One of many manga adaptations being released nowadays, this particular film from Shinsuke Sato is based on the best-selling adventure/historical series of the same name created by Yasuhisa Hara. The story presens a fictionalized account of ancient China during the Warring States Period from 475-221 BC.
Orphaned as kids by the ongoing war, Xin (Kento Yamazaki) and his friend Piao (Ryo Yoshizawa) dream of changing their fate and becoming the world’s greatest generals. After Piao sacrifices himself to protect the future emperor Ying Zheng (Ryo Yoshizawa), the young Xin’s path to greatness is set in motion by helping the king Cheng Wengjun (Masahiro Takashima) reclaim the throne taken from him by various backstabbing generals and court officials. As they set about on their journey, the battle to do so puts the Xin’s blade to the ultimate test as they go against deadly assassins, large armies, and the dangerous mountain clan looking to further exploit the chaos for their own goal.
Overall, ‘The Kingdom’ was quite enjoyable. Among the more notable aspects of the film is the main storyline about Xin and Piao’s friendship and bond with each other. This is a real credit to writer/director Sato that the early portion here, detailing how their bond grows as they themselves grow up together. This is accomplished through the numerous swordplay training that the two engage in that never turns into envy and jealousy but a more brotherly relationship. When they do manage to get separated and Xin is forced to take his fate in his own hands by taking on the various armies, the fact that he’s bound to their friendship is a fine fire that fuels his desire to take the various fighters on in order to battle them head-on and utilize the skills he learned while fighting as kids.
That friendship and bond set the stage for the enjoyable action setpieces all choreographed by Yuji Shimomura. The various play sword-fighting between Xin and Piao as kids are fun with the enhanced intensity, while encounters like the village raid or the battle with the assassin in the bamboo forest offer fun swordplay encounters. Otherwise, the main action is saved for the glorious finale which maintains a stellar sense of scope and spectacle with all manner of battlefield fighting on display, taking the massive armies into battle with copious bloodletting, weaponry and bladed weapon-work that has plenty to like about it. As these scenes are accompanied by absolutely stellar cinematography by Taro Kawazu that manages to make the film look massive and far more cinematic in scope than expected, there are some great features involved.
There are some major flaws with ‘Kingdom.’ This is mostly based around the utterly overlong running time that makes this run far longer than necessary. The political ramifications and conversations that take place here, with all sorts of side characters taking center stage during the meetings between Ying Zheng and the court, manage to simply run around in circles constantly talking about becoming a better general for their army. These occur with rather alarming frequency throughout the film and make for a really dragged out tempo. As none of the various participants are given any kind of clear motivation for trying to usurp the power of the kingdom, and while it’s possible to consider they want power itself, that’s never explained at all here. Since the characters are barely given names anyway, their intentions become even more troublesome as it becomes rather difficult to match the purpose to the individual. These factors are what hold the film down.
Sometimes being a bit too confusing and overlong for its own good, ‘Kingdom’ still features plenty of positives within it to make for a stellar historical action-packed epic. This is really recommended to fans of that style or appreciate the original manga, although viewers not appreciative of overlong historical epics or convoluted storylines might not enjoy the film much.