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With: Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Xu Jing-Lei
Written by: Xu Lan, Chun Tin-nam, Guo Junli, He Jiping, Huang Jianxin, Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui, Aubrey Lam, James Yuen
Directed by: Peter Chan
MPAA Rating: R for sequences of strong violence
Running Time: 113
Date: 12/12/2007

The Warlords (2007)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Blood Brothers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This looked like a winner: a big-scale battle epic with three top Hong Kong stars, a great action choreographer, and a decent director. But The Warlords, released in the U.S. in an edited version, plays out with a tiresome grimy look, and a strange lack of emotional resonance. It's serious without much passion. Likewise, the action scenes by Ching Siu-tung are few and far between, and when they do come, they land rather clumsily.

But the worst thing of all is that I managed to see The Warlords just days after watching John Woo's complete masterpiece Red Cliff, and there's just no comparison. Red Cliff soars and The Warlords flounders.

Jet Li stars in The Warlords as General Pang (Jet Li), a real-life mid-19th century general who survives a slaughter while the corrupt Ho army of the Qing dynasty watches. He joins a band of outlaws, led by Er-Hu (Andy Lau) and second-in-command Jiang (Takeshi Kaneshiro), and the three become blood brothers. Over the course of many years, they attack Peking and Suzhou and drive out the Taiping rebels. During these battles, Pang and Er-Hu begin to have opposing points of view on how to treat others, and after the war, their battle continues.

The performances are good, especially Li, but either the excised footage or the direction of Peter Ho-sun Chan (Comrades, Almost a Love Story, The Love Letter, Perhaps Love) leave the characters a bit cold. Kaneshiro especially, who was so warm and interesting in Red Cliff, here appears to have nothing to do. Xu Jing-Lei co-stars as the love interest, attached to Er-Hu, but secretly in love with Pang.

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