Kingdom, based on the manga of the same name by Yasuhisa Hara, is a new Japanese martial arts epic set in medieval China. More cohesive than most live-action adaptations of manga, but still somewhat lacking as an action film, the biggest issue with Kingdom is that it seems to be unable to figure out to whom it hopes to appeal.
This movie follows an orphan boy who dreams of becoming the greatest military general in the Qin Kingdom when his best friend gets murdered at the hands of a group of rebels, sending him on a journey with the future King to get revenge and unite the kingdom. Nothing about the story is particularly innovative or unique, with a typical structure for a martial arts film, featuring some setup followed by multiple encounters with opponents whom the characters engage in battle.
However, since the movie clocks in at around two hours and fourteen minutes long, one can’t help but feel like the film is overly extended. The first thirty or so minutes, which feature introductions to the characters, could and should have been shortened significantly. Additionally, there are some of the encounters that are clearly more impressive than others, and had those less-than-stellar ones been removed, the movie could have been closer to an hour and forty-five minutes — and far better.
That said, there are a few impressive action sequences. The most impressive sequence in the film is the very first one. After spending a significant time watching the protagonist train, we know that he has the capability to defeat the highly trained assassin he faces (and it is obvious that he will, given the fact that there is still over an hour of the movie left). However, it is at this point that the stakes, and the emotional weight of the film, are at their height. None of the other fight scenes are able to live up to this first one, and as such, the movie loses much of its steam.
The character development is also very lackluster. The only thing that will keep the audience sympathizing with the protagonist is his enduring ambition. Even the death of his childhood friend feels like an inauthentic and forced motivation for the character. Kento Yamazaki does a solid enough job in his lead role, although his ability to convey emotion is a bit stilted by the unrealistic nature of his character.
The supporting characters aren’t written much better either. The future King with whom the protagonist finds himself isn’t really given much of a personality. Perhaps we are supposed to feel cold towards him because of his regal status, but that seems unlikely given the progression of the protagonist’s arc. All the rest of the supporting characters seem paper thin, and most of them exist only to provide further development for the protagonist.
Visually, the film does stand out from most other manga adaptations in that it does not feel hyper-stylized. Rather, director Shinsuke Sato emulates the style of a more classical martial arts movie with great success, giving the film a more palatable look. Sometimes, the cartoonish look of these movies can be overwhelming, so it is nice to see something be more subdued for a change.
Despite a few good action sequences and a nice visual style, Kingdom suffers from that fact that it is too long, and poorly-paced at that. Although the most hardcore of Japanophiles may be excited to see this film, most audiences will be better off seeing a more exciting and authentic Asian epic.
Kingdom opens in theaters on August 16.