20th Jun2024

‘The Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms’ VOD Review

by Jim Morazzini

Stars: James Hong, Michelle Mao, Dante Basco, Dave Sheridan, Bai Ling, Anna Harr, Matthew Sato, Zac Albright, Gedde Watanabe, George Takei | Written by Zack Ward, Ace Underhill | Directed by Zack Ward

The Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms is the latest film in James Hong’s impressive career. It’s a career that goes back to the 1950s, and between then, and now he’s racked up over 450 credits as an actor, including Big Trouble in Little China, Kung Fu Panda, Batman: Soul of the Dragon and Everything Everywhere All at Once. He’s also written and directed a handful of films, most notably the 1989 horror film The Vineyard.

Here he provided the story the script is based on as well as playing Chuck Lee, the grandfather of the film’s heroine Patsy Lee (Michelle Mao; Cosmetic Criminals, Metal Lords). Patsy is a studious young woman who just wants to get a scholarship so she can go to college and get out of the tiny town of Globe, Arizona.

But that’s about to change when she finds herself in possession of an ancient box which was dropped by Frank (Dante Basco; Sightings, Asian Persuasion) and Hank (Dave Sheridan; That’s a Wrap, How to Kill Your Roommates and Get Away with It) two of Kuang’s (Bai Ling; Exorcism at 60,000 Feet, The Haunted Studio) bumbling henchmen. Perhaps it’s expecting a bit much for them not to be incompetent, since not that long ago they were a rat and a chicken.

It doesn’t take long before, Patsy and her grandfather, along with her best friend Squirrel (Anna Harr; Shadow Master, The Dark Side of Opulent), her crush Hopper (Matthew Sato; Imaginary, Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.), and the mysterious box, get sucked into another dimension. Of course, it’s the one where Kuang is imprisoned. They’ll need to figure out how to use the box to get home before the evil sorceress and her creatures can get her hands on it and use it to free herself and destroy our world.

The script by Ace Underhill (Two Kings, Crew) and Zack Ward (Tales from the Other Side, Restoration), who also directed, is a surprisingly inventive, and ambitious, fantasy adventure aimed squarely at kids. From shots of an otherworldly vista complete with dragon to Trader Joe played by Zac Albright in a lizard suit and voiced by Gedde Watanabe (Vamp, Ultraman: Rising), a mystical turtle, AO the Wise, voiced by George Takei (Star Trek, Scooby-Doo and the Samurai Sword), and a hopping vampire or two, The Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms has plenty going on to keep their attention. More than you would expect from a film that was obviously shot on a lean budget.

The effects are also ambitious for a film of The Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms’ budget. There’s CGI, puppets, animatronics and performers in suits all being utilized to bring the film’s fantasy realm to life. Clara Gonzalez-Garza (Knifecorp, Beyond Paranormal) and her practical effects team did a commendable job. As you might expect though, not all of the film’s effects work, with some of the CGI falling a bit short, although it’s still better than much of what you would see in a film from The Asylum. Ironically, VFX artist Joseph J. Lawson has previously worked for them on Flight 666, Alien Siege and 6 Headed Shark Attack, among others.

Just like the effects, much of The Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms plot works nicely, but there are some misfires. Most notably Hank and Frank, who are just too silly and whose scenes are too reliant on bad slapstick and gross-out gags to be funny. The ending also lays the positive messages and lessons on a bit thick and starts to feel preachy. Perhaps saddest of all is seeing an actor of Hong’s calibre spending so much of the film talking as though he’s reading from a box of fortune cookies.

Of course, I’m viewing a kid’s movie through adult eyes, and some of the issues I have probably won’t bother The Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms’ target audience. And more than enough does work that adults who watch along with them should be entertained for much of the film’s hundred and ten minutes. And just as happy as their kids at the sequel teasing final scene.

***½  3.5/5

The Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms is available on VOD and Digital Platforms via Vision Films.

Review originally posted on Voices From the Balcony

One Response to “‘The Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms’ VOD Review”

  • Hello! Just a quick note: as much as I’d love to take credit for the final VFX, especially how great they turned out in view of the budget and limitations, I was only the on-set VFX supervisor for a few weeks. As visual effects artist of record, Umar Shoaib took what was a real challenge then spun gold. Umar (whether alone or with others) deserves all the credit for a whimsical and magical accomplishment. Credit also belongs to producers Ace Underhill, James Hong, James Cullen Bressack and director Zack Ward for persevering against all odds to bring that script’s lofty vision home. The Keepers of the Five Kingdoms looks fun!