Shinsuke Sato’s 2019 manga adaptation, Kingdom dared us to dream. His hit sequel, Kingdom 2: Far And Away, demanded we saw our dreams through…
Shin (Kento Yamazaki) takes the mantle as he leads a regiment of makeshift soldiers accomodating the Qin forces of King Eisei (Ryo Yoshizawa) and battlefield General Hyoko (Etsushi Toyokawa) to the Daikan Plains in response to the advancing neighboring forces of Wei. Along the way, Shin finds himself reuniting with Bihei (Amane Okayama) and elder brother Bitou (Takahiro Miura) before the regiment’s arrival to the plains where the men must group into units of five to be formidable.
Joined by the unassuming Takukei (Takayuki Hamatsu) and the terse but deadly Kyoukai (Nana Seino), Shin and the brothers form a quintet and charge into battle with the regiment under the leadership of Commander Bakukoshin (Kiyohiko Shibukawa). The attack leads to the first of multiple battles with Wei generals Kyugen (Tsutomu Takahashi) and Gokei (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) who sit enclosed in their fortresses atop two hills in the Plains. As the fighting takes its toll on the Qin forces, Shin comes to learn several more things as the tide of war begins to turn, amid his ongoing quest to become the world’s greatest General in honor of his late friend Hyou. In the backdrop of these events, however, what remains to be seen is the outcome of an even more nefarious plot following a foiled attempt on Eisei’s life that threatens to upend his dreama of a unified China.
Yasuhisa Hara’s successful manga is the framework in which Sato envisions his current Kingdom trilogy as of this write-up, as the third installment, Kingdom: Flame Of Destiny, awaits its Japan release later this month. Netflix just released the first chapter of the franchise, along with its second, Kingdom 2: Far And Away, introducing a whole new bevy of characters to group together with some of the first film’s returning stars, with a screenplay by Hara and returning co-scribe Tsutomu Kuroiwa.
The story goes even bigger this time around, showcasing the next evolution of Shin’s quest – highlit by a few flashbacks to his past with the late Hyou. As the story progresses, indeed Shin does have a lot more to learn. Nevertheless, his burgeoning, incumbent wisdom and simplicity of ideals in life are ultimately what help him manage to break through just a little more with Kyokutai, the last of a reclusive all-women tribe out to avenge a beloved friend.
Kyokutai’s origins are first planted within the movie’s first few moments in which two assassins manage to break into the palace to try and kill Eisei, only to be met by the guards and by the dauntless Shin and the cunning Karyoten (Kanna Hashimoto). As a preamble to Kyokutai’s development midway in the film when she is inevitably confronted with dealing with her grief, the assassination subplot isn’t revisited until much later in the film, fantastically setting up the third film. That’s where we need to keep in mind just what lies ahead with the always menacingly grinning General Ooki (Takao Osawa) who continues to keep a careful distance from infringing on all the fighting despite his personal interest in whatever the outcome is to his own elusive ends. The man is a wild card, and just what kind of wild card he is, well… is anyone’s guess.
As always though with a Sato-directed extravaganza such as this one, I can’t bookend this review without reflecting on the action. Sato has been and continues to be a favorite since I first saw The Princess Blade, his 2003 collaborative effort with Donnie Yen at the helm of the action. One of the key stunt professionals working under Yen was Yuji Shimomura who I’ve also been a fan of since seeing his fight choreography work under Ryuhei Kitamura on wayback titles like Versus, Alive and Aragami, and with longtime friend Tak Sakaguchi on projects like Death Trance and Ten Shimoyama’s Shinobi: Heart Under Blade; Shimomura also plays one of the first henchmen to get laid to waste in Takashi Yamazaki’s Returner opposite Takeshi Kaneshiro.
Shimomura’s work has evolved immensely over the years, between fight choreography, stunt and wire coordination, all which play active roles in his contributions to the Kingdom franchise in making actor Yamazaki and the cast look their most remarkable on screen. It’s a point worth noting, too, that for a Japanese production immersed in manga inspired lore set in China, that this is about as wuxia-adjacent as it gets, and it’s bolstered by an amazing cast looking their utmost best in the most continuously thrilling action sequences this side of the genre. Indeed, some of Shimomura’s best work can be seen in part when he’s directing his own projects or working with competent auteurs like Sato (and this includes in no uncertain terms the amazing work they did together on Bleach).
Yamazaki is in raw form and fully adept to the role of Shin. His character is the first to charge into battle, leaving a trail of Schadenfreude in his wake for anyone who still can’t believe that a boy who was once a slave is now leading a charge in wartime to shape history. Mass battle sequences are masterfully shot with a keenness to the similar stylings of Ching Siu Tung and Sammo Hung. Set pieces and props also include scrimmages with weaponized chariots with blades fixed at the wheels to mangle anyone on foot. The remarkability of these sequences is watching how some of the infantry puts its own strength to use despite not donning the same armor as the military leading them, including Seino’s character Kyoukai who is absolutely the one to watch.
Post-credits tease what look to be the final chapter of the Kingdom saga. I was actually looking forward to screening these films via festival coverage, but it does put my mind at ease that these films are getting the exposure they deserve. Bring on Flame Of Destiny!
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.