Live-Action “Kingdom” Is an Action-Filled Epic – Review

Kingdom poster

Presented by Funimation Films, Kingdom is a sprawling epic of a movie; it’s two hours of glorious action and fabulous scenery, complemented by an appropriately swelling soundtrack.

Kento Yamazaki as Xin

Based on the manga by Yasuhisa Hara, Kingdom is the story of Xin and Piao, war orphans who are raised together on a country farm and grow up sparring with each other and dreaming of being great generals. One day, an adviser to the king spots them sparring and offers Piao – only Piao – a job in the palace. Xin continues his training, anxious to reunite with Piao, but their ill-fated reunion is short-lived when Piao stumbles bleeding to the farm and reveals there has been a coup. As he dies, he charges Xin to follow a map, which leads him to the deposed king, Zheng. Eager to avenge the death of his friend, Xin promises to aid Zheng on his quest to reclaim his throne from his brother, Jiao.

This is a film that is all about the plot, but that’s okay because it’s a pretty damn good one. How can you resist a film about a quest for revenge where it seems like everything is against our heroes and you don’t know who to trust? Still, for a movie with a more than two-hour runtime, it is a little light on character development in the sense that you don’t really get to explore any of the relationships in depth – at least the ones that exist prior to the film. Piao’s death is what motivates Xin for basically the entire movie, but their entire relationship spans 15 minutes at most. Zheng and Jiao’s rivalry could have been very well done, but since we’re seeing the story primarily through Xin’s eyes, we don’t get to see what leads up to Jiao’s coup, only the aftermath. And Jiao as a villain is fairly standard – Zheng is his half-brother, his mother was a commoner, and everyone is really elitist.

Masami Nagasawa as Yang Duan He

But even with little development with the characters, they are still pretty fantastic. My favorite character was either Diao, a young boy from the mountain clans who was constantly wearing an owl costume, or Duan He, the chieftain of the mountain clans. (By the way, I’m glad she showed up when she did. I was just starting to think that the film could use more ladies. Or ANY ladies.) Jiao was a decent antagonist, if a bit stereotypical, but all of his generals and advisers were interchangeable except General Wang Qi (one of those people you don’t know if you can trust or not).

The action scenes in Kingdom are full of gravity-defying moves that will leave you on the edge of your seat. Xin, in particular, is skilled at essentially back-flipping at his opponent. Much of the last third of the film involves Zheng and his allies’ attempt to regain control of the palace; the forces are split between a small group storming directly through the palace in order to distract from the even smaller group that is sneaking in to confront Jiao. But honestly, my favorite fight scene was much earlier in the film, when Xin, Zheng, and Diao are attacked by a poisoned-blow-dart-wielding assassin and Xin battles him in a bamboo forest.

Ryo Yoshizawa as Yin Zheng

Kingdom also has some pretty stellar cinematography. There are sweeping shots of mountains and plains, and some beautifully framed shots using light and color. The scenery is amazing, and the sets are fantastic as well. The whole time I was watching, I couldn’t but think how absolutely gorgeous of a movie this is. You would do yourself a disservice not to see this in theaters; this is a film meant to be enjoyed on a big screen.

Everything – the action scenes, the great cinematography – is backed by a truly unbelievable score. A good score can set the tone for the entire film, and this one lets you know right away you are in for a pretty epic ride.

As someone unfamiliar with the source material, I can’t speak to how it serves as an adaptation, but I will say it manages to do something that is difficult for many adaptations – stand on its own. You don’t need to have seen the anime or read the manga to know what’s going on, and though I could have done with a little more character development, I don’t think the film suffers for the lack of it.

I was entertained the entire way through. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, and I highly recommend seeing it in theaters, if you are able to do so.

Kingdom is presented by Funimation Films and opens in select theaters across the US and Canada on August 16. It is directed by Shinsuke Sato, written by Tsutomu Kuroiwa and Shinsuke Sato (based on the manga created by Yasuhisa Hara), and produced by Amy Baer, Shivani Rawat, and Monica Levinson.

*I was provided a free screener of the film in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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