Directed by: Peter Chan
Starring: Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Xu Jinglei
Opens: Today, December 28
War and politics distort humanity and the weakness of human nature in Peter Chan's "The Warlords," a film set in the 1860s during the late Qing Dynasty. The story focuses on three men who have made a pact to honor the bonds of brotherhood.
The band of brothers lead a gang to join Qing officials to help the kingdom in successfully crushing the Taiping Rebellion, a Christian militants' movement that occupied almost half of China for decades. Fresh from victory, the brothers could have enjoyed a happy ending, but they naively got involved with in the intricacies of court politics. And while water is thicker than blood for the sworn brothers, it proves no match to the charms of a woman, whose adulterous involvement with one of the brothers threatens the triumvirate's solidarity.
The story of men whose bonds are threatened due to a woman is by no means new. It has been told before in Chang Cheh's 1973 film "The Blood Brothers." What is most interesting in the film is the narration. The story alternately follows the perspectives of an omniscient third person, as well as the first person of Jiang Wu Yang, the innocent, honest and loyal youngest sworn brother (played by Takeshi Kaneshiro).
Jiang worships the eldest brother Pang Qing Yun (played by Jet Li), unquestioningly following his every order. He admires Pang Qing Yun's mightiness and ethical judgments on governing. What seems unfair was that the one brother who was has always supported him was not Pang Qing Yun but the other sworn brother, Zhao Erhu's (played by Andy Lau).
When Jiang discovers Pang's affair with Zhao Erhu's wife Mi Lan (played by Xu Jinglei), he does the unexpected to stop the affair and protect the brotherhood.
The events could have been a typical straight storytelling in the martial arts genre, but the addition of Jiang's narration gives it a dual perspective. The character justifies his acts of violence by citing the protection of the brotherhood. Every deed is done with the single-minded purpose of keeping the bond intact, disregarding any and all outside influences.
Jiang's role gives the wuxia, martial art hero, story a complexity and makes it a good alternative to Chang Cheh's work.