The Warlords

You’d think that having three of the most bankable movie stars in Asia (one of which is also a pretty big name in the U.S.) would be enough to get any film imported overseas, but it’s taken nearly three years for Peter Ho-Sun Chan’s “The Warlords” to arrive stateside, and quite frankly, it’s easy to see why. Set towards the end of the Qing Dynasty, the movie stars Jet Li as Pang Qingyu, a military general who barely survives a massacre of his fellow soldiers by playing dead. After he’s nursed back to health by a beautiful villager (Jinglei Xu), Pang convinces a group of bandits led by Er Hu (Andy Lau) and Wu Yang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to join the royal army and fight against the Taiping Rebellion with the promise of freedom and wealth. But when a web of political deceit threatens to break up the trio’s blood oath, they must decide what’s more important: their loyalty to one another or their lives.

If only the film was a little more engaging. While Ho-Sun Chan’s gritty action sequences are beautifully captured, he has no idea how to handle his characters outside of battle. They’re barely developed over the course of the movie, and though we do get a glimpse of how the emotional exhaustion from fighting for so long begins to affect their relationship, it’s steeped in so much melodrama that it saps the life out of the story. The three leads do a good job with what little they’re given to work with, but they don’t click the way that blood brothers probably should. Then again, you’re never really given a good reason why they’ve taken this oath to begin with, so it’s not too surprising when they fail to protect one another as promised. Heck, they don’t even seem like to like each other, and when that relationship is the heart of your film, it’s pretty much doomed to fail.

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