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Warlords, The (DVD Review)

29 Jun, 2010 By: Daniel Xu

Street 6/29/10
Box Office $0.1 million
$26.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for sequences of strong violence.
Stars Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Xu Jinglei.

Anyone who has seen Jet Li’s Hero and found it more than just a kung fu flick will probably appreciate the effort behind his war epic The Warlords.

The 2007 Asian megahit goes beyond a series of big, gory, Braveheart-esque battle scenes. The film is a meaty drama of oath-bonds, calculated ambitions and personal betrayals set during the Taiping rebellion of 19th century China.

Climbing out of the slaughter field of his wiped-out army, General Pang Qinyung (Li) finds life meaningful again when he meets bandit leaders Erhu (Andy Lau) and Wuyang (Takeshi Kaneshiro). The three take a blood oath to work together to fend off repressive local warlords. Rising in stature after successes in battle, Pang reveals to his comrades a grand aspiration that may strain their tense bond.

The combat sequences in The Warlords are at the same time raw and precisely choreographed — the handy work of director Peter Chan, formally assistant to John Woo. Perhaps more impressive is Chan’s firm command over a script so layered it credits seven screenwriters. Threading between the in-your-face action is the murky romance between two of the allies (is there anything that splits up friends faster than a woman?), the intricate politics connecting events to the puppet strings of the high courts, and the decision making of a ruthless conqueror that grinds at values and morals few Hollywood happy-ending soap operas dare to attempt.

Still, American viewers — those who aren’t Asian history buffs or motivated visitors of Wikipedia — will likely find the film falls short of explaining what’s at stake. Fortunately, a refreshing showcase of Li’s formidable acting chops on top of his enthralling martial arts skills, along with some of the biggest names in Asian cinema, should make this curiously late import a worthy choice.

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