Tag Archives: Romance of The Three Kingdoms

Adaptation By Someone Else

One game that got some press at last week’s E3, the game industry’s annual event where games are announced and/or demo’d, was the upcoming Total War: Three Kingdoms. Apparently it was announced back in January, but I hadn’t heard of it until now.

And I am intrigued.

The Total War series are strategy games that unlike, say, StarCraft or Red Alert, tend to focus on real wars, be they Roman, Napoleonic, or set in Feudal Japan. They’ve been on the periphery of my awareness, as games that are cool — and I do like my strategy games — but I’ll probably never check out. But they’re making one set in the Three Kingdoms!

Three Kingdoms, for the uninitiated, refers to a classic period in Chinese history during the fall of the Han dynasty where the realm was split between, well, three warring kingdoms. The stories were more-or-less codified in Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of Three Kingdoms, an epic that romanticizes the period in a big way. The book, and the surrounding history, has been the source for countless works in China (and neighboring East Asian countries), be they in film, television, or video games.

So Total War: Three Kingdoms has my attention for turning its attention towards a source you usually don’t see in western media. Despite being incredibly prolific in Asia, you’re not really likely to encounter Romance of Three Kingdoms or anything based on it unless you’re actively looking for it. To see a Western strategy game focus on stories that I heard growing up is really, really neat.

But it also raises some questions.

There’s already been a ridiculous amount of games (and media) based on and around Romance of Three Kingdoms. Dynasty Warriors has been around for over twenty years and we’ve had movies like Red Cliff. What difference does it make that some other group is telling the story? And why is my gut response “oh, cool!”?

Maybe it’s because it’s exciting to see something considered kinda niche be put a little bit closer to the mainstream. These are stories I know about because I grew up in a culture around them (Zhuge Liang was a fixture in bedtime stories) and took a class to study the book in college, but most of my other peers (here, in New York) aren’t terribly aware of them. A western developer making a game about it is sorta uplifting the stories from their corner and into a spotlight.

Which then raises the question of why it seems like it’s being uplifted. Is Romance of Three Kingdoms just being big in Asia not good enough? Why does it getting attention from the West make it seem like more of a big deal? We tend to categorize stories and genres; drama is taken more serious than an action movie, live action taken more serious than animation, and so on. The Three Kingdoms period taking front-and-center in a western video game makes it seem like it’s finally being ‘taken serious,’ but it’s already been taken serious for years (heck, generations), in other parts of the world.

I think this might be something that’s more self-reflective than anything. My excitement at seeing this has to force me to ask myself why do I feel this way about this. ‘cuz all the reactions I write about here are my own, and I have to wonder why I’m so quick to discount Dynasty Warriors or other works based around the Three Kingdoms. It’s a sort of latent colonial thinking, where something from a non-Western group is not as good, or as cool, as something done by a Western group.

None of this, of course, should be seen as a negative take on Total War: Three Kingdoms or the fact that I may actually get this game (I get to field Liu Bei as a hero? Awesome). I still think it’s really cool to see it in the spotlight like this, but I still have to ask myself: why am I excited about it now?

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Verified Fiction

I’m an African prince. Well, sort of. More my Dad is a Chief in Ghana. Long story short, when we were there (while living on the ship) a local chief decided to make my Dad a Chief too. Far as thirteen-year-old Josh saw, he was given an ornate bracelet and, by the nature of him being my father, I became an African prince.

Don’t believe me? It’s fine, but hey, makes for a fun story huh?

I mentioned last week that my Dad told me a lot of stories growing up. Like I said before, some were Star Wars in nature, others dealt with superheroes, but among my brother and my favorites were stories of Zhuge Liang, a Chinese strategist who always had the smartest solutions. Sort of like King Solomon of the Bible, only, well, Chinese.

Anyway, my Dad would tell these great stories. I don’t remember any details, just that Zhuge Liang was really smart and sometimes his adventures had him winding up in present day or going on adventures with Star Wars characters. Some other stories he’d tell my brother and I were from when he was younger; adventures with his brothers or stories of when he’d lived on a ship in his twenties. Point is, they were great stories. Like that whole African prince thing; they’re cool and fun, something to tell others down the line.

Which, like many things in my life, makes me think of a movie. In this case it’s Secondhand Lions. Heads up, I’ll be discussing the ending of said movie, so: ten-year-old spoilers.

In Secondhand Lions, Walter is sent to spend the summer with his elderly grand-uncles Hub and Garth. Little is known by Walter, his mother, or the community about the brothers; just that they spent a long time overseas and are probably sitting on pile of wealth. There are theories as to what they did, one of the most popular being that they were bank robbers. According to Garth’s stories to Walter, they spent the years in Africa, fighting for the French Foreign Legion during World War I and later their own adventures including a notable escapade with a sheik before finally returning to the States.

Now, the central tension in the movie is the issue of whether the stories are true. When asked point blank, Hub tells Walter that it’s not so much the veracity that matters but that the meaning is true. That is, though a story mayn’t be true, ideals like honor and love are.

We don’t quite get an answer through the film’s climax — in fact we get a story in favor of the bank robber theory. It’s only at the very end, set years later, that Walter meets a man whose grandfather — an old wealthy sheik — told him stories about two wild Americans who opposed him. For both men it’s a moment of realization that there were actually some truth to those stories.

I’m taking a class this semester called Historic Epics of China and Japan, for which I’m currently reading Romance of The Three Kingdoms. I’ve heard of this book before, mostly that it’s a cultural touchstone. Part way through the book, though, a major character was introduced: Zhuge Liang.

Yeah, the same guy my Dad told me stories about when I was a kid is a key player in a book I’m reading at university. There’s something exciting about this, in a way not unlike Walter meeting the sheik’s grandson: it’s a sudden realization that hey, those stories my Dad told me were actually rooted in Chinese culture. There’s a sudden added truth to those half-remembered stories I grew up with. That and Three Kingdoms is a great piece of literature.

We live in a world of stories. Not just those we watch/read/play, but ones we hear from and tell each other. With that, it’s always to find out that some of those more outlandish ones are actually quite true.

A couple years ago I was reading TIME when an article caught my eye: it was about foreign chiefs in Ghana. I read it, amused at the fact that hey, my Dad might not be the only one. Then I looked closely at the picture in the article, real close. On the chief’s wrist is a bracelet, one not unlike the one my Dad has.

Well whadaya know.

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