While most audiences in the world might be more familiar with Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the variety of spin-offs, there still are more stories to be old from ancient China. In fact, the Warring States period has been interpreted into a Japanese manga and then adapted into a live-action movie. The result? 2019’s Kingdom.
Directed by Shinsuke Sato, Kingdom is a retelling of the rise of Qin Shi Huang, or Eisei (Ryo Yoshizawa) as he is known in Japan. It is an origin story of sorts, told through the eyes of our lead character Li Xin, or as he is called in Kingdom, Shin (Kento Yamazaki).
Kingdom centres around the orphan Shin who dreams of rising above his lowly status as a slave to become the greatest general in China. Accompanying him and his lofty ambitions is a fellow slave and dear friend of Shin’s, Hyou (Also played by Ryo Yoshizawa). This part of the movie moves fairly quickly, where we are introduced to Shin, who gets pulled into a pep talk by Hyou to become a general. The movie wastes no time in dwelling on the past and quickly cuts to the present where we are introduced to Shin and Hyou all grown up.
Tragedy soon hits the pair, with Hyou being assassinated after being hired to pose as a body double for then emperor Eisei. Sadly, the audience isn’t really given a lot of time to get to know Hyou before he is killed, hence we do not really feel as invested as the movie probably wants us to be during Hyou’s final moments.
Hyou’s death leaves Shin with a need for vengeance and we are soon introduced to Eisei, who is arguably the better part of the movie. Shin is a brash and bumbling fool who hits first and asks questions later. It was fine watching Shin swagger around with a cocky grin on his face and definite lack of indoor voice the first half an hour but the act quickly gets tiring when we have to constantly watch Shin make a fool of himself in front of others in the extremely loud and obnoxious voice of his.
Speaking of making a fool out of himself, a bulk of the movie’s humour seems to come at the expense of Shin’s intelligence. With Shin occasionally showing off how little knowledge he has, cue awkward laughter from the audience. The movie even references it when an army general comments about how “unintelligent” Shin is. Watching Shin win battles through the power of determination can also get a little stale after the first few fights, especially considering how most of his foes are battle-hardened assassins or generals while Shin is but a slave who practised by swinging around a wooden sword, prior to the start of his journey.
Compared to Shin, Eisei is heaps more calm and collected, with a bearing suitable of an emperor. Being an emperor, Eisei is not just analytical but highly skilled in sword fighting, much more so than his brother Seikyou (Kanata Hongo). Sibling rivalry is taken up a notch as Seikyou stages a coup against Eisei and is dying to behead his elder brother. Seikyou’s motivations? Seikyou judges Eisei as inferior purely because Eisei’s mother was a commoner.
Along the way, we watch as a colourful motley of characters joins both Shin and Eisei on their journey to take down Seikyou. There is Karyouten (Kanna Hashimoto) who is never seen without her owl ‘battle armour’, Youtanwa (Masami Nagasawa) chieftain of the Mountain Tribe, and Shoubunkun (Masahiro Takashima) who is the only person Eisei trusts by his side in times of crisis.
Being a manga adaptation, Kingdom threads much of the same beats as its source material. Fans of the manga series will not be too surprised with the events that unfold in the movie, and might even notice that some scenes and characters have not been added into the film, probably since the movie is already over two hours long.
Despite its long run time, it can sometimes feel like the movie is moving along a little fast in some instances, having to quickly transition from one scene to the next, in order to progress the plot along before the two hours run time is up. Though there are also instances where some scenes are dragged out for an unnecessarily long amount of time, with long panning shots of one character, before it cuts to another long shot of another character.
Though the movie has its flaws, it certainly has its merits. Such as the cool and level headed Eisei who manages to convince the Mountain Tribe to help his cause through words alone. As well as the fiery chieftain Youtanwa who commands the fearsome Mountain Tribe army. Youtanwa and her tribe are pivotal in helping Eisei during his final battle against Seikyou and his massive army.
Another character which deserves a mention is the Great General Ouki (Takao Osawa), who was one of the generals Shin idolised growing up. You can practically see the sparkles in his eyes as General Ouki walks past him in the film. Initially poised as a supporter of Seikyou, this ever smiling General is revealed to have a lot more depth to his character than he lets one, though we only learn of all this as the film unravels.
Movies based on China’s Warring States period might be rarely tapped upon, but Kingdom does give a relatively fresh spin to this tale of Qin Shi Huang and his trusted general Li Xin. Despite its shortcomings, the film is still worth a watch if you are a fan of the manga series or a fan of works that takes place during that particular time period.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Unlike most other historical epics which get bogged down in deep and heavy plot, Kingdom plods along relatively quickly whilst delivering a story that while predictable, is still fairly enjoyable to watch. Now, if only the lead character can tone down just a little bit.
Story - 7/10
Direction - 7/10
Characterisation - 6.5/10
Geek Satisfaction - 6/10