The Warlords (投名狀) Made in: China Language: Chinese (Mandarin) Director: Peter Chan Starring: Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Xu Jinglei Year: 2007
Synopsis: Set in China during the 1860s, the story takes place during the twilight years of the Qing Dynasty. The Taiping Rebellion is in full swing, and threatens China's imperial power establishment. In desperation, the Imperial forces resort to recruiting mercenaries and bandits in an effort to bolster its struggling army.
The film begins after a bloody battle between a regiment of Imperial soldiers and a group of rebels. The Imperials are led by General Pang Qinyun (Jet Li). His group is wiped out because reinforcements under General Ho, his rival, fail to show up. ON PURPOSE.
Qinyun is the lone survivor of the bloodbath, and in a post-battle daze he stumbles into a camp of bandits. There, he is nursed back to health by Lian (Xu Jinglei) whom he falls in love with. However, Lian is the wife of the bandit leader, Zhao Er-Hu (Andy Lau). There, we also meet Er-Hu's brother-in-arms, Zhang Wuyang (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a young capable warrior with an amazing mustache.
Before long, the three become best buddies and swear a blood oath of loyalty to each other. And through their collective efforts, they turn their rag-tag group of grimy underdogs into the most kick-ass team of soldiers in the land.
Subsequent victories soon gains them notoriety, and the Imperial government begins to take notice. But Qinyun's increasing ambition starts threatening his friendship with Er-Hu and Wuyang. And unscrupulous politicians, along with Qinyun's secret affair with Er-Hu's wife, don't make things any easier.
As Qinyun is made into a provincial governor, the story takes a tragic, bloody turn.
How Chinese folks typically celebrate Spring Break...
The Good: The Warlords certainly has the look of a grand epic. The cinematography is great and the grand costumes appear to be very well researched and expertly crafted. Jet Li and Andy Lau prove that they are in-depth actors and not just action movie heroes stabbing their way through a few explosions and calling it a day.
The Bad: Unfortunately, The Warlords gets a little lazy and assumes that the "name-brand" recognition of its three stars (Jet Li, Andy Lau, and Takeshi Kaneshiro) is all it takes to make a hit movie. There is very little character development, and we only get a sense of who the protagonists are through a story which moves along a predictable sequence of events.
Weakest of all is Xu Jinglei's character, Lian. There is really no cinematic explanation as to why she's cheating on her husband with Qinyun. And she really isn't all that interesting. She only has a few vague lines of dialogue, and every once in a while she appears in a scene just to offer a few more ramblings.
Other problems with The Warlords involve the fact that many of the costumes look alike. At times it was really hard to tell the main characters apart (they all sport similar hairstyles and wear bulky outfits that hide most of their features).
And during battle scenes, soldiers from both sides were wearing similar outfits and funny hats so it was damn near impossible to figure out what the hell was going on. Are the heroes winning or losing? Who just got killed? Didn't that guy get the same arm cut off two battles ago? Isn't it weird that Jet Li hasn't been seen with Jason Statham for so long?
Who would like this movie: If you're a fan of Chinese epic war movies, I'd say to just skip this one. The Warlords doesn't offer anything new in the "tragic hero" genre that we haven't already heard witnessed in Shakespeare's plays or Scorsese's films.
The movie is quite boring in parts, the characters are underdeveloped, and the depressing ending doesn't seem to serve any purpose other than to remind you that this film is trying to win some sort of award. Oh, and Jet Li barely does any of his trademark kung-fu, either. Prepare to feel cheated.