The Warlords (2007)

Posted in Reviews by - November 25, 2013
The Warlords (2007)

Bleak story set during the Taiping Rebellion of the 1860s. The Ching dynasty’s most devastating civil war caused the deaths of approximately 25 million people. Director Peter Chan, formerly a custodian of much lighter fare, busies up a rather regimented history lesson with some horrific battle scenes. We’re talking Braveheart proportions here, with an armoured cast of thousands clashing in austere landscapes detailing one general’s lust for power.

There is a rather limp romantic subplot in which Xu Jinglei divides the film’s three central characters by falling in love with the first one, shagging the second and snubbing the third. The three ‘brothers’ swear allegiance near the top of the film to escape their stricken village and join the civil war on the side of the government. Jet Li is trained soldier Pang Qing-yun, a hot-tempered survivor of a brutal massacre. He wanders into a bandit hideaway and befriends the impressionable Wu-yang (Kaneshiro) and passionate Er-hu (Andy Lau). The three storm the provinces letting much blood and uniting the warring factions with one objective in sight: the capital of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, Nanking.

Peter Chan’s film is based on Chang Cheh’s The Blood Brothers (1973), but although the film may be similar in story, this is an altogether different beast – a startling assembly of eight scriptwriters see to that. For starters, the kung fu sequences are slight, despite the odd burst of sharp Tony Ching choreography. This is a much more political affair detailing the steady ascension of Pang to general and his subsequent leanings toward more despicable actions. During one scene, he callously orders the mass slaughter of surrendered soldiers at an unarmed village.

All of which is rendered very believably by Jet Li in possibly his most affecting role, with the Hero actor uniting alongside the dueling duo from House of Flying Daggers. But to assume this is another kaleidoscopic Zhang Yimou-style wuxia fantasy is to be gravely mistakenly. Dark and unflinching, it is an assault of a war movie – like all the best ones should be.

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