47 Ronin may have been one of 2013’s biggest box office bombs but it’s never fair to judge a film by its revenue. After all Fight Club and The Shawshank Redemption did little at the box office while the most recent Transformers and Pirates Of The Caribbean films crossed the billion-dollar mark. So is 47 Ronin an unappreciated masterpiece or a damp squid destined for the bargain bin?
In 18th century feudal Japan a half-breed outcast called Kai (Keanu Reeves) finds himself in the service of Lord Asano Naganori (Min Tanaka). Over the years Kia falls in love with Asano’s daughter Mika (Ko Shibasaki) but when Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) takes a shine to Mika he sets up Naganori to be sentenced to death and takes Mika for his own. Swearing revenge for their master’s death the 47 Ronin, led by Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), turn to Kai to help them on their noble quest.
The opening scenes of 47 Ronin, despite the film being based on a true story, are wonderfully reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. The world is a vibrant, lavish mythical land filled with demonic beasts who thunder their way through lush forests. It promises much but rapidly loses sight of what could have been something truly thrilling and fun.
It seems after the opening gambit the filmmakers felt the need to focus more and more on the real-life politics of the situation rather than the fantasy thrills. Too long is spent establishing the Japanese honour code of the samurais to their lord, which pales in interest to the titan-like creatures promised early on. As such a good hour of 47 Ronin sinks into a dour affair of bowing low and moping around feeling sorry for itself.
It’s frustrating and almost certainly why the film failed to generate traction at the box office. For the introduction to this world and the closing act are reminiscent of such ‘80s kitsch fun as Krull or Legend. It even follows the same narrative; villain wants girl for himself, noble warrior sets out to win her back, monsters and mayhem ensue. But then that irritating code on honour rears its head again.
The result means you’re left with a bitter taste of what could have been. Keanu, while doing his best to look miserable, is clearly enjoying knowing Kung-fu again but this is no Matrix. If anything it feels like a desperate attempt to tap into the increasing power of the Asian box office and failing to please Eastern or Western audiences.
The early promise soon fades into a monotonous series of politics while you’re screaming “But HERE THERE BE MONSTERS”. As such 47 Ronin is a damp squid, caught and left on the shore to rot its inky mess all over the screen.