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Wick's Review

Created Apr 14, 2010 11:00PM PST • Edited Jan 19, 2024 08:12AM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Really Great 4.5

    As essential to understanding China as Gone with the Wind is to understanding America, The Warlords brims with operatic history, passion, blood and beauty. GWTW romanticized the 1861 American Civil War; This 21st Century Chinese production romanticizes the – a – Chinese Civil War, also from the 1860s.

    A big movie, The Warlords won 8 Hong Kong Film Awards a couple of years ago, including Best Director, Best Cinematography, Costume & Makeup Design, Art Direction, Visual Effects, and Best Actor – Jet Li. Not to mention Best Picture, of course.

    Hell, more Chinese have likely seen it than Americans drove through McDonalds today. And that’s a lot.

  3. Great 4.0

    Three great actors play the bloodbrothers who become warlords. One – Jet Li – is already famous in the West, while another – Takeshi Kaneshiro – seems destined for global superstardom.

    Jet Li’s got a super cool name and major martial arts skills. Not the most emotive actor, he nonetheless fits the part of traumatized 19th Century Chinese warlord.

    Takeshi Kaneshiro – he of the Japanese father and Chinese mother – is one handsome dude, and well plays the youngest – and therefore most impressionable – of the three bloodbrothers. Time magazine is right to call him the Asian film industry’s Johnny Depp.

    Jinglei Xu also impresses as the woman at the center of a deadly love triangle. Even more impressive is how she portrays a Chinese woman of the mid-1800s, hardworking and stoic, yet with deep reservoirs of emotion.

  4. Male Stars Great 4.0
  5. Female Stars Really Great 4.5
  6. Female Costars Great 4.0
  7. Male Costars Great 4.0
  8. Really Great 4.5

    The Warlords succeeds as a love story, not just a war story, in somewhat similar fashion as Mongol. Unlike the singular couple at the center of Mongol, The Warlords focuses on a love triangle. Two of them actually: the first, two warlords – blood-brothers – who love the same woman, and the second, the lovestruck warlords in fraternal bondage with their younger bloodbrother. Classically interwoven, the interplay of the two triangles animates the passion that humanizes the larger story of China’s Civil War. Hollywood would be proud, since Gone with the Wind did it no better.

  9. Direction Really Great 4.5
  10. Play Really Great 4.5

    Like a lyrical poem, the dialogue stays spare, essential, austerely beautiful. One could probably read it in 15 or 20 minutes. And enjoy it.

    Thus it’s easy to follow, notwithstanding the subtitles, odd tonalities, and difficulties in identifying the main characters. These are essential archetypes as much as characters anyway: warriors, blood brothers, the woman they love, and the enemies they kill. The big picture may fade in and out of view, but the essential gist of each scene is rarely hard to pick up.

  11. Music Perfect 5.0
  12. Visuals Perfect 5.0

    The huge battle sequence is said to have had a detailed script treatment of over 20 pages and a maximum of 8 cameras rolling simultaneously.

    Add to this the use of 500 stunt horses and you’ve got a Made in China war movie similar in jaw-dropping scale as the opening ceremony of the Bejing Olympics.

    Oh yeah, there’s an eye opening scene in the Forbidden City. Now that’s some serious location shooting!

  13. Content
  14. Risqué 2.3

    The copious killing – some up close and personal, some distant and detached – nonetheless underplays the blood and stench such slaughter would cause. This dulls the savagery, notwithstanding bloodied faces, a severed head, and quite a few through-and-through arrow, sword and spear wounds. In short, the Strong Violence referenced in the R rating is well earned yet soft pedaled.

  15. Sex Innocent 1.5
  16. Violence Savage 3.8
  17. Rudeness Salty 1.7

    Much oath vowing, none of it in French.

  18. Surreal 2.4

    No one flies. Nor is there a hidden dragon. Which is not to say that nothing flies.

    Time – for instance – flies. Years go by in moments. Battles get won in the cut between scenes.

    Elsewhere on the reality front, arms and legs get horribly broken, yet the fighter to whom they belong barely falters. Other fighters get run through with spears and arrows, then fight on and even recover.

    So that covers physio and bioReality liberties.

    CircoReality liberties include wickedly inventive gorilla attacks and some of the aforementioned time-bending coincidences, notwithstanding the very real history upon which the story is based.

    Surreal? Oh yeah.

  19. Circumstantial Surreal 2.4

    About that history: 19th Century China is depicted as a society of hunger and tribute, fealty and fecklessness. No wonder the Chinese were ripe for Communism less than a century later. Lacking any tradition of individualism and property rights, they were a nation willing to settle for daily bread.

    Seeing this triggers wonder at the exceptionalism of America, one of very few countries never to have suffered subjugation or been beaten down for generations of generations. China, OTOH, suffered through centuries – millennia – of serfdom and feudalism, more than many nations but not dissimilar to most.

    The Taiping Rebellion shown in the movie resulted in the deaths of 20 million people, more than 30 times the death toll of the contemporaneous American Civil War!!! According to Wikipedia, this makes it the fifth most savage war in history. Ouch.

  20. Biological Surreal 2.7
  21. Physical Surreal 2.1


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