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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

CLASH OF EMPIRES -- DVD review by porfle

Malaysian historical legend gets a retelling in the small-scale epic CLASH OF EMPIRES (2011), aka "The Malay Chronicles: Bloodlines."  But while providing some entertainment and the occasional "ooh, ahh" moment, it's not quite the stirring and inspirational saga it aspires to be. 

You have to hand it to director/co-writer Yusry Kru for being ambitious and trying to wring as much spectacle as he can out of what appears to be a non-Hollywood budget.  There's some sweep to the story (circa 120 A.D.) of a Roman prince and a Chinese princess whose pre-arranged marriage on a neutral shore is interrupted by an attack by the dreaded pirates, the Garuda. 

Their most ruthless warrior, Kamawas (Khir Rahman), whose magic amulet gives him invincibility, kidnaps the princess for ransom.  Merong, a Malaysian rogue hired to guard the prince, leads the local tribesmen in battle against the Garuda after discovering that he is the great warrior whom prophecies foretell will unite them in victory. 

CLASH OF EMPIRES blends elements of high seas adventure, historical warfare, and romance with generous doses of mysticism and sorcery.  The paunchy Garuda chieftan Taji gestures broadly at the gods to bring thunderbolts down on his enemies while armies on the seashore engage in speeded-up combat that's impressively violent while not being especially well shot or choreographed.  What the battle scenes lack in finesse, however, is made up for by the sheer amount of slice-and-dice action.

Stephen Rahman Hughes as Merong displays some martial arts dexterity and lots of enthusiasm along with a welcome sense of humor.  Much of the first half of the film, in fact, in played rather lightly, especially with the corny romantic banter between Prince Marcus (Gavin Stenhouse) and the reluctant bride-to-be, Meng Li Hua (Jing Lusi).  The antics of the Princess' handmaiden Ying Ying (Nell Ng) may even start to grate on your nerves after awhile.

Things get serious, however, with the Princess' abduction and Merong's realization of his true destiny.  As his ships near the Geruda camp, the film does its best to expand to epic proportions while not quite getting there.  Merong's "sword day" motivational speech to his men doesn't have that RETURN OF THE KING vibe it strives for although it seems to have the intended effect of making them all willing to die. 

The magical element returns when Merong unveils a death ray he's constructed from broken mirrors, which causes the enemy to burst into flames and flop limply out of their boats.  Flabby fight choreography tends to drain the excitement out of much of the subsequent battle, while some low-level CGI gives certain scenes a rinky-dink veneer. 

At times the film suffers from murky cinematography that looks like its been tinkered with too much digitally--a few more bursts of vivid color here and there would've greatly improved the visuals.  Exotic locations and good production design are a big help, as is Edry Abdul Halim's lively score as performed by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  The sole extra is a theatrical trailer.

CLASH OF EMPIRES is an earnest depiction of Malaysian folklore that tries hard to match the grandeur of other epics but can never quite rise above its own limitations.  Still, it's relatively entertaining in its own modest and rather endearing way. 

Buy it at

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