The Warlords
review by Neo

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Year: 2007

Box Office: HKD$27,891,912

Director: Peter Chan Ho-Sun

Producer: Peter Chan Ho-Sun

Starring: Jet Li, Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Xu Jinglei

Genre: Historical War/Brotherhood

Tagline: A movie that requires a second viewing…

Review by Neo: As I have predicted in the forum weeks ago that Jet Li will win the Best Actor at the Hong Kong Films Award and rightly so he did. It is what the current reviewer will claim as a commanding performance in what is quite possibly Liís most difficult role yet. The fact that he somehow managed to overshadow established veterans, like Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro is alone an accomplishment worthy of admiration. Even more impressive the fact that this is a war epic and in movies like these, the actors are usually outshined by the sheer scale of the war battle sequences as well as the vision of the director. Luckily, as we have all grown to know, director Peter Chan is a peopleís director, meaning that he emphasise on characterisation in such extent that the audience actually feels and relates to the aforementioned characters. After viewing this film in Hong Kong before Christmas on the opening day, Neo was left somewhat disappointed and disjointed, but as the current reviewer have always noted, some films will require a second viewing before one can truly appreciate it. So Neo gave this flick another chance and without a doubt, Warlords is a much better film in the second running and certainly the film of 2007.

Director Peter Chan is without doubt both talented and ambitious and as he claimed so surely in the HK Film Awards, he put in so much effort to make this war epic rather than just a simple love story, because he wanted people to go back to the cinemas. Rightly so, this is exactly what Chan is able to do and the good news is that the movie is a good one too. While Neo must apologise for criticising the lack of depth within this film back in December, but sometimes it takes a second chance at something before we truly appreciate what the film truly mean.

The battle sequences is just absolutely amazing, and you can tell that Chan really putted his heart and sole into making this movie happening. It shows that Hong Kong cinema still can match the likes of Hollywood is making big budget movie epics and the dedication is alone worthy of special mention. Comparing to a much lesser film in Andy Lauís Battle of Wits, Peter Chan have created something truly special and much at home in his already proud resume. Action director Ching Siu-Tung, the person behind Hero, Swordsman 2 and other epics, once again show that he is the director for the ancient times and the artistry in his shots are ceaselessly beautiful to watch.

The beauty of Jet Liís character is that like humanity, he is both the hero and the villain. Everyone have a dream, whether to make the world a better place or some sort of utterly selfish ambition. Perhaps it is within the plan and vision of Li that wanted a utopia, but ultimately the things never goes as planned and thatís reality of life. It is unfair to say that Li overshadows his respective brothers in the incomparable Andy Lau and Wong Kar Waiís favourite Takeshi Kaneshiro, as Li is given the most juicy yet most difficult role. Still, Li surpasses all expectations and the result is simply an outstanding performance, as a character that the audience can actually relates and feel for. Perhaps, we have all saw it coming, just take a glance of Hero, Unleashed and then last year Fearless, Li have certainly come a long way and it is about time that he is finally recognised as an actor. His internal turmoil as well as commanding performance is one to be envy of.

Moving on to ďbrother twoĒ, comes in the form of Andy Lau, at first instance his role simple like a simple one and it would be easy to dismiss it as some sort of sleep walker. However, in a closer look at Lauís work, it is a more than commendable performance and take no further look than the moment that Lau is forced to witness his promise being broken and leading to the death of 4000 surrendered soldiers in total bloodbath. Likewise, Liís look on the face at that very instance is a priceless one to endure.

Perhaps the weakest link is Takeshi Kaneshiro, but it may well be due to no fault of his own. His character is definitely the weakest of the three, but Takeshi more than redeemed himself in the final sequence with that revengeful look on his face as he continuously stabbed Li to his death. Not Takeshiís best display, but far from being his worst. As for the love interest, (Xu Jinglei) is miscast to a certain degree. Maybe it is just Neo, but she isnít exactly beautiful or sexy (though she looked good in 2006's Confession of Pain) and it is still a mystery as to why both Li and Lau are fighting for her love. Then again, the current reviewer feels that Fan Bing Bing would have been a better choice, but there is no question that the former is a far better actress. A character being torn between loyalty and love, despite her lack of pure beauty due to the deliberate make up, (Xu Jinglei) is ultimately likable enough for the audience to sit through her performance.

With the review approaching 1000 words, it is possibly the right timing to just shut up right now and end the review. However, since this film won Best Picture in HKFA 08í, the awaiting readers will be forced to endure just a little bit longer. What the Warlords is trying to say is that war and any battles is ultimately a gamble and the end of the day, luck plays a crucial factor in the outcome. As noted earlier, Li aspired to a dream of one day everyone living in harmony, but the question lies in at what cost? Perhaps a better way of thinking would be what an English teacher once said Ė ďone man utopia is another dystopia.Ē The saying is very much true, but then again, in Neoís honest opinion, there is no such thing as a utopia. After all, it is in human nature to desire for things and whatís one person vision and dream of a perfect world, may well be a shattering kind of world for the person next to you.

All in all, The Warlords is by no means a perfect movie, but it is certainly a much better movie by the time the current reviewer have witness the situation the second time around. Still, at the end of the day, Director Chan is to be applauding for taking such a huge gamble to create such a lavish production at the current state of HK cinema and the result is certainly one successful commercial flick with a touch of arty flair. What this film lacks is ultimately a touching finale or perhaps one huge emotional punch at the audience. It is still a mystery as to how Chan can take so much time to develop the characters, and yet somehow it still falls short of his lofty ambitions. At the end of the day, letís be realistic, The Warlords is a great film by all measures, filled with great performances, terrific battle sequences done in a huge scale and with a director still very much in his prime of film making. So whatís wrong with The Warlords and does it deserves all those awards that it have been sheltered with? The answer is that there is nothing wrong with this movie, it is just that people will have to watch it a second time to truly appreciate and be thankfully for what Chan created… (Neo 2008)

I rate it 9/10

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