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Feature


In the year 120 AD, the powerful Roman Empire, under the reign of Hadrian, was expanding its rule to the Central Asian countries. During this time the empire agreed to an alliance with the also powerful Han Dynasty through the marriage of Roman prince Marcus Carprenius (Gavin Stenhouse), and Han princess Meng Li Hua (Jing Lusi). On their way to a general meet and greet on the Malaysian Peninsula the Romans are waylaid by terrible weather, and settle in Goa, where they come across a condemned misfit named Merong Mahawangsa (Stephen Rahman-Hughes), who agrees to lead them through troubled waters towards their destination in exchange for his life. Eventually the team arrives, where Meng and Marcus hit it off, and Merong rediscovers his heritage. Blue skies soon turn grey when the remnants of the two great empires are attacked by the Garuda pirate nation, who kidnap Meng, and seemingly kill Marcus.

Clash of the Empires
You probably haven’t ever heard of Clash of the Empires. There’s a good reason for that: it’s a cheapo Malaysian 300/ Red Cliff cash-in, and it usually goes by the title The Malay Chronicles: Bloodlines. That title was apparently dubbed inadequate by the UK distributor who retitled it Clash of the Empires, seemingly to cash-in on the unearned success of Louis Leterrier’s terrible Clash of the Titans remake. This title is misleading on many levels, not the least of which is the fact that empires do not clash. A more trustworthy title would be A Few Remnants of Two Empires, and a Single Guy from Another Empire Clash with a Relatively Large Band of Pirates. This is what I’d imagine would happen if the Pirates of the Caribbean films had been made for the Syfy channel. Writer/director Yusry Abdul Halim certainly has a lot of heart, and his production team appears to be doing their best, but nothing can save this film from its inescapable dumbness. The record states that the film is loosely based on an actual historic record, but I find little here to suspect that ‘loosely’ doesn’t actually mean ‘not even a little bit’. The script does follow a forward moving storyline, but this is mostly represented by a series of incredibly clichéd character interactions, and well choreographed, but often strangely shot martial arts sequences.

The plot moves very quickly for about 40 minutes, but even at this clip it’s difficult not to notice things could move even quicker minus the dialogue, which is hard to see as anything but extraneous. The bulk of character dialogue boils down to ‘Boy, our cultures sure are different, we should talk about it’. Occasionally Halim makes a bold attempt at broad comedy, which I have to admit I genuinely respect, and wanted to find more amusing, since it sets Clash of the Empires slightly apart from many of the films it endeavors to recall, save the obvious Pirates of the Caribbean influences. Occasionally the comedy sparks some real charm, but this only acts to make the ultimate failure sadder. Following this opening 40 minutes the film turns into a dry history lesson, and thanks to the cheapness of the overall look parallels to B-roll, non-event History Channel specials. This section drags so slowly it makes the Ong Bak sequels look efficient, and makes little sense in terms of the film’s timeline. Following months apart everyone reconvenes for no good reason, and basically render the last 20-30 minutes moot. The third act is a goofy mix of faux-history, big speeches, and a relatively coherent battle climax that isn’t worth the wait, unless you’re a big fan of being disappointed by box art.

Clash of the Empires
The performances are overall much better than the material, at least those coming from native English speakers, and next to the decent action choreography the only reason to enjoy the experience. Male leads Gavin Stenhouse and Stephen Rahman-Hughes have notable chemistry despite their utterly asinine dialogue. Stenhouse and Jing Lusi also have some chemistry, but it’s hard to really care about their inevitable union. I get the feeling that if given something better to work with Rahman-Hughes could be a decent Mark Dacascos analogue.

Video


Assuming you aren’t too bothered by the ghosting effects of cheap animation, you’ll probably find little reason to complain about this Image Entertainment release. Clash of the Empires is hyper-stylized, featuring harsh contrasts, and solid, comic book inspired hues, and it’s clearly shot using high definition cameras. The various cultures are somewhat colour-coated to help us tell them apart, and each environment is digitally graded to an almost monochromatic base. Goa is almost entirely pale yellow, daytime on the Malay Peninsula is a super-desaturated brown, and nighttime is either blue or sickly gold/green, depending on the mood. The acrylic costumes then pop against the stark backdrops, along with some of the more high contrast highlights. There’s little noise in even the most vibrant hues, and the sharp edges usually feature no enhancement effects. Detail levels depend entirely on the quantity of digital tampering within a frame, but assuming there isn’t too much colour grading (some of the blued night scenes blow-out the edges of the frame), nor are there too many blurry effects, fine textures are unblunted and lifelike (or as lifelike as anything can appear in such a film). The exceptions are a few big, sweeping helicopter shots, and awkward transition shots, which look terrible. These flutter with what appear to be missing frames, are fuzzy at best, and feature some sizable low-level noise and blocking effects. I assume this has something to do with digital tampering.

Clash of the Empires

Audio


The video quality gets a pass, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is not so impressive. The stereo and surround effects are present, and the LFE bounces plenty, but there are many signs of compression, chiefly inconsistent volume levels, and a general muffled quality, which clears up every once and a while. The bulk of the film appears to have been shot on soundstages, even when it’s not, and the bulk of the non-dialogue sound appears to have been added in post, creating a thin, canned series of effects. These effects move throughout the channels, and are well placed, but sound artificial, and feature very few layers. The funniest faux paux is the sound of flying fists that arbitrarily features in the stereo channels during some of the more close up fisticuffs. The musical score is capable, but bounces all over the place tonally, and sounds as if it was created using a computer, rather than played by real orchestra…which it apparently was. The bulk of the bass comes from the electronic drums.

Extras


Only a trailer.

Clash of the Empires

Overall


Clash of the Empires is only recommended to action fans so addicted to the format they’ll watch anything that doesn’t physically hurt them. Assuming you know it’s dumb, cheap, and that the box art and title are incredibly misleading, and assuming you have a working fast-forward button to get you through the deathly dull middle section I suppose there’s no harm in renting it.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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