His troops defeated and massacred, General Pang (Jet Li) staggers away from the battlefield, more dead than alive. After a brief by intense overnight encounter with a mysterious Lian (Xu Jinglei), he falls in with bandits headed up by Er Hu (Andy Lau) and Wu Yang (Takeshi Kaneshiro). He finds a renewed purpose in life with this group, and forges the band into a formidable fighting force, one that will play an ever greater role in shaping the conflicts that are dividing China. But the fellowship he forms with his blood brothers has a fatal flaw: as fate would have it, Lian is promised to Er Hu. Betrayal and tragedy lurk in the wings.
First, the positives: this is a very handsome production, with a visual sweep that is appropriately epic. The battle scenes are expertly staged, whether these be small-scale skirmishes or grand campaigns. These are spectacular, exciting moments in the film. The characters and their story, however, are far less interesting. The love between Pang and Lian is difficult to empathize with – we don’t really understand why these two are obsessed with each other, and must take it on faith that they are. All of which makes it difficult to care about the relationship, and thus its consequences are more irritating than tragic. And while Pang’s internal conflicts are sometimes compelling, Lian’s characterization is so perfunctory that she comes across as little more than venal, misogynist caricature. In the end, then, the film seems to drag on longer than its 113 minutes, as one finds one’s eyes glazing over between the battle scenes. This is a beautiful movie, but an uninvolving one.
Good stuff here. The palette is muted, but in a paradoxically eye-catching manner, almost reducing the world to shades of grey, reflecting the increasingly mixed motivations of the protagonist as well as conjuring the mud and grime of the battlefield. The imsage is extremely sharp, and there is no grain. Contrasts are excellent. The image is the original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Here, too, very strong work. The score is suitably huge and epic-sounding, but then withdraws into the background a bit to let the clash of battle take over, and those scenes are as immersive as one could wish. Dialogue is free of distortion. So though the story may not be everything it could have been, when the film is at its best, it is nothing short of spectacular, and the sound and picture are no small part of that effect.
The Warlords 117 Days: A Production Journal: (35:22) A thorough behind-the-scenes doc, chronicling, among other things, the not-inconsiderable problems the filmmakers ran into (such as illness and the sheer logistics of a project of this scale).
Deleted Scenes: (27:35)
Lots that is marvellous here, but also a sense of the whole being a little less than the sum of its parts, kept earthbound by a rather trite script. Worth seeing all the same.