The Warring States
Year of release: 2011
Genre: historical drama
Director: Jin Chen
Action directors: Yuen Bun, Hung Yan-Yan, Jamie Luk, Bruce Law, Chen Hu
Producers: Wang Jian-Jun, Guo Shou-Bao
Writer: Shen Jie
Cinematography: Kim Heyeong-Gu
Music: Katsuki Yukari, Fukaura Akihiko
Stars: Sun Hong-Lei, Francis Ng, Kim Hee-Sun, Jiang Wu, Jing Tian, Nakai Kiichi, Guo De-Gang, Feng En-He, Hung Yan-Yan, Waise Lee
Not rated; contains IIB-level violence
Movie Review Index
If it's another day, it must be time to review yet another Mainland big-budget historical epic. Today, we have The Warring States, which tells the story of Sun Bin, a military strategist that was taught by the legendary Sun Tzu. While the story presented here initially holds some promise, the schizophrenic performances from the cast and lack of cohesion in the technical department ultimately make the results a sub-par effort.
The film takes place in the eponymous period of the title, in approximately 340 BC. This portion of Chinese history was marked by the country being divided into several kingdoms, each vying for unified control. The Qi kingdom is looking to enlist Sun Bin's (played by Sun Honglei) talents, but he refuses, at least until he meets the beautiful princess Tian Xi (Jing Tian). Qi's main rival is the kingdom of Wei, whose top general is Pang Juan (Francis Ng), who was also a student of Sun Tzu and a sworn brother of Sun Bin.
And that's about all the audience gets for the next two-plus hours. Sure, as you might expect, there are a few battle sequences, but they are totally underwhelming. There is no editor credited on the production, and seeing the end results, it's easy to see why. There is no rhyme or reason to the flow, resulting in scenes that are disorienting, rather than exciting. Combined with some painfully obvious and poorly executed CGI shots, the battles presented here are anything but epic, delivering something that would be more appropriate for straight to cable TV fare rather than the sweeping cinematic experience the film-makers supposedly intended to deliver.
So it's up to the exposition scenes to carry the film, and in that aspect, they totally fail. A lot of the reason why is that there are no compelling characters presented here. Normally one of this reviewer's favorite actors, Francis Ng (through a Mandarin dub) sleepwalks through his role of Pang Juan. And what exactly was Sun Honglei trying to do here? Was Sun Bin supposed to be a Forrest Gumpish idiot savant? Whatever the motivation, the character of Sun Bin becomes grating and annoying, delving in dopey comedy and sappy romance, so when matters do become serious during the third act, the audience and their interest has already been lost.