Published on December 27, 2007
Thirty-three years after Chang Cheh's superb "Bloodbrothers", Peter Chan has given the tragic theme it contained a new twist in "The Warlords": there are no villains in this new story, just people caught up on the wrong side of a terrible war.
Set against one of the most violent periods of Chinese history, the Taiping Rebellion in the 1860s, the film stars Jet Li as Pang, the sole survivor of a 1,600-strong army sent to battle the rebels.
But the price he has paid for his survival is a high one. Haunted by the fact that he played dead to escape his enemies, Pang is already a broken man.
A young woman (Xu Jinglei) nurses him back to life, beds him and disappears in the morning.
Through a strange set of circumstances, he stumbles on a band of starving bandits, who take him in because of his fighting skills.
Zhao (Andy Lau) and Jiang Wu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), as the gang's leaders, make him swear an oath of allegiance in blood, and it looks like an unbreakable relationship has been forged.
In their village, Pang meets his young female saviour and discovers she is Zhao's wife. Unable to resist their attraction for each other, they become secret lovers and the stage is set for a terrible outcome.
The plot of the 1973 film starring David Chiang, Ti Lung and Chen Kuan Tai was simpler by comparison. There, playing the prototype for Pang, Ti Lung's bandit plots the murder of Chen's character to secure his wife.
But in "Warlords", Pang is ordered by the imperial palace to remove Zhao.
Overall the film is clipped, dark and overly grim. No one laughs, no one jokes, and the 125-minute result appears to be a shortened version of an epic that would have been more enjoyable had the edit been less cold-blooded.
Still, what little is left of Chan's film is still worth viewing. Hanuman gives it four stars.
Hopefully, Chan has plans to restore the full version for viewers in the future, but for now the battle scenes alone are worth the price of the ticket.
You can view the original-soundtrack version at Siam cinema, Siam Square, just across the road from Siam Paragon. The screen here is gigantic, but most of all you can be sure that the film is playing daily at regular fixed show times. This represents a welcome alternative to patronising modern cineplexes where you often find the films you want to watch are playing at inconvenient times or reduced to one screening per day. It seems we can still count on the older cinemas for real service.