No less a man than Jet Li cries multiple times in The Warlords, an impressively gargantuan Chinese battle epic that generously accommodates director Peter Chan's proven talent for jerking tears (e.g., Comrades: Almost a Love Story). A quasi-remake of the Shaw bros.' 1973 hit The Blood Brothers, Chan's gory meller follows the tender bonding and tragic split of a trio of 19th-century bandits turned warlords. Yes, a "beautiful courtesan" (Xu Jinglei) is partly to blame. She nurses Li's battle-scarred General Pang back to health with soup and batted eyes despite being married to Er-Hu (Andy Lau), a gang leader who, along with sidekick Wu-Yang (Takeshi Kaneshiro), makes an ill-fated blood pact with Pang. An early bullets-versus-arrows skirmish stretches to almost half an hour, climaxing with a rather wicked decapitation. Then, power-hungry conqueror Pang, building an army of starving heroes, begins to set his sights on Suzhou City and Nanking! Chan's old-fashioned, highly watchable mega-production comes complete with God's-eye surveys of mass carnage, the moist sounds of sword-skewering, and little or no discernible CGI. Pushing two hours (whereas the Chinese version runs slightly longer), the damn thing finally ends with a helluva knife fightin the pouring rain, yet. Or are those Heaven's tears?
April 9-15, 2010