Great Conquest: Romance of the Three Kingdoms was released in English on VHS in the United States back in 1995, and later on DVD with an option for English subtitles (see the purchasing information for learn more). The story begins with the rise of the Yellow Turbans and Liu Bei fighting his way past some of them to deliver horses to a merchant. Back at the city, he meets Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, and the next morning they swear an oath to fight as brothers to restore the Han. The movie ends with the death of Lü Bu after being captured by Cao Cao with Liu Bei in his service.
It appears Great Conquest is a part of a full series released in Asia that covers the whole novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but unfortunately the period of the story mentioned above is the only part available in English that I am aware of. The full length Great Conquest feature (unedited) on DVD is over 2 hours and 15 minutes long, so you will certainly still get plenty of movie to see.
The story shown in Great Conquest, for the most part, stays true to the novel. On the other hand, in various areas it takes liberties which might not be welcomed by many Romance of the Three Kingdoms readers. For example, Zhang Jue is beheaded by Guan Yu and Lü Bu actually kills Diao Chan after he finds out she betrayed him (which turns out to be one of the more moving points in the movie if you can get past the discrepancy). Personalities are very true to the original characters, something that shines especially true in the versions with English voice acting (VHS, some VCD).
Below you will find a list of links and searches that you can use to find a copy of Great Conquest: Romance of the Three Kingdoms on VHS, VCD, or DVD. As always, remember to buy from venders that appear in searches with extreme care. Make sure you read every detail available and ask any questions you have, particularly to ensure that you are not buying a pirated product. If sellers do not respond to questions, do not buy from them. If you have additional resources to contribute, please inform me by email.
Great Conquest: Romance of the Three Kingdoms was originally released on VHS. This is, quite simply, the best version ever made for English viewers. It features wonderful voice acting that is timed quite naturally—you couldn’t imagine anything else for the various characters by the time you are done watching it—and all the major elements of the storyline are intact.
On the negative side, a few scenes are cut out (like Liu Bei being told he would one day meet true friends under the mulberry tree, which he instead recalls in a vision), and a great deal of the violence in the movie has been removed. Several parts that aren’t historically accurate (or even accurate to the novel) have also been removed, such as Guan Yu taking Zhang Jue’s head—which he does in the full version. There are still plenty of parts that are fairly graphic though, so this doesn’t bring it into the boundary some people expect for children either.
If you enjoy VHS and don’t mind owning the title on that platform, this is certainly the best choice for you to make. If you don’t have a VHS player, or simply don’t want to get anything on VHS anymore, you’ll want to take a look at the VCD or DVD options depending on what equipment you have and what languages you speak.
Great Conquest: Romance of the Three Kingdoms has also been released on VCD. A few searches around the Internet have shown what sellers claim to be official release of the movie in VCD format, factory pressed and labeled. Before you consider this option it is important to understand what a VCD is. It is basically a CD containing a movie in standard format, and not all DVD players are able to play a VCD (so check your documentation if that is where you would like to play it). Computers, however, are always capable of playing a VCD with proper software such as Quicktime. Also keep in mind the fact that a VCD is not as high quality as a DVD release.
People who want to have the English voice acting but don’t want to own the movie on VHS should pick up a VCD as long as they have something to play it on. When buying the VCD make sure it is clearly stated that it is a factory pressed release from the original copy and not a duplicate/pirate disc. Also make sure it is not a version of the DVD, which does not feature an English track. You should make it your target to buy the VCD for less than $10 USD with shipping included, anything higher is not exactly a good bargain. The disc even appears for as low as $3 from time to time (with a shipping charge that doubles the cost or more).
Finally, there is the DVD release of Great Conquest: Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It features full audio tracks in Chinese and Japanese, Mandarin Chinese being the track to which the lip movements are synced. The lip movements in the Japanese variation are off so you’ll feel like you are watching a bad Asian kung fu movie, but without the bad English to go along with it. Japanese and English subtitles are available along with various special features in Asian only.
What matters to you, the English viewer? Well, first thing to do is pick your language. I would originally suggest the Chinese track, but in my copy of the DVD an electric buzzing starts part way in on the base track (you can kill it by turning base completely down) and continues until the end of the movie. This does not appear to occur in the Japanese track, and given the nature of factory pressed discs I would imagine this takes place in most anyone’s copy. That said, Japanese might be your best choice.
This brings us to the subtitles. If you were planning to enjoy a serious movie then toss that idea aside right now. At first you might be astonished at how terrible the translation is, or wondering why it is they couldn’t get someone who knew the slightest bit about English to point out the typos and blatant misspellings, or to suggest replacement words, but once you watch a while you’ll just be laughing. It quickly became the source of countless inside jokes among us. When someone says, “Plunge!” we all know why and laugh, and we aren’t adverse to the curious expression people offer when you reply to a generosity with, “I accept with gladness!” Many subtitles appear and vanish after having been visible just long enough for you to realize words were said, and much of it just plain doesn’t make sense. You’ll get the best video quality this way though, of this there is no debate. Cost is high on the DVD version, and it is harder to find, so keep this in mind. If either VHS or VCD work for you I’d go with them instead, considering DVD as a last resort. I’m personally planning to buy some video equipment so I can transfer my own VHS copy to high quality video so I can play that instead.
Presenting 12 screenshots I took from my personal copy of Great Conquest: Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The DVD quality is actually higher than this, I just had to convert the movie to a video file because my DVD player wasn’t being cooperative on precision shots. I focused on main characters along with a few events for the images shown below to bring out the detail they put into the characters. All images are 640x480 and open in new windows (click on the images again to close them). I actually took nearly 100, but due to bandwidth limitations I can’t display them all here. Instead, the extras are currently available in Odds & Ends pending a host.
* Over 80 additional screenshots currently available in Odds & Ends.
July 27, 2009