Double World (2020)
Southern Zhao and Northern Yan waged war for many years, until the two devastated nations finally agreed a truce to give them chance to rebuild. After Northern Yan assassins narrowly fail to kill the Zhao king, Grand Tutor Guan realises that resumption of war is inevitable, and asks the king to hold a martial arts tournament to choose a new Grand Field Marshal.
Each of the tribes of the Central Plains must send three warriors to Phoenix City to compete for the title. Qinyuan Clan asks for volunteers, which is how they end up sending their police chief along with a young thief and a foreign deserter they took in ten years earlier.
DOUBLE WORLD is a big budget fantasy spectacle, packed with dramatic action and CGI effects, and uttterly lacking in depth or nuance. The plot is reminiscent of any number of other Chinese and non-Chinese epics, and the characters are all predictable archetypes.
China doesn't have a great track record with big budget blockbusters, they tend to follow the formula "the bigger the budget, the dumber the film". I suppose there are a few notable exceptions, but it's a good rule of thumb. I fully expected to hate DOUBLE WORLD, but to my surprise I ended up rather liking it. I'll probably have forgotten it even exists in a week, but for 110 minutes it managed to hold my attention and keep my entertained. Perhaps it benefited from low expectations, but it definitely exceeded them.
It's cliched and relentlessly bombastic, but it looks good, moves swiftly and has exciting and dramatic action scenes (courtesy of choreographer Tung Wai, along with an army of VFX artists). I liked the characters and was rooting for them to succeed.
It's the sort of film where if you want to find fault it won't be difficult, and I'm sure it's going to get roasted by most reviewers, but if you are in the mood for something that can be described as a "rip-roaring adventure" with a straight face, and you don't require every film you watch to leave you thinking about its deeper meaning for weeks, I say you could do a lot worse than this one.
It's on Netflix now anyway, so it's not going to cost you a lot to give it a chance.