Released in 2007 and set in the 19th century, “The Warlords” is the story of a survivor, Pang, who has lost all his men in the Taiping Rebellion and who turns for comfort to a woman who he meets by a chance encounter.
The next day, she is gone and he is alone again. He becomes involved with a group of thieves but after several successful exploits under his command, his good nature drives him to take two of his new companions to work with dignity for the military. However, the bonds of their friendship are tested to the limit again and again and eventually shattered when Pang discovers that Lian, the woman who once comforted him is the wife of one of his closest friends…
Jet Li as Pang is given a chance to really flex his acting muscles with a surprisingly serious part given is previous form as a player in light hearted king fu action movies, though that’s not to say that he movie isn’t full of high action spectacle. Indeed most of the first half is given over to these expansive (and presumably expensive) battle scenes but the director, Peter Chan is brave enough to not try to sustain the entire film like that, avoiding it becoming too samey and ultimately boring. Instead, he segues effortlessly into concentrating on the human drama. Jet Li rises to the challenge and his performance of a man driven by his desires is powerful and moving as he slowly begins to fall apart.
The script is somewhat melodramatic with he supporting characters less well drawn than Pang which can make their real relationship obscure and difficult to grasp which is a shame as another draft might have rendered them as more interesting and complex human beings. It’s unfortunately in the second half that the film begins to loose it’s way slightly because of this ambiguity, though there is still a great deal to enjoy in the performances. Crucially, Lian should have been given a much bigger role, as it is she functions as a deus ex machina rather than as a protagonist, a great waste of the actress Xu Jinglei and of the character who should really to my mind have been developed as the second lead.
The wider themes of honour and loyalty are developed well however and the film is entertaining throughout it’s run, definitely one to watch if you fancy a slice of melodramatic action and the story of one man’s descent into desperation.
Director: Peter Chan, Wai Man Yip
Cast: Andy Lau, Jet Li, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Jinglei Xu
Awards: Beijing Student Film Festival,Hong Kong Film Awards,Shanghai Film Critics Awards,Golden Horse Film Festival,Asian Film Awards, Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards
Nominations: Asian Film Awards, Academy Awards, Hong Kong Film Awards, Hundred Flowers Awards
Country: China, Hong Kong