Three Kingdoms is loosely based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a 14th century Chinese classic about a chaotic time in China’s history.
Following the fall of the Han Dynasty (220 C.E.), China was divided into three kingdoms: Shu in the West, Wei in the North, and Wu in the South. These three kingdoms battled for supremacy for decades until China was “briefly” unified under the Jin Dynasty in 265.
Three Kingdoms follows the tale of Zhao Zilong who rose through the ranks to become a general in the Shu kingdom. Cao Cao, the infamous general of the Wei, appears early on as his opponent.
Slight digression: I was excited to see Cao Cao who I knew from my days of studying early China. Cao Cao was known to be everywhere at once, culminating in the idiom 说曹操，曹操到—”mention Cao Cao and he is there” (kind of “speak of the Devil!”). He relocated groups of people, such as the religious Taoist order of Celestial Master from Shu to the Wei capital in the North. By doing so, he Inadvertently helped spread this order and religious Taoism throughout all of China.
Three Kingdoms focuses on the Shu kingdom and is filled with battles and fight scenes. In fact, the film is mostly just battles. Zhao Zilong is, of course, a warrior extraordinaire. His strength seems to defy reality. He always overcomes, even when facing dozens of attackers at once.
In the end, he comes out of “retirement” decades later, insisting on leading a battle. All of the famous generals are long dead and being replaced by their offspring. Zilong has devoted 30 some odd years of military service to the kingdom of Shu. He is not about to step aside. Unfortunately, in the last battle of his career, he finds himself used as a pawn in the chess game of war.
Although he and his brother in arms Ping-An initially started fighting for peace so that they could have families, neither goal was been achieved. Zilong dies in battle, one of the many whose names lives on in legend.