The Warlords (Tau Ming Chong)


The Warlords

A blood oath is taken.

(Magnet) Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Jinglei Xu, Bao-ming Gu, Xiaodong Guo, Zhaoqi Shi, Dong Dong Wang, Kuirong Wang, Zongwang Wei, Bo Zhou. Directed by Peter Chan

Blood brotherhood is not a bond to be taken lightly. It is a vow that infers a relationship that is as close – if not closer – than blood. It is a bond that lasts until death.

In the 1860s China was in the throes of its own civil war. The Taipeng Rebellion had torn the country in two and the weak, ineffectual Ching Dynasty was hampered by political bickering and in-fighting from gathering a large, effective Imperial Army. When General Pang Quingyun (Li) leads his army into battle against the Rebels, the supporting army led by General Ho withdraws about 30 miles away and refuses to help. Pang’s army is slaughtered and he is the only survivor, escaping by playing dead which is a very shameful act in the culture of the Chinese military.

Dazed and self-described as dead inside, Pang wanders aimlessly with fellow refugees until he collapses to the ground from his injuries. He is taken pity upon by a beautiful woman named Lian (Xu), a young woman who had been sold into a brothel but had run away to avoid it. She nurses him back to health and a bond forms between them, leading to a sexual relationship. He wakes up one morning and she’s gone.

He waits for her for some time but when she doesn’t come back, he goes searching for her. He comes upon a village which, like most villages of the time is beset by extreme poverty and starvation. He sells his sword and most of his things and goes to find some sustenance. As he does, a group of bandits rides in led by the charismatic Wen-Xiang (Kaneshiro). The bandit announces that whoever should fight for them would be well-fed and proceeds to hand out food, most of which had been stolen. Wen-Xiang notices Pang’s fine boots and picks a fight. When Pang acquits himself well, Wen-Xiang invites him to join them.

Pang is taken to an even more poverty-stricken village where the bandits are holed up. They are greeted as conquering heroes by the villagers. Wen-Xiang’s brother Er-Hu (Lau) also returns at the same time. Er-Hu is the nominal leader of the bandit tribe. He takes a liking to Pang, but explains he really can’t have him stay in the village because of his military background. He agrees to let him stay the night but Pang must go in the morning.

During the evening, Pang discovers that not only is Lian in the village, she is also Er-Hu’s wife. Before he can even speak to her, the village is attacked by a group of the Ho army who steal back all of the village’s food. During the skirmish, an old woman is killed. Because the Ho army has guns (the bandits are armed only with swords, bows and arrows and farming implements), Er-Hu can do nothing.

Pang proposes that the bandits join the Ching army where at least they will be armed and fed. In this way, they can protect the village better. Er-Hu is reluctant but is at last persuaded by Wen-Xiang. The two of them, with Pang, take a blood oath to become blood brothers. Their lives will become entwined from then on, each vowing that none will harm the other on pain of death.

The three bandit warlords are taken before three lords of the Ching court, including the smooth but politically savvy Lord Jiang (Kuirong) who agrees to take the new army in, dubbing them the “Shan” brigade. Pang is made their general and they are ordered to take Chun City. A supporting army of 1,500 troops is sent to augment the 800 bandits. The general of the supporting army confides to Pang that his army is there for show only and that he won’t risk having his army annihilated by the Rebel Army and leading his Lord defenseless. Pang realizes his band of bandit brothers is on their own and through bravery and sheer guts, beats the vastly superior rebel army.

The Shan brigade is given more and more difficult tasks and as they prove successful, the scheming courtiers give it less and less support. A rift is also growing within the three Warlord brothers on how to fight, with Er-Hu wishing to fight more honorably, while Pang and Wen-Xiang leaning towards expedience and a big picture. Pang’s original goal of justice for the poor seems to be falling by the wayside, at great cost to his soul. How will these blood brothers triumph through overwhelming odds?

Very few can do big epic movies these days the way the Chinese can. It takes a great deal of organization and lots of money; less in China than is needed here (which is why these types of movies aren’t made here often). Director Chan, who is better known for romance movies, wanted to explore the love between brothers and the bond between men. It’s new territory for him and he for the most part is successful.

