When I was little, I loved “kids on a crazy adventure” movies. It was a type of family film outside the realm of Disney or animated film, one that felt real and grounded even when fantastical things were going on. I loved living vicariously through the kids in these movies, whether it was the Goonies on a quest to find the treasure of One-Eyed Willy, Bastian Bux falling into the world of The NeverEnding Story, or Thora Birch and Vincent Kartheiser, aka baby Pete Campbell, trying to rescue their father with the aide of an adorable polar bear cub in ‘Alaska’ (anyone else remember that movie? Just me?) These movies had their heyday in the 80s, with classics like ET, Labyrinth, Karate Kid, Stand By Me, and Honey I Shrunk The Kids. There are a few exceptions, but there are hardly any of these kind of fun, live-action kid friendly movies anymore.
Warriors Gate (or Enter The Warriors Gate if you’re watching on Netflix) harkens back to these days of yore. Directed by Matthias Hoene and co-written by Luc Besson and Robert Kamen, it’s an epic fantasy adventure that skips from modern day to ancient China and back again. Oh, and Dave Bautista is in this. Who doesn’t love that guy?
Warriors Gate is about a normal, everyday teenage boy named Jack (Uriah Shelton). Things aren’t so hot for Jack right now. He’s being bullied in school and he and his mom are about to lose their house because she can’t pay the mortgage. So Jack, like many kids, escapes into the world of video games because it’s the one place he can feel like a hero.
Then one day Jack’s boss (Francis Ng) gives him an ancient, magical chest, which happens to be the “warrior’s gate” of the film’s title. And what do you know, people from ancient China start popping out of it. A warrior named Zhao (Mark Chao) appears and tasks Jack with protecting a Princess, Su Lin (Ni Ni) before promptly peacing out.
Jack barely has enough time to introduce the Princess to modern American things like malls and frozen yogurt and slang before enemy warriors also start popping out of the chest and kidnap her back in. For reasons that probably amount to “Dude, she’s, like, REALLY hot”, he jumps in after her. From here, the plot is sort of the same as a Super Mario Brothers game - rescue a princess in a castle that has been captured by a Big Bad.
The Big Bad is Arun the Cruel, played by everyone’s favorite guardian of the galaxy, Dave Bautista. His full name is Arun the Cruel, the Terrible, the Horrible, but people just call him Arun the Cruel for short. Bautista has some interesting hair and great face makeup.
Arun wants to marry Princess Su Lin and then kill her after their wedding so that he can become Emperor. Bautista is great in this role, even though he’s not in it for very long. More than anyone, he knows exactly what kind of movie he’s in. He’s funny but still looks intimidating. There’s a great running joke about how one of his henchmen always accidentally kills the wrong person and Bautista treats him with the sort of benign exasperation anyone in middle management might give to an employee. Honestly I wish his part in the movie was at least 30% bigger. I honestly was rooting for him way more than the whiny teenage boy.
Sadly we’re mostly we’re on a quest/road trip with Jack and Zhao to find and rescue Su Lin. I think they maybe traverse all of China. But they have that cliché but still fun to watch dynamic where the carefree kid has to teach the stodgy, no-fun, set-in-his ways dude how to let loose and have a good time and in turn the stodgy dude has to teach the kid about responsibility and Believing In Yourself. Jack learns to fight and be a little more bad ass. Zhao learns how to dance. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if this is a fair trade-off.
Eventually they reach Arun and his army and battles and shenanigans happen. I won’t say anymore for the sake of spoilers but you can probably guess where this is going.
Warrior's Gate isn’t great or life-changing, but it’s still a fun, cute, adventure-fantasy romp with some charming characters. And an annoying teenage boy. I hope one day we’ll get to have fun movies that take place in ancient China that don’t star a white dude (I’m also looking at you, Great Wall). But this film still has a nice 80s kid adventure movie vibe to it I haven’t seen in a really long time. You’ll have fun seeing Bautista be a middle-management level warlord trying to wrangle his goddamn useless employees together so he can ascend to CEO/Emperor. And you can see the wonderful Mark Chao learn to dance and later utter the line “I’m not here to attend your wedding…I’m here to attend your funeral!” with the kind of seriousness and intensity that such a line deserves. Overall, I call it a win.