Thursday Movie Pick #11: Ancient World (3600 BC – 500 AD)

Thursday Movie Picks by Wandering through the Shelves returns. According to the theme of the week, three to five movies are picked and shared with the reason. Should anyone be interested in joining in, feel free to visit the main page here.

This week’s theme is: Ancient World – movies set around 3600 BC – 500 AD. Well, I suppose there will be many first-civilization movies around this Thursday. However, I’ve restricting myself to pick only three movies about ancient China. Why China? Because I grew up with wuxia and jiangshi movies, serials and comics. Selecting three movies that are eligible for that ‘period of time’ isn’t an easy task, since there are myriads of movies about ancient China but from different eras (the country itself has a long ‘movie-material’ history). However, this is my picks.

01. Hero (2002, Zhang Yimou)
Set: Ancient China – 227 BC

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Hero (2002) – Jet Lee, Directed by: Zhang Yimou | Image via themoviedb

Hero is an idyllic wuxia film set in pre-unified China, during the unification by King of Qin. Under Zhang Yimou the auteur (pre-Great Wall), Hero becomes a quintessential definition of why martial art is called ‘art.’ The storytelling is beautiful – almost like Chinese poetry – adorned with idyllic visuals and stunning battle choreography. If you’re seeking for an answer why Chinese warriors in wuxia films take the warrior road, this might be a perfect answer.

02. Red Cliff (2008, John Woo)
Set: Ancient China – 208-209 AD

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Red Cliff (2008) – Directed by John Woo | Image via themoviedb

Based on a fragment of Chinese greatest literature, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Red Cliff centers on an event called the Battle of Changban (literally means ‘Red Cliff’). Presented in a 288-minutes epos, this John Woo’s masterpiece captures the essence of Three Kingdoms as a colossal lore. The production is massive and the acting is brilliant. Yet, it’s the script that wins over everything. It’s a nearly 5-hour masterpiece full of politic intrigues, battle strategy and personal matters culminating in an unforgettable battle. It’s definitely one of the best films about ancient China.

03. Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2008, Daniel Lee)
Set: Ancient China – 200-218 AD

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Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2008) – Andy Lau, Directed by Daniel Lee | Image via MUBI

Released in the same year as Red Cliff, Resurrection of the Dragon almost had no chance to fare further than its contender. It also takes inspiration from an element of Romance of the Three Kingdoms; however, if Red Cliff depicts one crucial moment, Resurrection draws inspiration from one of the important character – Zhao Zilong a.k.a. Zhao Yun. Known for his combat skills, military tactics, and good-looking appearance, Resurrection captures the persona of the general in brilliant performance by Andy Lau. It feels more personal, but if you’re familiar with the subject matter, it’s a very intriguing story.

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8 thoughts on “Thursday Movie Pick #11: Ancient World (3600 BC – 500 AD)”

  1. Love a theme within the theme! Sadly I’ve seen none of them, Chinese and Japanese cinema are my biggest blindspots, but they all sound interesting. It will give me a good starting place.

    I’m a big fan of films set in antiquity so the hardest part was narrowing down, unfortunately I had to leave out one of my favs, The Ten Commandments since I’ve used it before but picked three others from the same period. It’s my preferred one for this sort of film.

    Quo Vadis? (1951)-Huge, impressive epic of Nero’s (Peter Ustinov) reign and his persecution of the Christians. Against the broader scale of the story (with amazing sets and a literal cast of thousands) is the tale of Roman general Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor) who falls in love with the Christian Lygia (Deborah Kerr) and slowly adopts her religion, a very dangerous decision for the time. Vast in scope with pageantry and a human feel that can’t be replicated by CGI that thanks to the direction and performances, Leo Genn is particularly fine as Marcus’s Uncle Petronius, remains more accessible than many similar films of the period.

    Land of the Pharaohs (1955)-Hooty nonsense about the building of the Great Pyramid in ancient Egypt. Packed with quality British actors, including Jack Hawkins, James Robertson Justice and Sydney Chaplin, extravagantly playing to the back row and best of all (well most campily of all anyway) a young and very beautiful Joan Collins vamping it up as the pharaoh’s wife Nellifer. To say she’s good would be a stretch but she sure is entertaining. The usually excellent Howard Hawks doesn’t seem to have a handle on the pace of the story so despite the florid ridiculousness of the picture it occasionally drags.

    Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)-Fictional sequel to The Robe picks up where that film ended. The movie follows two stories: faithful Demetrius (Victor Mature) the soldier converted to Christianity in the first picture is pressed into being a gladiator and catches the eye of the salacious Messalina (Susan Hayward) wife of Emperor Caligula’s uncle which causes a crisis of conscience. Meanwhile the mad Caligula pursues Jesus’s robe believing it to have magical powers. Star-studded if improbably cast (i.e. Ernest Borgnine as a Roman centurion) with future stars Anne Bancroft and Julie Newmar appearing briefly. Nicely produced if a bit overblown.

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    1. I believe your film repertoire will give you much likeness to Asian cinema. I bet you’d like most of it.
      Sadly, I haven’t watched any of your recommendation. In fact, I’ve heard none of them. I’d better go and check ’em out

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  2. I absolutely love the fact that you went all China. Also, it makes me realise how many good films I still have to watch. Thanks for the reminder!

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