I also have to say a few words about Jet Li’s performance. He shows more emotional depth than he has ever shown in any movie previously and it’s a bravura, reputation-making role. He is called upon less to do the wonderful martial arts moves he is known for (although he does have a few left in him) and he is looking much older in this role than he ever has (although I think that’s intentional). Still, he shows the shame at some of the deeds he’s done, the anger and frustration at the political gamesmanship that is costing tens of millions of lives, and the love he feels for Lian. It’s definitely the kind of thing that can change people’s perception of him.

In fact, this is well-acted across the board. The relationships, particularly those among Pang, Er-Hu and Wen-Xiang, are totally believable and if that central relationship doesn’t work onscreen, the movie falls apart.

Needless to say the relationship works. While the pacing of the movie drags somewhat in the middle third, when the pacing picks up the movie is at its best. The grander, epic scenes work extremely well and the scenes of the degradation and poverty of the village are extremely effective, but it is the main relationship between the three men that you will leave this movie remembering.

REASONS TO GO: Li delivers his most powerful performance yet. There is an epic scope to this that has some resonance.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie drags a bit in the middle.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a great deal of bloody violence and one scene of sexuality. Those who are sensitive to battlefield bloodshed or advised to steer clear.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on an actual unsolved murder of a government official named Ma Xinyi, but his name was changed so as not to upset his descendents, who believe their ancestor was actually a good man.

HOME OR THEATER: This is most definitely an epic and some of the scenes need a big screen to convey their power.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Max Payne

Four-Warned: April 2010


Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief explanation

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE

1. KICK-ASS (1.0)
2. CLASH OF THE TITANS (1.2)
3. THE LOSERS (1.2)
4. THE WARLORDS (1.6)
Tie. OCEANS (1.6)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see.

APRIL 2, 2010

BREAKING UPWARDS (IFC) Genre: Indie Drama. A young New York couple decides to break up but chooses to follow an unusual strategy. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles April 9). RATING: 3.2 Scored a little high on the pretentious meter.
CLASH OF THE TITANS (Warner Brothers) Genre: Fantasy. Men are pitted against Gods in Ancient Greece in a war that threatens to destroy them both. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard and 3D). RATING: 1.2 Spectacular remake of 80s film looks good but could take itself too seriously.
DON MCKAY (Image Entertainment) Genre: Indie Thriller. A man returns to his hometown two decades after leaving it at the behest of his ex-girlfriend only to find himself ensnared by a dark scheme. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Thomas Haden Church stars? I’m sooo there!
THE GREATEST (Paladin) Genre: Indie Drama. A grieving couple takes in the pregnant girlfriend of their dead son and finds their lives transformed in the process. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 A strong cast highlight what looks to be a powerful drama.
LEAVES OF GRASS (First Look) Genre: Comedy/Thriller. A straight-arrow college professor returns home to bury his drug-dealing twin brother only to discover he’s not quite dead yet. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Double the Edward Norton, double the fun.
THE THORN IN THE HEART (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Documentary. Acclaimed director Michel Gondry films his most personal movie yet – the story of his Aunt Suzette. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 3.3 I’m curious to see how Gondry does with more traditional storytelling methods.
TYLER PERRY’S WHY DID I GET MARRIED TOO? (Lionsgate) Genre: Urban Dramedy. The sequel to Perry’s look at modern marriage as eight college friends struggle with the challenges of 21st century relationships. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.5 The first movie was terribly uneven; didn’t leave it wanting to see a sequel.
THE WARLORDS (Magnet) Genre: Foreign Epic Drama. Three friends try to survive a time of political upheaval and political intrigue in 19th Century China. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Jet Li stars in another visual treat from China.

