The Warlords

Dir: Peter Chan

Rating: 2.0/5.0

Magnet Releasing

113 Minutes

The Warlords, yet another Jet Li-driven, Chinese historical drama is full of sweeping montages, dramatic battle scenes and rhetorical blood oaths, but unlike the actor’s masterpiece Hero (2002), its dramatic gravitas is lost among a convoluted plot and a weak love triangle. Finally making its stateside appearance despite its three-year age, The Warlords tries to be the Chinese equivalent of Braveheart, but lacks that film’s emotional and psychological depth.

Based on events that occurred during the 19th century Chinese Civil War between Taiping rebels and the Qing Dynasty, {The Warlords} follows General Pang (Li) who convinces a group of bandits led by Er-Hu (Andy Lau) and Jiang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to join the Imperial Army to not only staunch the rebellion but exact revenge on another general who betrayed Pang. The three men engage in a ridiculous blood brother ritual where they swear allegiance to one another, a commitment soon to be tested by political and romantic influences.

After nearly 90 minutes of bone-crunching violence and panoramic shots of dead bodies that attempt to out-do the hospital scene in Gone With the Wind, The Warlords takes an ill-advised detour into political intrigue as Pang’s rivals pit him against his blood brothers. While goofy, the preceding section of the film has its charms and gives Jet Li plenty of excuses to kick some ass. But when Er-Hu openly defies Pang, and also romances the object of the general’s affection, the bonds of blood brotherhood turn out to be not that strong after all.

Director Peter Chan works with a lightweight script to convey the human cost of war. Jiang hangs on Pang’s maxim that it is easier to die than live during war and a scene where a courtyard full of unarmed rebels is murdered by bow and arrow is particularly effective. Yet, as Chan set ups the growing dichotomy between Pang’s ruthlessness and Er-Hu’s emerging humanism, compounded by a shared paramour (Xu Jing-Lei), The Warlords does not have either the grace or the depth to handle such weighty ideas.

Another problem is the screenplay, which feels more like a series of cobbled-together scenes rather than a coherent story. Characters come and go, motivations and facial hair changing almost at will with no rhyme or reason. For those coming to watch bloody dismemberments and Jet Li killing people, there are some good moments. Yet, The Warlords brings nothing new to a genre already burgeoning with films like Hero, Once Upon a Time in China and last year’s Red Cliff.

by David Harris
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