Twitter Plot Summary: It’s the glory days of the Qing Dynasty and everybody’s off to war.
Director: Peter Chan and Wai Man Lip.
Key Cast: Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro,
Five Point Summary:
1. Sever the head and the body will fall. Well… duh.
2. Suicide attack! Yay!
3. Trench warfare either means it’s WWI, or the Chinese were centuries ahead of us even in that respect! (Before anyone says anything – I know China were well ahead of the West. Some might argue they still are).
4. More talking and drinking tea. Not enough action.
5. Revenge is a dish best served cold. Qapla’!
A battle. A massacre. A sole survivor in the form of Jet Li’s General Pang Qingyun. This marks the beginning of The Warlords, based on the Qing Dynasty story “The Assassination of Ma”. It’s a mostly paper-thin story with a very quick and simple set-up, but let’s be honest, you’re here for the big fights and martial arts goodness that are Jet Li’s staple. The good news is that the action scenes are, as you’d expect, very nicely done, even if there aren’t a huge number of them. The camera’s close, but not too close so you can’t see anything (in your face Western action film directors!). Claret flows freely, the action is kinetic and it’s well choreographed.
So who cares if the actual story is about as wafer thin as a particular brand of chocolate mint served to Mr Creosote? There’s enough to see you through (with enough grim pallor to last a thousand films) and connect the impressive fight sequences. As I’ve said, there aren’t as many as you might think, and it’s clear most of the budget went on one of three things: The production design (lots of dark outfits, matching the film’s mood); the CGI blood; the post production filtering they’ve done on everything. It has that typically glossy, modern Eastern action film look to it, to the point where all of the major releases that have come out of the East in the last 10 years all look vaguely similar, even if they are stylistically poles apart. It’s a tad concerning and no different to the BBC’s approach to things like Casualty and all of their drama output. If it all looks the same, where’s the uniqueness that will make the good stuff stand out?
There’s that old adage that soldiers and bandits don’t mix (and if it wasn’t previously an old adage, it is now. Because I said so), but that’s soon out the window when the blood brothers win their first victory and they start to form up as a proper army rather than a collection of thieves and bandits, emphasised by the summary execution of a pair of men who partook in the usual raping and pillaging thing. The blood brothers’ moves are limited by a shady cabal of ministers that dictate where the fight will go, but oddly enough will not even contemplate attacking the two major strongholds of Nanking and Suzhou. At every turn they’re also confounded by cowardly General Ho, who lurks in the background like a gold-gilded and very obvious traitor stereotype. The minor twist here is that everybody knows General Ho is a bad one yet their hands are tied, and on occasion he is actually useful. Having a large army can result in that.
You may be surprised to discover that Jet Li doesn’t really get up to much, which is surprising when you take into account that he was only in his mid-40s when this was made. Still a good long while to go before he reaches Seagal territory, thankfully. He’s also not half bad an actor either, there’s a lot more to him than just a ludicrously talented action performer. Actually, perhaps Seagal should get in touch with Jet Li and take a few notes. He might learn how not to do terrible films. Stranger things have happened.
There’s some nice pathos regarding the vagaries of war, and the steps that are deemed necessary in order to win. Massacring men in cold blood following their surrender, whilst a morally abhorrent action, is shown as a necessity in order for the old “evil” regime to be taken down. Of course, then this expands into what do you do with the spoils of war after the battle is won? Is it enough to split a blood brother pact? I can’t imagine the Fellowship of the Ring managing quite as well.
Favourite scene: Jet Li showing off his awesome fighting skills, admittedly for only 15 seconds.
Quote: “A brother who harms a brother must die!”
Silly Moment: Prisoners of war complaining they don’t have enough food to eat, then pelt Jet Li with bread rolls.