APRIL 9, 2010

AFTER.LIFE (Anchor Bay) Genre: Psychological Horror. A young woman wakes up to find out that she is dead and is being prepared for her funeral by a man who may not be what he appears to be. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Liam Neeson and Christina Ricci star in this movie that looks to be scary as all hell.
THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO’S POND (Project 8) Genre: Supernatural Horror. A group of friends on vacation play an archaic board game and release evil in the process. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Been there, done that.
DATE NIGHT (20th Century Fox) Genre: Comedy. A couple out on a rare night out find themselves caught in a case of mistaken identity that will make their evening a lot crazier than they bargained for. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 Steve Carrell plus Tina Fey equals box office gold.
EVERYONE ELSE (The Cinema Guild) Genre: Foreign Romance. A couple on holiday find the differences between them exposed when they hook up with a couple that is clearly happier than they are. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.9 Subject matter doesn’t exactly grab my interest.
LA MISSION (Screen Media) Genre: Indie Drama. A tough and respected Latino bus driver in San Francisco must come to terms with his gay son. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Gay issues haven’t been explored too thoroughly in Latino cinema.
LETTERS TO GOD (Vivendi) Genre: Spiritual Family Drama. A young cancer patient’s letters to the Almighty have a powerful effect on a postal worker. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 Explorations of faith done family-style have a tendency to be preachy in my experience.
THE SQUARE (Apparition) Genre: Foreign Thriller. A married man has an affair with a married woman leading to arson, blackmail and mayhem. Release Strategy: New York/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.3 The trailer looked very intriguing.
WHEN YOU’RE STRANGE: A FILM ABOUT THE DOORS (Abramorama) Genre: Documentary. Ummmm…it’s a film about the Doors. What are you, stupid? Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 After No One Here Gets Out Alive, do we really need another documentary about The Doors?
WHO DO YOU LOVE? (International Film Circuit) Genre: Biopic. The story of Chess Records impresario Leonard Chess. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles April 16). RATING: 3.8 Didn’t somebody already make Cadillac Records?

APRIL 16, 2010

A SHINE OF RAINBOWS (Seville) Genre: Family Drama. An extraordinary and magical woman helps an orphan find self-acceptance in a small village in Ireland. Release Strategy: Canada.  RATING: 3.8 Ah those zany Irish!
THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION (Screen Media) Genre: Drama. An inter-familial battle ensues over the biographical rights of a recently deceased South American author. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 James Ivory of Merchant-Ivory reunited with Anthony Hopkins…suh-weet!
DEATH AT A FUNERAL (Screen Gems) Genre: Urban Comedy. Hi-jinks ensue at the funeral of an African-American family patriarch. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 An urban remake of an English comedy? Hmmm…
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP (Producers Distribution Agency) Genre: Documentary. The story of the mysterious and mercurial graffiti artist Banksy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 I have ABSOLUTELY no desire to see a film about a defacer of public buildings.
HANDSOME HARRY (Paladin) Genre: Mystery. A Vietnam vet tries to make amends for a crime committed by a group of his buddies during the war. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Could be intriguing.
THE JONESES
(Roadside Attractions) Genre: Dark Comedy. A marketing company assembles a group of people together to pose as a family in order to incite people to buy products they don’t need. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 I’d like to keep up with THESE Joneses.
KICK-ASS (Lionsgate) Genre: Superhero Action. A high school student decides to adopt the persona of a superhero – even though he has no super powers. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 Has had a huge buzz ever since ComiCon last year.
MESRINE: A FILM IN TWO PARTS (Music Box) Genre: Foreign Crime Drama Biopic. The true story of Jacques Mesrine, one of the most notorious criminals in France. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 After Un Prophet French gangster movies are in vogue.
NO-ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS (IFC) Genre: Drama. Underground indie rock bands in Teheran risk arrest in order to follow their muse. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles April 23). RATING: 2.4 Could make Iranian indie rock hip.
THE PERFECT GAME (Slowhand Releasing) Genre: Sports Drama. A group of poor boys from Monterrey, Mexico become the first non-American team to win the Little League World Series. Release Strategy: Limited RATING: 3.1 Have they run out of inspirational sports stories yet?
THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (Sony Classics) Genre: Foreign Thriller. A court reporter decides to write a novel about a sensational crime he was assigned to, dredging up memories some of which should have best remained forgotten. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year.

