The Warring States (2011) fails on nearly every level it can: faulty plot, underdeveloped characters and a distinct lack of key elements of narrative. I know it’s tough, but I have to be honest. This is probably the worst historical film I’ve seen, because at least Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon had Andy Lau looking fierce even as an older Zhao Zhilong.
It really takes work to take a sweeping historical epic and completely drive it into the ground. You have to admire that kind of handiwork. You have to understand that this is not our first time at the rodeo. By the time you get to The Warring States, you’ve probably seen Red Cliff, The Warlords, even possibly Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (ew), so there are expectations.
The Warring States starts off promising. And by promising, I mean the way that Tian Xi rules that battlefield! I know I often ask this question, but where can I get armor like that?
And so, I sit in anticipation. I’m going to see some first-class military strategy, right? No. Sun Bin starts out goofy, and pretty much stays that way, and it’s not cute. I don’t understand how everyone is looking to him for his brilliant military strategy, because he never demonstrates this in the film. I could even take his overly naive personality, but it doesn’t even make sense after a while. He has absolutely no concept of the political realities of Qi and Wei, and how he factors into them. And how in the world are we to believe that his brother has his best interest at heart when he’s the chief agent behind his crippling?
So I’m going to see some great battle scenes, right? No. There is so much time between battles (are there more than two?). If we don’t see the tensions on the battlefield between Qi and Wei, how are we supposed to believe that there are tensions between Qi and Wei?
So, I’m going to see some dramatic political intrigue, right? Nope. I like how it’s advertised as “two men battling over a woman.” This does not happen, but neither does much of anything else. I don’t buy the devotion of Pang Juan (Francis Ng) to Wei, partly because we get no background information on why he’s with Wei when he started with Qi. These kinds of defections in historical fiction aren’t unusual, but they do happen for a reason. The leader of Wei seems a little too laid back, so the tension and drama with the leader of Qi is not believable. In fact, the only person that seems to do anything remotely interesting is Pang Juan’s sister.
Is this a study in difficult decisions? Is this about tensions between Qi and Wei? Is this a love story? I think the technical term for this is “hot mess.”