Daniel Lee writes and directs his third history-based wuxia epic centered on conflict between two allied warlords in ancient China who overthrow the government only to turn against each other in a complex contest of mind, might and morality. Loosely based on a historical event called the Feast at Hong Gate, the film takes place during the final days of the Qin Dynasty. Xiang Yu (Feng Shao-feng) and Liu Bang (Leon Lai) are warlords who lead their armies to victory over the Qin but are soon at odds over who should lead the country. What begins is a battle of wits as rival master strategists allied with each warlord attempt to outmaneuver the other. This culminates in a tense confrontation at a meeting of the two warlords and their followers at Hong Gate. Thereafter, the conflict intensifies in a buildup to a fateful series of all-out engagements on the battlefield.

This is a lavish period film with attractive visuals and intense, wire and CGI-enhanced battle sequences choreographed by Hong Kong action veteran Tony Leung Siu-hung. It’s bolstered by intelligent intrigue and strong acting performances from several leads including Leon Lai, Anthony Wong, Zhang Hanyu, and Jordon Chan. However, it suffers from the same muddled plotting, off-target sentimentality and scattershot action editing that plagues most of Lee’s films.

The film is initially confusing as the viewer is forced to sift through epic conflict already in progress, no character build up, heavy exposition, and a clichéd, non-linear storytelling device. In addition, there are four interwoven yet competing plots at play including the conflict between warlords, conflict between strategists (played by Anthony Wong and Zhang Hanyu), Liu Bang’s rise to become the first Han Emperor, and a love affair between Xiang Yu and a completely unnecessary female character played by Liu Yifei. The latter romantic plot feels like a contrived add-on to make the film appealing to a broader audience although it matches other sophomoric melodrama in the film.

Although most of the film has the feel of a historical costume drama, the fanciful fighting action is reminder that this is a wuxia swordplay film. Exaggerated fights are dominated by tight camera shots mixed with wide aerial views of CGI horsemen, rapid editing, CGI bloodletting, and cartoonish wire pulls. One scene in particular stands out as crossbowmen shoot warriors off their charging mounts. Each victim performs an unnatural, wire-assisted summersault off their horse. There are only two martial arts actors appearing in supporting roles. TRUE LEGEND villain Andy On appears as a peerless fighter but isn’t a central figure. Shaw Brothers legend Chen Kuan-tai has a small part with little dialogue or action.

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  • Nuncius

    Knowing a bit about the historic aspects of the Qin downfall, the Chu-Han contention, the social origins of Liu Bang and Xiang Yu and the fated romance with the concubine Yuji. That really got me off to a running start and enriched the movie for me.

  • Mark Pollard

    I would imagine having a solid understanding of the historical context of the story would help in appreciating the film more. Having studied European military history extensively, that’s how I feel when watching historical movies on that subject.