Friday, April 16, 2010
“Warlords” (opening April 16 at Landmark’s Ken Cinema) is a true bromance in the heroic bloodshed tradition that Hong Kong has proven so good at.
“Warlords” covers similar ground to the recent John Woo epic, “Red Cliff” and “Battle of Wits.” All three look to historical events for the foundation of a story about male bonding, honor, loyalty and betrayal. The film uses the backdrop of war and political upheaval during the Taiping Rebellion in 1860s China as the catalyst for bringing three men together. General Pang (Jet Li) manages to survive a brutal opening battle by playing dead, and he ends up joining a band of bandits led by Er Hu (Andy Lau) and Wu Yang (Takeshi Kaneshiro). The three men prove to be effective leaders and lethal soldiers in battle. They swear an oath to become “blood brothers,” pledging loyalty to one another until death, but politics and a beautiful woman (Wu Jing-Lei) test their loyalty.
Directed by Peter Chan, “Warlords” is a muscular, violent historical epic. It lacks the flair for heroic bloodshed that John Woo invested “Red Cliff” with. In “Warlords,” the action is more matter of fact and straight ahead. Yet for a film so packed with battlefield action it would have been nice if Chan had invested it with more style or at least a stronger point of view. The result is a film that plays out like a solid but familiar historical war epic.
Li, Lau, and Kaneshiro are well versed in playing roles like these. They deliver the goods and pull you into this tale of blood brothers whose oath is tested. I think only Hong Kong action films can get away with this particular kind of mix of bromance crying and testosterone driven violence. For some reason I am able to completely buy into the emotionalism here, maybe because the intensity of the action seems to justify excesses of emotions in other areas.
“Warlords” (rated R for sequences of strong violence and in Mandarin with English subtitles) is an effective but not inspired historical epic. But if you’re in need of an Asian action fix, this one will do the trick.
Companion viewing: “Red Cliff,” “Battle of Wits,” “Musa”