Opening so bombastically that it practically wears itself out, The Warring States commences by zooming across mountain ranges, battlefields, and time periods with a CG-enhanced insanity that’s invigorating. After that initial salvo, however, Jin Chen’s ancient-China saga barely has the energy to raise a sword, instead fixating on the stagnant high-court intrigue that engulfs the ancient Wei and Qi kingdoms, all of which is sparked by legendary military strategist Sun Bin (Honglei Sun), who joins forces with Wei and, consequently, is pitted against Qi-loyal blood brother Pang Juan (Francis Ng). A numbing profusion of flashback montages augment the action’s overripe theatricality, though inertia still plagues the ensuing machinations involving scheming sisters, brothers, fathers, and would-be lovers, as well as the blossoming amour between Sin Bun and a warrior princess-to-be (Jing Tian). Still, if the plot plummets into a morass of melodramatic romance, torture, and suicide, it drums up some mild zaniness via Sun Bin, an over-the-top idiot savant who’s derided as a “fool,” and yet confirms his art-of-war genius by using a solar eclipse to his combat advantage and spicy congee to ferret out covert assassins. Whether Zen-master-tranquil or barking-dog-mad, the overacting Honglei’s hero is this otherwise tedious film’s only truly epic element.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 20, 2011