Review: Gordon Chan's GOD OF WAR Unwavers With Dogma

It's been a long time since I had seen a Gordon Chan film. Point in fact the last time I did was with The Medallion - demonstrably one of the lesser-impressive Jackie Chan films even for all his Hollywood hype at the time. Still we're talking about the same guy who brought us the forever-immortalized Jet Li's 1995-starrer, Fist Of Legend, showcasing a simplistic, clear-cut tale of wartime drama, murder mystery and intrigue, coupled with martial arts action cinema's best and legendary in film fight scenery.

No doubt though these that Chan can hold his own, apart from the complexities and advancements of film along with his own growth. While not entirely perfect, his newest epic, God Of War, offers a feasible and entertaining array of story and period cinema articulation with actor and martial artist Vincent Zhao in a starring role - something which I can wholly appreciate as I feel he's one of the more underused performers among today's crop. Here, he takes the mantle as Qi Jiguang, a savvy General enlisted to aid embattled Commander Yu's army as swarms of Japanese pirates have begun raiding the Chinese coastline to advance the Daimyo's agenda.

The story treads onward in a series of events delivering a sweeping tale of war, politics and strategy, characterized by some interesting and fun performances and set pieces. It isn't very long before the film sees its first plot twist, hinting at the broader scope of war on the political front; Ban Wang's Commander Hu outlines some of the pivotal moments that occur within the first hour of the film - his character, once driven by ambition, now finds himself willing, albeit burdended as the man responsible for both reporting to the Ming court from the battlefield, mitigating the messaging and language of what's said where and when, and ultimately enforcing its requests even if they're provenly tone deaf to the realities of war.

Legendary action star Sammo Hung comprises the first forty minutes of the film showcasing what he can at his age in at least three action scenes, third of which serves instrumentally to the film's narrative as a point of reference for the third act. Actress Regina Wan graces the screen as Jiguang's wife, Madam Qi, frequently frustrated with her husband's departure and unafraid to test his resolve at times, either with the cold shoulder treatment or a more physical test of might. It does culminate with levity and humor from time to time; More often than expected, their marriage takes precedence over the film's brooding war narrative and leaves you wondering if this was secretly a romantic comedy at one point before Chan threw in a 16th century setting with heroic bloodshed.

Legendary actor Kurata Yasuaki makes his latest reunion with Chan here as the leader of the Matsura clan, Kumasawa, next to the Daimyo's son, Yamagawa, played by Koide Keisuke. Kumasawa's methods are of a matter of study from a long career of war with wisdom earned as a result, knowing not to underestimate his enemy unlike his cohorts, including Yamagawa who, despite his quiet resolve and stoic devotion to the samurai code, finds himself questioning Kumasawa's logic to almost no avail.

God Of War clocks in at well over two hours time for Chan to tell the story he sees fit. Most of it works, save for one scene which I thought would have hit the chopping block but for what its worth, makes for an affordable moment of light-hearted comedy and levity. Actor Timmy Hung succeeds in that regard as Dacheng, the leader of a besieged village raided for its rich mines by local villages and anchored and anchored under Jiguang's protection with the promise of Dacheng's service to help fight the pirates along the coast.

Having been a fan of Zhao since first seeing him in The Blacksheep Affair and Fist Power and recently in Wu Dang, I really enjoyed watching him in the role of Jiguang. As an actor he's got an air of charm about him that accommodates his modest range, while able to balance it out accordingly for his natural acumen as a martial artist and screenfighter. Action direction by Kenji Tanigaki are a delight to watch with Zhao and the cast, including actress Wan who manages to get in on some of the action, and actress and martial artist Luxia Jiang whose screen presence is relegated to a bit role alongside Qian's character. The editing does get a little frenzied for a few moments, but the connectivity between the shots and angling of the camera keep the choreography visible to the eye.

The film balances its narrative adequately in its dichotomy between Chinese soliders and the pirates. Every now and then for most of Chinese film history the approach is usually to illustrate how evil the majority of foreigners are when telling stories like these, or even some contemporary ones. God Of War successfully abstains from making that mistake in its depiction of both sides, adhering to their loyalties and causes while keeping their men and morale in check.

God Of War is a huge film with a lot of moving, well-orchestrated pieces. Some portions are slow, but reasonably paced and nothing too crippling or lapsing, but that could depend on how much you approve on some of the film's sidestory build-up with Wan and Zhao on screen and their terrific chemistry. The ending might be a conversation starter as the film fades out with no real finish apart from the aftermath of a major battle - capped off by a spectacular fight scene between Jiguang and Kumasawa - and might have you feeling somewhat unsettled.

Take what you may from God Of War. Expect to be entertained, not blown away, and enjoy the relationships and friendships, and comedy that arise from our characters. More importantly, the film opens in limited theaters on June 2, and for a film this size and scale, I would recommend seeing it on the big screen when you can.


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