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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Warlords


Starring: Jet Li, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 02 March 2009

The 1860’s saw the beginning of the end for the Taiping Rebellion in China, facing the rebels were the army and militia of the Qing Dynasty. Following one particularly bloody encounter Pang Qing-Yin, a general in the Qing army, is the only survivor - having hidden himself beneath the dead bodies of his comrades. Disgraced and alone he is rescued by Mi Lan, who takes him back to her bandits camp. Nursed back to health he helps Jiang Wu-Yang, and Zhao Er-Hu to raid a military convoy, only for the military to take back the provisions. With their people starving, Yin persuades Yang and Er-Hu to join the military, to stave off their peoples starvation, but before they agree the three become blood brothers, vowing to defend each other until the end. When Yin is accepted back into the military his successes, and the needs of war, pull the blood brother apart with tragic consequences...

The Warlords (2007 - 1 hr, 48 min, 25 sec) is a historical drama directed by Peter Chan, which won thirteen awards and was nominated for a further ten. The story isn’t a historical recreation of fact; rather it uses the backdrop of the Taiping rebellion to tell the story of the doomed friendship of three men. The film is presented in a two DVD set.

I have to admit to have been a little confused regarding Qing-Yin as a character. When we first meet him, crawling from under the dead bodies, he is a broken man - a man bereft of honour and courage. That he gets accepted by the bandits has more to do with their generosity than any character strength he may have. He thinks little of starting an affair with Er-Hu’s wife, Mi Lan, whose final demise says a lot about the value put upon men’s relationships in comparison with their relationships with women. At first, with the victories rolling in, it seems that the three are working as equals. But soon Yun starts laying down the law, to the extent that the audience has little sympathy with his eventual fate.

The two most sympathetic characters are the two bandits, Wu-Yand and Er-Hu, who keep their oath when Qing-Yun, once more embroiled in court politics, reverts to type. Their characters journeys take Er-Hu from supporter to rebel as Qing-Yin breaks the bonds of his oath, not just by sleeping with his wife but by betraying everything they are fighting for. Wu-Yand is torn between the two agreeing with Er-Hu’s humanitarian sensibilities but also agreeing with Qing-Yun when he slaughters, in cold blood, four thousand unarmed troops, so that the dwindling food could be kept for his own army. His desire to fulfil the oath makes him an increasingly tragic and desperate character, whose final act of brotherhood brings tragedy for all.

The film is a visual feast with extremely well choreographed battle scenes which combine a high level of blood, gore and dirt to enhance their believability. The score, full of bombast and grandeur, and the slightly washed out cinematography, all add up to an audio/visual feast. The three main leads are strong, with Keneshiro providing the linking narration. Xu Jinlei does well, given the three leads and the epic nature of the film, to make a memorable impression.

The film has a number of Mandarin audio options all with subtitles, though given the nature of the film the 5.1 DTS track is the one to go for. The 5.1 surround sound does almost as good a job, but the 2.0 stereo, although clean with a good range, just doesn’t do the film justice.  There are no extras on the first disc as these have all been placed on the second.

As one would expect with a modern film, with one eye on its eventual DVD release, the film comes with some hefty extras. First up is 117: A Production Journal (35 min, 22 sec) which is the usual ‘to camera’ pieces by the cast and crew talking about their characters and the film in general, interspersed with shots of the film being made. You also get a bunch of Deleted Scenes (22 min, 53 sec), an amazing amount given that the whole film was created in just four months. Reflections on ‘The Warlords’ (36 min, 38 sec) which explored the directors vision for the film and lastly there are three text pages on The History Behind the Warlords and the Original Theatrical Trailer (1 min, 27 sec).

The Warlords may not be historically accurate, but then this is much more about the relationship between three men and the woman who forms their centre. Big, bold and visually impressive Chan has delivered a film which would give the best tragic opera a run for its money.


Charles Packer

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