The Warrior’s Gate could quite accurately be described as a modern-day kung-fu version of The NeverEnding Story. Teenager Jack (Uriah Shelton) uses video games as an escape from his real life. His mother is struggling to keep their house, and he is occasionally the target of a bully. His antique dealer boss gives him a gift: an ancient chest that turns out to be a portal to a completely different world. Jack just wakes up one night to find the warrior Zhao (Mark Chao) and the princess Sulin (Ni Ni) in his bedroom. They seem to believe that he is a great warrior, and Jack has to try to live up to their belief in order to save the kingdom from a ruthless barbarian.
It actually takes a surprisingly long time for the movie to get Jack into its weird version of ancient China. It at first feels like it’s going to be a fish-out-of-water story with Princess Sulin trying to figure out the modern world. She goes shopping with Jack, gets ice cream, and dances a bit with a streetdance crew. At no point does the film explain how the supposedly broke Jack is supposed to be paying for all this, but that’s the least of the film’s practical problems. This is, after all, a movie about a chest that’s also a portal to an ancient China where everyone speaks English.
But the film mainly embraces its silliness, and that’s what keeps it from being a complete waste of time. The film realizes just how dumb everything is, and it mostly commits to that. It doesn’t make things good, exactly, but it makes thing occasionally enjoyable. It doesn’t do anything particularly clever, but a jab now and then at the complete absurdity of everything going on does provide a few laughs. It’s fun to see the stoic warrior Zhao break down a bit every now and then, admitting his failings and enjoying himself while on this ridiculous quest to save a princess.
That said, the movie still isn’t very good. The film may be fully aware of how clichéd its story is, but it still tells that clichéd story. The plot is structured as a series of practically disconnected episodes. At one point, Jack and Zhao are fighting a witch who is blocking the path with a cauldron of soup. This has nothing to do with the greater story, really. The film is just throwing out random challenges to stretch out the story a bit. There’s no immediacy to this story. No one ever explains the timeline or bothers to even ask why they just aren’t doing things right away. The film may have sense of humor about it, but it’s no excuse for the rampant laziness at play.
Taken as a action movie basically for kids, it’s all right. The fighting’s not great. At best, it’s kind of a level above what one might have seen long ago in a 3 Ninjas movie. It makes no sense that Jack becomes such a good fighter in this story, but again nothing makes any sense. The visual effects are pretty awful. Even the scenes from the video games within the film look dated by about a decade. Performances are okay, but nothing special.
The Warrior’s Gate basically seems to be a tribute to the films of the 80s and 90s. It’s kind of a mashup of The Wizard and The Neverending Story and The Karate Kid, minus the overt earnestness of any of those films. It’s kind of fun at times, the tongue-in-cheek approach to telling this story providing some charm. But it isn’t nearly enough to forgive the film for its overall laziness. Those films it takes inspiration from certainly tried harder to be something worth remembering.