HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Saturday, June 15, 2024

THE WARLORDS -- DVD Review by Porfle


Originally posted on 6/30/10


Drama, intrigue, and bone-crushing battle action combine in THE WARLORDS (2007), a fact-based war epic which takes place in late 1800's China during a terrible civil war.

Pang (Jet Li), a commander in the Ching army, is the sole survivor of a battle against Taiping rebels.  He finds himself allied with a ragtag band of thieves led by Er-Hu (Andy Lau) and Wu-Yang (Takeshi Kaneshiro, RED CLIFF), whose village is constantly being raided by the vile General Ho of the Ching forces.  Pang suggests that Er-Hu and his men join the military in order to feed their people and reduce their vulnerability.  Becoming blood brothers, Pang, Er-Hu, and Wu-Yang lead their army in a series of conquests which bring them to the attention of the Imperial Council, a group of deceitful, self-serving old men who profit from the war and don't want it to end.

The blood brothers eventually find their bond severely tested as Er-Hu is shocked by Pang's growing ruthlessness and ambition.  Complicating matters is the fact that Er-Hu's wife Lian (Jinglei Xu) has fallen in love with Pang, which Wu-Yang believes is adversely affecting Pang's decisions as the split between him and Er-Hu widens.  With the Imperial Council wielding their influence behind the scenes, each man chooses a course of action that could lead them to disaster.

THE WARLORDS is beautifully directed and photographed, particularly during the dramatic scenes which take up most of the film's latter half.  But in the earlier battle sequences the emphasis isn't on pictorial splendor or style as much as a gritty, rough-hewn realism.  Beginning with the attack on a Taiping supply convoy by Er-Hu's band of thieves and continuing with their conquest of Shu City--with the group now an army battalion under Pang's command--the film bristles with massive scenes of bloody violence.

There's no dazzling martial arts or fancy swordplay (director Peter Chan consciously avoided the fantasy-tinged "wuxia" style of the Chang Cheh films or even some of the later Chinese historical epics).  This is grueling, blood and thunder, hack and slash battle consisting of crowds of men trying to butcher each other.  The Shu City battle is the action highlight of the film, especially when Jet Li's ferocious General Pang thrusts himself into the thick of things.  A couple of the CGI moments are a little off--when Pang slashes the legs off half a dozen opponents with one swipe, it doesn't look very convincing--but when he hoists up a lit cannon and uses it to blow the hell out of all the enemy's other cannons, it's pretty thrilling.

The rest of the movie concentrates on political intrigue as Pang's rise to power is fueled by conflicting motives and he finds himself at odds with Er-Hu, who only wants justice for the poor and a simple life with Lian.  Wu-Yang is caught in the middle and is forced to take drastic action to preserve their bond, but the Imperial Council pulls all their strings to the very end.

If you're looking for wall-to-wall battle action you'll be disappointed--still, the drama and ultimate tragedy of this story are compelling.  There is, finally, a genuine martial arts battle near the end which is integral to the plot and, again, is depicted very realistically.  All of this is aided considerably by the fine performances of the four leads, with the world-weary, battle-scarred Jet Li proving himself quite capable as a dramatic actor.

The DVD from Magnolia's Magnet label is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 English and Mandarin soundtracks.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include the documentary "117 Days: A Production Journal" and deleted scenes.

Depicting a harsh and fascinating era in Chinese history, THE WARLORDS succeeds both as a thrilling war movie and an emotional story of political intrigue and personal tragedy.  It doesn't aspire to the conspicuous visual poetry of a film like RED CLIFF, but instead displays its own straightforward, hard-edged style that's just as effective.


No comments: