The Warlords which hit the cinemas on Dec 13 promised to be an exciting epic war movie with elaborate costumes and a cast comprising of Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Xu Jinglei.
The movie kicked off in the late 19th century with a bloody massacre of a Qing army lead by a General Phang who became the only survivor when he feigned death. Phang’s army was massacred because another Qing army who were supposed to support them in the battle, betrayed them.
From the battlefield, Phang (Jet Li) wandered in the countryside before being saved from the brim of starvation by a stranger called Lian (Xu Jinglei).
In a moment of crazed passion, Lian slept with Phang. The next morning. Phang was left in a dazed and the mysterious Lian has vanished into thin air. Phang continued his wandering and joined a group of highway bandits out of desparation. The bandits were led by Erhu (Andy Lau) and his second in command Jiang (Takeshi Kaneshiro).
In one of their attacks on an army supply line, Phang managed to save Erhu’s life, prompting Erhu to hold a ceremony to unite the three of them, Erhu, Phang and Jiang as blood brothers (plot similar to a Chang Cheh’s 1973 flim, “Blood Brothers”). Erhu then brought Phang back to his village where Lian appeared and Phang found out that Lian was Erhu’s wife which made things complicated.
Their village was raided by an army and all their spoils were taken away from them. Left with nothing, Phang managed to convince Erhu to join the army of the opposing army. With a group of 800 bandits, the roles were now changed. The bandits became regular army and Phang was reinstated as the General and the leader of the pack. Erhu and Jiang became his trusted lieutenants.
In his battle back as a general, Phang led his 800 men and fought against a better armed 5,000 strong army. A 1,500 strong Qing army pledged to him refused to take part in the battle. But when the Qing army saw that Phang and his men were holding out against the 5,000 strong army, their leader said if 800 men could stand fighting 5,000 men, we can win this one. Without haste, the Qing came in to join the battle and the opposing army was overran.
General Phang became an instant sensation with the Qing officials and were given more soldiers. Having tasted success, Phang wanted more and to attack Suzhou which was the enemy’s stronghold. The Qing officials did not expect success and therefore forbidded Phang to act. Phang defied orders and went ahead with the seige of Suzhou which lasted 5 years.
Left with a starving army, dying in the cold winter, Phang became desperate and turned to a General of the Qing army who betrayed him earlier for food.
Erhu decided not to wait for Phang and managed to slip into Suzhou by himself. Erhu found the situation inside the city was equally bad. The General of the city desperate for an end to the conflict and suffering, surrendered Suzhou to him on condition that he spared his men and the citizens.
Phang returned with food to the jubilant of this men. Phang’s moment of glory was sploilt when the gates of teh city opened and Erhu came out with the surrender of the city.
Phang ordered the army to be killed despite Erhu’s accetance of the condition of the surrender to the protest of Erhu. This incident led to betrayal, murder and assassination.
Overall, the story line is good, the cinematic set and the costumes are absolutely great. The battle scenes are average. The build-up and the action is good.
I felt that the biggest drawback was the Jet Li’s acting. He failed to deliver. His character has no depth at all. You leave the cinema pondering whether he is a good guy or not.
Andy Lau did a great job with his role as Erhu. Takeshi Kaneshiro was good except that his role was limited. Xu Jinglei’s role was even more limited. She was there purely to provide a pretty face for the Lian character.
I would recommend the movie because it is one of the few Chinese epic war movie.