Starring: Kento Yamazaki, Ryo Yoshizawa, Masami Nagasawa, Kanna Hashimoto, Kanata Hongō, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, and Takao Osawa
Fight Choreography by: Yuji Shimomura
Directed by: Shinsuke Sato
During the Warring States era of China, circa 475, two slaves, Li Xin (Yamazaki) and Piao (Ryo Yoshizawa) grow up together, both with the dream of becoming great generals, and a chance encounter with a general leads Piao to go with the general, if only because he bears a striking resemblance to the King of Qin, Yin Zheng, who is currently trying to survive a successful coup by his younger half-brother Chen Jiao (Hongo). During an attempt to kill the King Piao is killed, but not before finding Li Xin and bringing him together with Yin Zheng. One driven my revenge, the other by duty, both men set off to retake the kingdom and perhaps together finding a new purpose: the unification of China. But before that can happen they have to survive a battle of armies, assassins, and a mountain clan…
My first thought as the credits rolled on this manga-turned-film was that it was flat out fun. Just really, really fun. The production values are right there on the screen, from costumes to FX, to scale and soundtrack. Director Sato knew what he was going for and by golly he did it. The only place where his reach exceeded his grasp are all of the scenes with the Executioner, a literal hulking villain that is part makeup and part animatronics, and he totally looks out of place with respect to the rest of the film. Outside of that, the story is well-paced, moving briskly along but not at the expense of the characters. Yamazaki, at least at first, is a little grating as Li Xin, as his performances is mostly yelling and screaming through just about everything, but his performance eventually calms down and he’s fairly good once things get going. Yoshizawa has the harder performance as both Piao and Yin Zheng, and he does a great job being two different people, particularly as the aloof King, who, while seemingly cold, has a warmer heart than he lets on. My favorite character, though, has to be General Wang Qi, a powerful but thoughtful general, who may be friend or foe, but acts on his own whims. Hongo is slimy as the villainous Chen Jiao, but I wish he had something more to him during the climactic confrontations. Enough cannot be said about the gorgeous cinematography, from the vistas to the sea of soldiers. This is as good as it gets!
The action scenes are really well staged and shot, with the first fight of Li Xin versus the first assassin, and the fight in the bamboo forest with the Poison Assassin. The final fights damn near feel like a live-action Dynasty Warriors, as a handful of fighters face what looks like hundreds of soldiers, and it was crazy fun, even if its unrealistic, but that’s fine. This film lives in the world of fantasy, and happy to do so. Yuji Shimomura presents the fights clearly and with a varied amount of swordsplay that never gets dull.
Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 9
Kingdom is a martial-art sword fantasy come to life in a fast-paced story with stunning action characters you want to root for. Terrific entertainment that will satisfy that action sweet tooth. Well worth watching!