Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Title: The Warlords; Cast: Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Xu
Jinglei; Director: Peter Chan; Producers: Andre Morgan, Huang Jianxin,
Peter Chan; Screenwriters: Xei Lan, Chun-Tin-Nam, Aubrey Lam; Music: Lean
Ko, chan Wong Wing; Editor: Wenders Li; Genre: Action/Drama/History/War;
Cinematography: Arthur Wong; Distributor: Viva Films, Morgan, and Chan
Films; Location: China; Running Time: 110 min.;
Technical Assessment: 3.5
Moral Assessment: 2.5
CINEMA Rating: For mature viewers 18 and above
Qing General Pang Quingyun (Jet Li) is the only survivor of a very fierce battle fought in 1861 during the Taiping Rebellion against the corrupt Chinese Qing Dynasty. Traumatized, Pang is nursed back to health by a kind peasant Lian (Xu Jinglei). Though their meeting is short--he sleeps with her for a night-- he develops some feeling for her. Soon, Pang falls in with a group of bandits under the leadership of Zhao Erhu (Andy Lau) and his aide Jiang Wuyang (Takeshi Kamashiro). Pang saves Jiang’s life and the three men pledge eternal friendship and blood brotherhood. Pang realizes Lian is Zhao’s wife. Later, Pang persuades the bandits to join the government’s army so they will have food and arms. Actually, Pang’s plan is to take his revenge on a rival general Pang and his men are assigned to what appears as a hopeless as assault on Shi City , yet Pang comes out victorious but at great cost since he had to use a great number of men as shields. Then they are asked to blockade Suzhou City but because this takes so long, the soldiers are hungry and suffer a lot. At this point, Zhao and Pang become gradually estranged because of Pang’s decisions to ruthlessly sacrifice men to win at all costs. Will this brotherhood stand the strain of conflict? How will the illicit relationship between Pang and Zhao’s wife affect the lives of the three “brothers”?
Originally, The Warlords was intended as a remake of the classic The Blood Brothers made by Chang Chek in 1973. But the present film ended up as a
highly budgeted war picture costing $40 million with no stunts and a
minimum of martial arts. Both are inspired by the chronicled assassination
of Gen. Maxinyi by his trusted friend Zhang Wenxiang in 1870. The Warlords also changes the names of the protagonists. The present picture is an epic war drama dressed up in impressive costumes but full of skillfully choreographed battle scenes so ultra realistic that they call to mind the gory heroism of the Spartan’s 300. Peter Chan shows the master’s hand in directing action sequences with thousands of extras wielding different weapons. Images of soldiers suffering and starving in trenches in the 30 minute Sushou sequence have strong emotional impact and may recall stories about 20th century world wars. Visuals are good and the predominance of dirty gray and brown help bring out the bleak atmosphere. Editing is tight but the music scoring is uneven. Originally in mandarin, the dubbed dialog is often difficult to follow. Though the other characters like Andy Law put in good performances, this is Jet Li’s picture. He dominates every scene where he appears and gives justice to his role as a conflicted
warrior and later as a warlord. But he does not have good chemistry with Xu Jenglei; the female protagonist. Their love scenes are very low key though their relationship is important to the outcome of the story.
Viewers who expect The Warlords to entertain them with spectacular war scenes will have their fill. Those with a scholarly bent can also gain insight into Chinese history. Moreover, the film has moral dimensions worth mentioning. For instance, the matter of adultery. Having an illicit relationship with a married person is often regarded in a matter-of-fact manner these days and just simply tolerated. But it does have far-reaching effects (the movie affirms this) that often times are not immediately discernible but these will come to pass. Jet Li’s character is that of an ambitious warrior who makes decisions to attain a goal (here, victory) without taking into account the welfare of others or the human factor. It is true that he has to make difficult decisions because the choices are difficult but this does not justify his killing a group of soldiers(over the issue of food) so others may live. He is so affected by what he does that he even sheds a tear but to him as a military man, it is victory at all costs. In the end, his realized ambition and position of importance are of no use. It is still the same rule. One cannot justify evil means even if the end or goal is good. Definitely this movie is not for the young. The violence is so preponderant that it is overwhelming. Too much exposure of young impressionable viewers to violence desensitizes them so that often their regard for the value of life is diminished.