It is the year 1557 and Zhejiang, an eastern coastal province of China, is under siege by Japanese pirates, the so-called “wokou” raids led by Samurai Commander Kumasawa. Entrenched in their position on the mainland their plan is to overthrow the Ming dynasty, but while the Chinese army is unable to repel them nor are the invaders able to advance.
The Chinese army locked in stalemate, General Yu Dayou is appointed a new strategist whose reputation precedes him, General Qi Jiguang, yet rather than taking command of the existing army he demands permission to recruit a new army and train them in his own way.
Aware that the war will not be won by weapons or strength of numbers alone but by tactics, General Qi faces dissension with his ranks, squabbling villagers and the machinations of the politicians as he undertakes his task, while Kumasawa, aware of the formidable opponent he now faces, adapts his own plans accordingly.
Directed by Gordon Chan, God of War is a sprawling historical war film which switches between the epic spectacle of battle and relentless close quarters combat, and although now in his mid-sixties the legendary Sammo Hung displays all the skill and grace which made him a martial arts star as General Yu Dayou, matched in every move by Once Upon a Time in China‘s Vincent Zhao as General Qi Jiguang.
As Commander Kumasawa, Chan has reunited with Fist of Legend‘s Yasuaki Kurata, a screen veteran of over fifty years who brings dignity and thoughtfulness to the leader of the wokou, a far cry from the traditional western notion of pirates, while as Lady Qi the Mandopop star Regina Wan is every bit as fierce and indomitable in battle as her husband.
A hero to the Chinese people, the story of Qi Jiguang and the wokou incursions might perhaps lose something in the translation to a western audience unfamiliar with the background and the traditions of the culture but there is more than sufficient energy and momentum to carry the narrative and fans of the genre will have no complaints.
Chan having made his name as a Hong Kong action director in such films as Armageddon and Beast Cops, he is on familiar territory here and the expanded canvas allows him to indulge his exploration of the period with elaborate costumes and sets, though it would not have gone amiss to better establish the geography in order to more clearly understand how the campaigns progress.
Gunpowder a Chinese invention, the confrontations are both bloody and explosive as each side tries to supercede the weaponry of the other, and while undoubtedly a modern film God of War respects the traditions of Chinese cinema and honours the history of that proud land.
God of War is available now on Blu-ray and DVD from Kaleidoscope