AKA: Warrior’s Gate
Director: Matthias Hoene
Producer: Mark Gao, Luc Besson
Cast: Mark Chao, Ni Ni, Uriah Shelton, Dave Bautista, Francis Ng, Sienna Guillory, Ron Smoorenburg, Dakota Daulby, Kara Hui, Dakota Daulby, Zha Ka
Running Time: 108 min.
By Z Ravas
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a meek and bullied young Anglo kid finds himself transported to a distant world of Chinese mysticism and martial arts, where he teams with a band of powerful warriors who teach him how to stand up for himself. If you think I’m describing the plot of 2008’s Jackie Chan and Jet Li team-up The Forbidden Kingdom, you’d be right. But it’s also the plot of last year’s Enter the Warrior’s Gate, which is undeniably writer/producer Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen’s take on the same basic premise.
The film represent the first real French-Chinese collaborative production for Besson, who has long had a fascination with Chinese action cinema. Made on a budget of about $48 million, and shot in British Columbia as well as China’s Hengdian World Studios (the largest film studio in the world), the movie landed at the box office with a resounding thud. Thanks entirely to the Chinese box office, Enter the Warrior’s Gate grossed a measly $3.2 million, while in North America it’s more or less been delivered straight to Netflix. In comparison, The Forbidden Kingdom crossed an impressive $127 million back in 2008. But did Warrior’s Gate deserve such a dismal fate?
The story follows teenage Jack (Uriah Shelton), who – in a Gamer-esque wrinkle – is mistaken by the residents of another realm as a powerful warrior because he happens to be good at video games. He’s drafted by Mark Chao’s soldier to help protect a Princess, played by the perfectly charming actress Ni Ni. In our world, Jack and the Princess spend some time gallivanting around a Canadian mall, eating ice cream and developing a crush on one another, when the Princess is kidnapped and taken back to her own land by a fierce barbarian (Kickboxer: Vengeance’s Dave Bautista). Aided by Mark Chao and an eccentric wizard portrayed by Hong Kong stalwart Francis Ng, Jack has to summon his inner courage and rescue the Princess before she becomes Bautista’s bride-to-be.
And that’s about it. Along the way, Jack and Chao are briefly waylaid by a black-garbed witch (played by Kara Hui of My Young Auntie fame), but mostly their journey involves male bonding and brief martial arts training before they confront Bautista and his armada. It’s then that they engage in skirmish after skirmish with the barbarian horde, including a scene where Bautista’s right hand man – the imposing actor Zha Ka, whom you may recognize from Police Story: Lockdown and The Taking of Tiger Mountain – transforms into a computer-generated giant. If you’re hoping that Bautista gets to show off his mixed martial arts skills, you’ll be disappointed, as the hulking bruiser mostly sticks to swinging a sword around. To his credit, lead actor Uriah Shelton – who apparently is most known for his role on TV’s Girl Meets World – trained in martial arts as a kid, though he mostly does a lot of spinning and sliding over tables to avoid bad guys here.
Which gets to my main point: despite the presence of fan favorite actors such as Dave Bautista and Francis Ng, any adult viewer of Enter the Warrior’s Gate is bound to have a sinking realization. This is a movie produced for and targeted exclusively at 12 year-old boys. By all rights, German director Matthias Heone (Cockneys vs. Zombies) should have cut the few instances where side characters are skewered by swords and gone for a PG-rating, as – in terms of its tone and the low-intensity of the action scenes – this film is PG through and through.
There’s no harm in producing an East-meets-West, introductory kung fu movie aimed at kids. Certainly many parents may be looking for the right movie to show children who are slowly developing an interest in martial arts. Unfortunately, I don’t think Enter the Warrior’s Gate is the right movie. The action is shot in an uninspired manner, few of the martial arts-trained actors are given the chance to shine, and at 108 minutes Enter the Warrior’s Gate is about 18 minutes too long. I’m not even mentioning how Besson forced poor Mark Chao, dressed in ancient Chinese battle armor, into an embarrassing dance routine while the credits play.
A studio like Pixar knows how to tell a story to captivate viewers of all ages and transcend the young demographic their films are marketed to. Luc Besson is no Pixar. While some of the script’s one-liners are more clever than you might expect, and it’s fun to see Hong Kong icons like Kara Hui and Francis Ng in a movie so squarely aimed at Western audiences, Enter the Warrior’s Gate has too many flaws to make it an easy recommend. And if you have a 12 year-old in your life who is begging to watch a kung fu flick, may I suggest a convenient alternative? A little known movie called The Forbidden Kingdom…
Z Ravas’ Rating: 4/10