APRIL 21, 2010

KENNY CHESNEY: SUMMER IN 3D (Sony Hot Ticket) Genre: Concert Film. Footage taken from Chesney’s Sun City Carnival tour last year. Release Strategy: Limited, Special Engagement. RATING: 3.6 I must admit that I’m not much of a country music fan.

APRIL 22, 2010

ACCIDENTS HAPPEN (Hopscotch/Galvanized) Genre: Indie Dramedy. A young traumatized teen hangs out with a local troublemaker in order to anger his family with unforeseen consequences. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Sounds like I’ve seen this one before.
OCEANS (DisneyNature) Genre: Nature Documentary. A glimpse below the surface of the world’s oceans, a place we know less about than the surface of the moon. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 From the makers of Planet Earth.

APRIL 23, 2010

THE BACK-UP PLAN (CBS) Genre: Comedy. A young Manhattanite who has a biological clock whose alarm is about to go off resorts to Plan B – only to fall in love. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.7 Can you say “Baby Mama”?
BEST WORST MOVIE (Area 23A) Genre: Documentary. The story of the making of the film Troll 2, arguably one of the worst movies ever made. Release Strategy: Austin TX (Opening in New York on May 14 and in Los Angeles on May 21). RATING: 2.5 What is more lovable than an utter cinematic bomb?
BOOGIE WOOGIE (IFC) Genre: Comedy. An ensemble comedy about the London art scene. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Art for art’s sake is not my cup of tea.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD (IFC) Genre: Foreign Western. Three strangers on a train compete for a mysterious map in this Korean (!) Western. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 East meets West.
HEY HEY IT’S ESTHER BLUEBURGER (Monterey Media) Genre: Indie Comedy. A young Jewish girl flees her Bat Mitzvah to try and fit in a hipper family while masquerading as a Swedish exchange student. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 I’ve seen Undercover Brother but Undercover Jew?!
LET IT RAIN (IFC) Genre: Foreign Drama. When a family gathers to bury its matriarch, the housekeeper’s son resolves to make a documentary about Agathe, the politically oriented daughter. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 The French excel at such dramas but I’ve seen quite a few of them lately.
THE LOSERS (Warner Brothers) Genre: Action. A highly trained group of special ops agents are betrayed from the inside and go on the hunt to restore their name. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.2 Like the A-Team with an edge…

APRIL 28, 2010

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (IFC) Genre: Horror. A mad scientist attempts to fuse people together in a reverse engineering of Siamese Twins. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Could be delightfully weird.

APRIL 30, 2010

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (New Line) Genre: Horror. A remake of the iconic 80s horror film starring Jackie Earle Haley as Freddie Krueger. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 One, two, Freddie’s coming for you…
FURRY VENGEANCE (Summit) Genre: Family Comedy. When a developer plans to put houses where a forest used to be, the critters that live there fight back. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 I don’t think I’m ready to see ninja woodchucks.
THE GOOD HEART (Magnolia) Genre: Indie Drama. A bar owner who is drinking and smoking himself to death takes a young man under his wing. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Ready to belly up to this bar.
HARRY BROWN (Goldwyn) Genre: Indie Crime Thriller. A retired Special Forces soldier decides to fight back when young thugs take over his neighborhood. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Michael Caine as a septuagenarian Rambo? Slap me and call me Sally!
I LOVE YOU PHILIP MORRIS (Freestyle Releasing) Genre: Comedy. A Texas criminal falls in love with his cellmate and escapes from jail four times to be with him. Release Strategy: Limited (Opening Wide on May 7). RATING: 3.0 Jim Carey as a hardened criminal? Stretches believability to the limit.
MERCY (IFC) Genre: Indie Romance. An author falls in love with the only critic that doesn’t like his work. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 James Caan and Scott Caan in the same movie? It’s Caan-tagious!
PLEASE GIVE (Sony Classics) Genre: Dark Comedy. A Manhattan couple purchases the apartment next door to theirs in order to expand their own living space, but the elderly woman living in it refuses to die. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 From the trailer this looks pretty twisted; just the way I like it.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES

Clash of the Titans, Leaves of Grass (Florida Film Festival), The Warlords (Florida Film Festival), Date Night, Kick-Ass, The Losers