Stars: David Bautista, Sienna Guillory, Uriah Shelton, Mark Chao, Francis Ng, Zha Ka, Kara Hui, Dakota Daulby | Written by Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen | Directed by Matthias Hoene
Filmed in 2015, The Warrior’s Gate sees Jack (Shelton), a bullied teenager mistaken for the video game hero he plays in his favourite game, magically transported to China, on a mission to save Su Lin, the princess he had been tasked with protecting. He teams with warrior Zhoo (Chao) and a flaky wizard (Ng) to stop the evil Arun (Bautista) from marrying the princess and get back home. ALong the way he learns bravery, inner strength and, of course, kung-fu!
The first in a three-picture deal between Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp and China’s Fundamental Films, The Warrior’s Gate is a French/Chinese co-production, written by long-time Besson collaborator Robert Mark Kamen (The Karate Kid, Lethal Weapon 3, The Transporter), helmed by a German and featuring an American in the lead role. Talk about international filmmaking! However despite the multi-cultural background, Hoene’s film actually takes it’s inspiration from two very distinct countries… and genres.
There’s a BMX chase sequence that looks like it could have stepped out of BMX Bandits or RAD, whilst the idea of having a hero be bullied by other kids at his school is ripped straight from The Karate Kid (writer Robert Mark Kamen having penned all THREE of those movies). Even having a video game being a key plot point screams The Last Starfighter – though The Warrior’s Gate takes the concept of a video game being a “training tool” for a battle (in this case a kung-fu fight) further by also making video games the final saving grace for the hero in his everyday life too.
That heavy 80s US kids/teen cinema influence is only matched by The Warrior’s Gate‘s love letter to Wuxia cinema, and in particular the fantasy epics of Tsui Hark such as Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain and Detective Dee; and earlier wuxia films like John Woo’s Last Hurrah For Chivalry (1979) and King Hu’s Dragons Gate Inn (1970).
Now the mixing of such diverse genres shouldn’t work but thanks to a sprightly script, some fantastically staged action set-pieces and a cast – including Dave Bautista in a fantastic villainous role – that all seem dedicated and willing to make this work, no matter how bizarre The Warrior’s Gate gets. And, at times, Hoene’s film does border on the ridiculous… but only in so much as it’s weird to see people in ancient China dancing to a Diplo track! Though to be fair, there was a similar scene in the first Bill & Ted movie featuring Joan of Arc at the mall; so there is a precedent, and one I’m sure we all love from our teen years.
And that’s the thing, as a so-called ‘adult’ I can more-than appreciate The Warrior’s Gate for the fun fantasy action flick it is. But if I was a kid, watching this for the first time? I’m sure I’d be blown away by it, just as I was by all those 80s kids movies I still love today. Hell, there are people out there who love the “kung-fu Kangaroo” movie Warriors of Virtue, despite it being [unjustly] maligned by many a critic (myself NOT included, I’m a fan), yet that 2000s kids martial arts film would make a fantastic double-bill with The Warrior’s Gate as both share similar themes and positive moral message.
Seen as an odd choice by many as the opening film for this years Glasgow Frightfest, The Warrior’s Gate just goes to show how diverse the festival truly is. It might not have been for everyone, but Matthias Hoene’s family-friendly action fantasy was the perfect afternoon matinee movie for me.