The Warrior's Gate

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Warrior's Gate
"The film benefits from not taking itself too seriously."

There's been a shortage of adventure films aimed at teenagers in recent years. The genre has perhaps been eroded by an increasing sense that stories need to justify themselves. 'This week Johnny discovers a tunnel into a world of dinosaurs under his garden hedge,' an approach that worked wondefully in the Fifties, is no longer considered good enough - but the fact remains that there are a lot of young people who still enjoy that kind of thing. Sometimes it's good to stop worrying about the details and let the imagination flow. With this in mind, it's good to see The Warrior's Gate, a film unashamed of its inherent silliness, taking its young hero on a rollercoaster ride through ancient China.

That hero is Jack (Uriah Shelton), a sweet boy who loves video games, his single mum and his job helping a local Chinese man run a shop, but who struggles with homework, bullying and life on a low income. In other words, he's a familiar archetype (he even has a fat, geeky friend who loses it in the presence of girls) but Shelton is enthusiastic and personable enough to pull it off. One day, Jack takes home an ancient basket gifted to him by his employer, and out of it pops a warrior (young Detective Dee himself Mark Chao), who promptly tells him that it's his job to look after beautiful princess Su Lin (Ni Ni).

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Naturally, Jack doesn't know anything about princesses (though he's remarkably willing to take other aspects of the situation in his stride) so he takes her to the mall, because if Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure taught us anything, it's that time-travelling princesses like running up large credit card bills. Unfortunately, he doesn't know anything about protecting people either, so it's not long before Su Lin is kidnapped and Jack has to travel to ancient China to save her from forced marriage and murder at the hands of barbarian warlord Arun the Cruel (Dave Bautista).

There's an awkward note here, of course, and that's that we're up to our necks in white saviour territory. Jack's only fightng skills come from playing video games (though he does manage to assault an old person on his own initiative, something he presumably picked up back in L.A.), yet his Chosen One status sets him on course to save the day. As with the recent Great Wall, this is complicated by the fact that the film is targeted partly at the Chinese market, which statistics suggest has no problem with white heroes. It becomes most problematic in scenes where Su Lin is required to be tied up and helpless or simpering over her hero, but at least she gets some fight scenes of her own (where she acquits herself considerably better than he does), and Chao shows both heroism and skill as the other main Chinese character. Jack's whining during a brief attempt to teach him martial arts suggests that American kids really aren't watching enough wuxia these days, making him the butt of the joke for those who do.

The film benefits from not taking itself too seriously, though older viewers may be annoyed by some of its more farcical humour. Bautista clearly enjoys hamming it up as the bad guy and seems genuinely confused by Su Lin's failure to fall for him in a way that helps to undermine the film's dependency on victimising women. The action is well paced, with frequent fight sequences once it gets going, and it can be forgiven some of the clich├ęs (flying out of a stronghold in a catapult, anyone?) because, well, they're kind of the point.

This is old fashioned, Saturday matinee stuff, and it doesn't get any deeper than that. Aside from a soppy bit which may induce protests, it's suitable for kids of all ages, and quite a few adults may find that they enjoy it too. Next time you accidentally stumble into a portal to a different dimension, you'll be glad you saw it.

Reviewed on: 28 Sep 2017
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A US teenager is magically transported to ancient China and learns to convert his video game skills into those of a Kung Fu warrior.

Director: Matthias Hoene

Writer: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen

Starring: Mark Chao, Ni Ni, Dave Bautista, Sienna Guillory

Year: 2016

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: France, China

Festivals:

Glasgow 2017

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