Film review: God of War – Vincent Zhao fights Japanese pirates in uneven Chinese epic

Director Gordon Chan returns to wuxia in this period action drama that is engaging enough, but plays like a TV highlight reel that needs a judicious cut

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 11:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 11:34am

3/5 stars

In the 10 years or so since ancient Chinese war epics began to fade from the international spotlight, veteran Hong Kong director Gordon Chan Ka-seung has also been struggling to rediscover the form shown by his splendid supernatural romance Painted Skin (2008) – be it with the awful video game adaptation The King of Fighters (2010) or the consistently mediocre wuxia trilogy The Four (2012-2014).

Coming as a minor return to form for both genre and filmmaker, God of War takes a page from Ming dynasty history to tell a rousing story involving loyalty, military strategies and an awkward dash of female empowerment. With its sprawling narrative and highly uneven pacing, Chan’s engaging if unmemorable film plays like an extended highlight reel sampled from a season of prime-time TV.

After a prologue introduces us to Sammo Hung Kam-bo as real-life commander Yu Dayou, who has failed for months to defeat the Japanese samurai-pirates and Chinese smugglers rampaging along China’s coastline, the film swiftly casts aside the character and turns its focus to general Qi Jiguang (Vincent Zhao Wenzhuo), who shows off his tactical genius by dealing the enemies their first major defeat.

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What follows is an intriguing but incongruous series of events that see Qi handle the bureaucratic fallout of the battles; flirt with a proudly opinionated wife (Regina Wan Qian) at home; train a new troop comprising fearless villagers (including a hot-headed leader played by Timmy Hung Tin-ming, son of Sammo); and lead an all-out attack against the Japanese forces led by martial arts great Yasuaki Kurata.

Running at two hours and nine minutes, Chan’s film is a respectable period action drama that frequently loses its steam to redundant scenes – even if one of those, a staff fight between Zhao and Hung Snr, transcends its pointlessness to become laudable fan service. With a trim of 20 minutes, God of War could well find a better balance between character and action than this lamentable cut is showing.

God of War opens on June 15

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