to look at. It's sheer MTV coolness, it has lots of manly men accepting their fate bravely and smiling poignantly at each other before rushing to their doom, so I do think it's pretty entertaining, despite the weakness in narration and pacing.

I try to wonder whether having Andy Lau as an old guy had worked with this film. Sure, this IS Andy Lau, and he sure brings in his normal Andy Lau charisma into the film (I was shocked with the first scene where his character seemed to have a different voice actor to give him a more youthful voice, but I was sure he became all Andy Lau as Zhou Yu AKA Zhao Zilong became older). But would having an actual old actor play the elderly Zhao Yun bring more poignancy to the character as compared to seeing Andy Lau in make-up? (It's not bad make-up, mind you, but it's still Andy Lau). But then, to suggest having another person play this role in those important scenes would be blasphemy considering that this IS an Andy Lau vehicle.

Then there's Maggie Q, she didn't really appear until the last 30 minutes of the film. There are some who felt that she's out of place in a Chinese period flick, due to her Eurasian looks, and the use of a Mandarin voice actress. But I'm fine with her, heck, I would love to see more of her.

It's weird that this film seems to happen in a blur, yet in the end, it feels as if nothing much had happened at all. Watch it or not, this film won't make any difference in your life. I was just yearning for some Chinese films. Of course, this film's biggest contribution in the end is to make me go check out the ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS characters on Wikipedia.

I think Maggie Q's character Cao Ying, who is supposed to be the granddaughter of Cao Cao is fictional.

Director Daniel Lee Yan-Kong's last film was the forgettable DRAGON SQUAD, which was exec-produced by Steven Seagal, and even had Michael Biehn in it. I remember the film for its long and drawn-out Michael Bay-style shootout (which was impressive in a technical level, but empty in an emotional level) and also being the last film I ever saw that has Eva Huang ShengYi (the mute girl in Kungfu Hustle) in it. I tried retracing the director's filmography (I was curious with his very competent technical skills that seems like a rarity among most Hong Kong action directors these days) and realized that he had done better films earlier in his career, most notably BLACK MASK starring Jet Li, and A FIGHTER'S BLUES, a boxing weepie starring Andy Lau and Tokiwa Takako (a film I remember most for predicting correctly the fate of Andy Lau's character by counting the 'signs' prior to the climatic boxing match, e.g. "aha, Andy Lau said 'I love you forever' to his daughter, you know this ain't gonna be good")

But I remember him most for his debut feature, WHAT PRICE SURVIVAL? (was also known as ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN 1994) A very artfully done 'reimagining' of a wuxia film that's seemingly set in the early 20th century, but with people battling each other with swords instead of guns. I remember it for its blurry swordsfighting scene (that was innovated in ASHES OF TIME, but I haven't seen it then, so this was new for me), the beautiful cinematography and haunting score (I can't remember the score now, but it was pretty damned haunting, I remember). My dad loved the film then and had constantly rewatched it, to the point were even I myself could remember some lines. It starred Wu Hsing-guo, David Chiang, Jack Kao, Damian Lau, Norman Tsui, Charlie Yeung etc. You can check out the review of this film in Wuxiasociety.org and KFCC

Check out this one scene from WHAT PRICE SURVIVAL? It's intense.

I still think this is Daniel Lee's best film. Oh, right, I forgot this is a review of THREE KINGDOMS: RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON. so here's a trailer of that film.
Mmmm... Maggie Q. (I still think she has better roles in Hollywood films)