Warrior’s Gate

Chinese feudal warriors. Medieval berserkers. Vikings. Beautiful princesses in need of rescue. All in a day’s work for Jack Bronson, the Black Knight – well, at least in the videogame he and his best friend spend all day playing when they should be more productively engaged in study or homework.

The world outside the box is less rosy for Jack (Girl Meets World‘s Uriah Shelton) between between the school bully targeting him and the precarious financial situation at home, mom Annie (Resident Evil: Retribution‘s Sienna Guillory) counting down the days until the house is repossessed.

Yet a gift from his friend Mr Chang brings with it far more than Jack could ever have expected, the warrior Zhao (Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe‘s Mark Chao) emerging from the woven basket seeking the Black Knight to protect the Princess Su Lin (Ni Ni, soon to be seen in the forthcoming science fiction epic The Thousand Faces of Dunjia).

What at first is an inconvenience, conducting the demanding lady of the royal blood around the mall and trying not to arouse the suspicion of his mother about the oddly behaved “exchange student,” becomes more dangerous when the house is attacked by barbarians and the Su Lin is kidnapped, forcing Jack to follow her captors back to their realm of war and magic.

With a screenplay by Lucy‘s Luc Besson and The Karate Kid‘s Robert Mark Kamen there are themes of their previous works evident in Warrior’s Gate, a family-friendly romp directed by Matthias Hoene, but with aspects of Tron and Gremlins as well as the more obvious martial arts period trappings and their videogame iterations, it is a radical departure in setting and tone from his best known work, Cockneys vs Zombies.

The early scenes of bicycle chases, dance-offs and ice cream heavy handed, the film improves vastly as soon as the action transfers to the beautiful location work in China and the narrative burden is lifted from prospective teen idol Shelton to the more experienced Chao, the dedicated Zhao a more interesting character than the overly earnest Jack.

Flowing with the logic of a children’s film the narrative is predictable to the point of being hung on a template with every scene tied to a lesson in responsibility and friendship for Jack and Zhao, but the film is livened by the big bad, the king of the barbarians who seeks the hand of Su Lin in a forced marriage which will grant him ascendancy to the throne.

As Arun the Cruel, Dave Bautista of Riddick, Guardians of the Galaxy and Blade Runner 2049, a former wrestler and mixed martial artist turned actor, once again proves his talents are far more versatile than would ever be expected, flitting between menacing and funny and as capable with a punchline as he is with a sword.

Her charm of a different order to her unscrupulous suitor, equally good is The Flowers of War‘s Ni Ni as she slips between haughty princess, flirtatious and confident fake foreign exchange student and the defiant heir to an empty throne as the requirements of her survival shift but without ever sacrificing elegance or grace.

With a predominantly Chinese cast in a framing story of western faces to make the project more internationally accessible there is also a hint of 47 Ronin about it, but with the lively performances and Hoene maintaining momentum a trip through the Warrior’s Gate may not be groundbreaking but it is undemanding and infinitely more enjoyable than that particular cross-cultural embarrassment.

Warrior’s Gate is available now on DVD from Kaleidoscope



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