I have 478 movies in my Netflix Instant queue. I tend to watch one thing for every five that I add, but now my library is close to being full and I have to make room. So, every Monday I’m going to pick a random movie out of my queue and review the shit out of it. But (like Jesus), I’m also thinking of you and your unwieldy queue and all the movies in it you want to watch but no longer have the time to now that you’ve become so awesome and popular. Let me know what has been gathering digital dust in your Netflix Instant library and I’ll watch that, too. One Monday for you and the next for me and so on. Let’s get to it.
What’s the movie? The Warlords (2007)
What’s it rated? Rated R for epic battle sequences, a lot of spearing and two dozen conversations about honor.
Did people make it? Written by Tin Nam Chun, Junli Guo, Jiping He, Jianxin Huang, Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui, Oi Wah Lam, Lan Xu and James Yuen. Directed by Peter Chan. Acted by Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Jinglei Xu and Jacky Heung.
What’s it like in one sentence? A Chinese Shakespearean tragedy with epic battles and Jet Li beating some ass.
Why did you watch it? Prunetracy recommended it and PintelGuy seconded. I also really love all three leads, so I figured it couldn’t be all that bad.
What’s it about in one paragraph? During a civil war around the time of the Qing Dynasty, General Pang Qingyun (Li) is the only soldier left alive during a decisive battle. He is nursed back to health by a lovely and mysterious woman named Lian (Xu), who gives him such a night of hot loving and hotter soup, that it brings him back from the brink of death. The next morning she is gone and he hooks up with Jiang (Kaneshiro), a thief who instantly takes a liking to him once he figures out that Jet Li can beat him like a disobedient rug. Jiang takes Pang back to his village (comprised of mostly other thieves) and introduces him to Er-Hu (Lau), the leader of their community. Pang, Er-Hu and Jiang all become instant blood brothers and decide to build their own army for honor and peace and also more honor. The only problem is Er-Hu’s special lady friend is Lian, the same woman that nursed Pang back to health during their Night of Soup and Asian Lovemaking. Will Pang’s honor prevent him from going after the woman he loves? Will Er-Hu’s honor allow him to let Lian be with the man she had a soupy night with? Will Lian’s honor keep her from making a decision for the film’s entire running time? Will all Chinese movies always be about honor and people’s attempts to honor each other and themselves?
Play or remove from my queue? I’d say play it. It sags in the middle for a time and then in the last 30 minutes all the characters motivations become extremely cloudy and everyone starts acting like they’ve gone insane. I have a feeling that this has to do with the fact that the American release of this film is 16 minutes shorter than the original Chinese release. Sometimes scenes begin and you feel like you’re walking into the middle of them and missed a vital piece of a character arc or some little moment that makes all their decisions a little clearer. For instance, the female lead is dating Andy Lau’s character and also has slept with Jet Li’s character, but we never know for a second which man she prefers, even though she hangs out with both, leaving her whole arc to feel abridged. Ambiguity is nice, but her story just feels ignored. By the end of the film I was still interested in the character’s fates, but only because of the strength of the performances and not really because of the story the script was telling.
The acting is really where this movie makes it’s mark as something different than the typical Chinese period action\drama. Jet Li is given a lot to do here, and he displays a range that hasn’t been seen since Danny the Dog, but he is even stronger in this. The amount of martial arts he does in this is so limited that it proves he can make an interesting lead without having to resort to busting out some wushu to entertain us. Takeshi Kaneshiro is also wonderfully exciting to watch in this, as well. He definitely has the least showy role of the three male leads, but he brings an innocent warmth to the part that I didn’t notice in films like The House of Flying Daggers and Red Cliff. But it’s Andy Lau who owns this movie from top to bottom. His face and his eyes are so haunted and expressive that you feel every single emotion he does as he’s feeling it. It’s a commanding performance without being showy or overly technical. I’ve been a fan of his since Legend of the Drunken Master and he’s only gotten better since.
It’s a powerful movie but it’s really going to depend on what you’re in the mood for when you watch it. It does have an extremely epic battle scene in the first half, but then the second half becomes this Shakespearean tragedy about the bond between three men and how much that bond can tear before it breaks completely. If you’re watching it to see Jet Li beat some ass, then you’ll be partially pleased because he does get to fight a little with spear and fist, but this is a straight drama compared to his films like Fist of Legend and Once Upon a Time in China. As long as your expectations are set somewhere around “Period Drama with Intermittent Action Sequences” then you should be fine. Just be forewarned that the latter half of the film slips into some melodrama that doesn’t feel entirely earned and makes some of the scenes feel stilted and a little too theatrical. However, I have a feeling the Director’s Cut will address all of my issues. Or maybe it’ll make it worse. How the fuck should I know?
Do you have an interesting fun-fact? For the giant battle at the midway point of the film, they wrote a 20 page treatment describing it and shot it with 8 continually rolling cameras. This is all very similar to how Rosie O’ Donnell’s sex tape was shot. Am I really the only person who’s seen that?
What does Netflix say I’d like if I like this? Why? Three Kingdoms (very similar films, I thought. Good recommendation.), Red Cliff (the time period is close enough to make the battles look very similar), The Emperor and the Assassin (haven’t seen but I see the word “Shakespearian” is being bandied about in reference to that film as well), Ashes of Time (been meaning to see it but have failed), A World Without Thieves (in my queue and waiting).
What does Jared say I’d like if I like this? Why? Fist of Legend (so you can see what awesome looks like), Infernal Affairs (because not enough people have seen it. And Andy Lau is in it), Hamlet (David Tennant version. Just because), Hero (Asians?) and Gosford Park (why not?).
What is Netflix’s best guess for Jared? 3.1
What is Jared’s best guess for Jared? 3.3
Can you link to the movie? I sure can!
Any last thoughts? It’s really easy to make an epic Chinese period adventure seem impenetrable to Western audiences. The Warlords can be penetrated, however. Frequently and with gusto.
Did you watch anything else this week? The season finale of Game of Thrones which was quite predictably amazing. Non readers were shitting themselves, I bet. I also watched Green Lantern but forgot it already.
Next Week? Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype. It needs to happen.