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Action Stars Li, Lau, Kaneshiro Shine in The Warlords

Action Stars Li, Lau, Kaneshiro Shine in The Warlords

Thompson on Hollywood

Thursday night I saw the Chinese b.o. juggernaut The Warlords, Peter Chan’s breathless $40 million period action epic starring Asian megastars Jet Li, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro as three blood brothers who fight for the imperial army, which won best film and best director at the Hong Kong Film Awards and the Golden Horse Awards. While the mayhem slows down occasionally to allow some dramatic exposition and a pivotal romance with Jinglei Xu, the movie slams through one bloody battle after another. The three leads are terrific, especially Li, who is a fierce marvel in action, and a powerful, emotive actor.

The Warlords is already available on VOD and opens in theaters April 2. Here’s the Apple trailer (YouTube is on the jump).

I was slightly underwhelmed by this film compared to John Woo’s sweeping historical epic Red Cliff, at $80 million the most expensive movie ever made in China, which is now on DVD in both the two-part, five hour and condensed two-and-a-half hour versions. That is a must-see, one way or another.

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I bought a legit HK import DVD of THE WARLORDS almost two years ago and reviewed it on (The entry for that DVD is, however, gone from the site.) I’d still love to see it on the big screen, though. It’s a much darker film than RED CLIFF and is character-driven rather than strategy-driven. Jet Li plays a fighter who rises up in the ranks to become a general and lead the troops in the midst of a Chinese civil war in the 1860s and he makes some cold-blooded decisions that will not endear him to the audience. It’s about the hard choices that need to made in battle and the rift in the central friendship as a result. RED CLIFF is more entertaining, but THE WARLORDS is more thoughtful and emotionally intense.

THE WARLORDS is based on a 1973 kung fu film called BLOOD BROTHERS, which had an undefined “Old China” setting and was more about a love triangle and how it breaks up the friendship, rather than any political or military turmoil. THE WARLORDS has the love triangle also, but it’s just a subplot inserted amidst all the other machinations going on. WARLORDS also has a more clearly defined (and more recent) historical period and setting. I love BLOOD BROTHERS and have seen it many times, but it’s fairly lightweight compared to THE WARLORDS, which I’ve still seen only once. BLOOD BROTHERS has much more kung fu, though, and three top kung fu stars from the Shaw Bros. era, Ti Lung, David Chiang and Chen Kuan Tai.

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