Sorry guys, but this review is not going to be anywhere near the standard I wanted it to be. I didn’t set out to write a ‘filler’ review. I wanted it to be a well crafted and fleshed out exploration of a fine slice of contemporary international cinema. I know I haven’t written a well crafted and fleshed out exploration before, but I was hoping this would be the first time. The film I chose to look at is Warlords. Now, one of my best friends is a merchant seaman (yeah, we make jokes about it to), and every now and then he arrives in town armed with a few goodies to tease and tantalise. One of these was the Warlords DVD. At the time the film was unavailable in Australia. I was pretty excited to watch this sumptuously filmed, big screen epic (it’s a big-screen epic, even when watched on a small screen!) I slipped the disc into the machine and pressed play. Despite the English packaging, the film started in Chinese, with Chinese subtitles. I stopped the film; went back to the main menu, and selected the English subtitle option. ‘Away we go!’ I thought.
And English subtitle did appear, but not in a format that I could understand. Yes there were English words, but it was sort of jumbled – dialogue ended or started mid sentence, and some of the translation was kind of screwy. Much of the first forty-five minutes of the film was spent fighting off attacks from The Comfortable City (kind of reminds me of the old Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch!). During epic battle scenes, characters started yelling ‘put’, which I presumed meant ‘fire’. My suspicions were confirmed later when a character ordered a battalion of archers to ‘put arrows’ (fire arrows). During the middle of a fight scene, there is some dialogue about a seven inch snake – I am not sure if they were talking about the guys dick, or referring to the villain of the piece as a serpent? For All I knew, they could have been talking about the daggers used in the fight. All I can say is here was a potentially great dramatic scene, but I was falling around in fits of laughter because of the ridiculous subs. Towards the end of the film, during great chunks of dialogue, there were no subs at all. It is as if the subtitleer got bored and wandered off to get a coffee.
Now I could joke about the subtitles all day, but the truth is Warlords looks to be an absolutely amazing film. It has been beautifully shot, and the battle scenes are staggering – possibly the best I have seen since Akira Kurosawa’s Ran. The music is sweeping and majestic as befitting a sprawling epic. The film appears to have all the trappings of a superior piece of entertainment – but I can’t really be sure – the story (credited to eight writers) may be absolute piffle.
Jet Li plays a character called General Ma Xinyi, although he doesn’t start out as a general, and the subtitles refer to him as Green Cloud, and at the beginning of the film he is involved in a huge battle. But during the fighting, he plays dead, while hundreds (possibly thousands) of his comrades are slain. Gripped with guilt, Green Cloud vows to never let this happen again. Gradually he rebuilds his life and regains his honour as he joins a band of soldiers at war with The Comfortable City. Through his deeds in battle he gradually rises through the ranks until he is promoted to be a joint leader of this group of soldiers. His co-leader is a gentleman named Noon Sun (I am not making this up, I assure you!) Green Cloud and Noon Sun make a formidable team, and become blood brothers. Soon their rag-tag band of soldiers are taking on all comers and rampaging across China. After a few successful battles, Green Cloud grows a conscience and wishes to change the rules of war – no more raping or pillaging. This brings him into conflict with Noon Sun who wishes to continue raping and pillaging.
At the risk of appearing lazy, but in the interests of conveying a slightly more accurate description of the events in the film, here is the blurb off the back of the DVD.
‘It is a heroic tale of three blood brothers and their struggle in the midst of war and political upheaval. It is based on “The Assassination of Ma”, a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) story about the killing of general Ma Xinyi. The story was filmed by Zhang Che in 1973 as The Blood Brothers.’
So the film is a remake, and appears to be quite different from my brief synopsis – I seem to be shy one blood brother. Once again, in my defence, I’ll blame the subs. Half of the characters in the film are referred to as ‘Elder Brother’ or ‘Adult’. It is impossible to tell who is talking to who.
In closing, I’d have to say, I must watch this film again, but obviously a proper version – not some dodgy pirate copy shipped out of a steamy port in Indonesia. The film appears to be a worthwhile viewing experience, especially if you like epic adventure on a grand scale.