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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Warlords

June 26th, 2010

The Warlords - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

The Warlords is the third historical epic that I've reviewed over the past few months. The previous two, Three Kingdoms and Red Cliff, actually told the same story, the formation of China 1800 years ago, from a slightly different point of view. This film takes place in the much more recent time, but it will still be compared to the previous two by its target audience. Will it be harmed by this comparison?

In 1861 China is locked in what could be described as a civil war. Wars with foreign powers, political corruption, and natural disasters had left the country starving and the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom went to war with the central Qing Dynasty.

Jet Li plays Pang Qingyun, a general in the Qing army. The film starts at the end of a major battle where his men were slaughtered because his ally, General Ho, retreated his men to a safe distance leaving Pang to be massively outnumbered. He only survived by pretending to be one of the dead. After this defeat, he wanders injured and starving and would have died as well, but he meets a young lady named Liansheng, who saves his life with warm soup and more. After selling his sword, he begins looking for food when he encounters a bandit recruiting men. The bandit, Jiang Wuyang, sees he is still wearing his general's boots and after a test of his fighting ability asks him to join him and his brother in their bandit army. When they return to the bandit's village, he meets Wuyang's brother, Zhao Er-hu, and Er-hu's wife... Liansheng. Er-Hu doesn't want Pang around, but after the Ho army enters the village and humiliates his men, Pang offers a solution. Join a rival faction of the Qing army. Er-hu is hesitant and not trusting of this stranger, but after the three men swear an oath, a blood oath, they go off to join the Qing army.

Pang helps the bandits secure entry into the army, saves Er-hu's life, and leads them to victory in their first battle as part of the Qing army. However, with victories comes ambition, and with ambition comes jealousy. His ambition is to create a world without oppression, which is noble for sure, but Pang still starts to make enemies among the Qing lords because of his victories. Meanwhile he methods in battle alienate his blood brothers. And then there's his ongoing affair with Liansheng.

Their oath will end in blood, it's just a matter of when.

This film only earned mixed reviews and I think the Tomatometer is right on target. There are some good performances by the leads, and the cinematography is excellent, but the overall story is a little unengaging at times. Maybe it's me, maybe I just don't know enough of the history of China to understand the context of the movie. Or maybe the filmmakers didn't do enough to make the movie intriguing to neophytes like me.

On the other hand, there are some spectacular, and spectacularly bloody battle scenes. (Were Chinese weapons specifically designed to remove limbs?) Anyone who is into Chinese historical epics will be satisfied with this film, even if it doesn't live up to the best the genre has to offer.

I do not have the DVD to review, but there appears to be a number of extras found on it. These start with 27 minutes of deleted and extended scenes. There is a multi-part making of featurette that runs nearly 40 minutes in total, but since there are so many parts, many of them are too short to be substantive. There is a 35-minute long production journal, which gives deeper insight. There is another 18-minute long behind-the-scenes featurette. That's a lot of extras.

The Blu-ray has all of that, plus 29 minutes of deleted and extended scenes that are in High Definition. That's in addition to the 27 minutes of Standard Definition scenes. (The version of the movie is 14 minutes shorter than the original version and I suspect a lot of what was cut can be found here.) It also as the HDNet: A Look At..., which is also in High Definition. I assume these two extras are Blu-ray exclusive, plus the disc is BD-Live enabled.

As for the film's technical presentation, it's a mixed bag. Some scene were flawless with amazing detail and color. Others had too much grain or details were lost in shadows. The sound was dynamic with good use of surround speakers and bass levels. Since it costs less than 10% more than the DVD, the Blu-ray is clearly the better deal.

The Verdict

The Warlords fits somewhere in-between Three Kingdoms and Red Cliff in terms of quality, so if you are a fan of either of those films, this one is also worth checking out. With better extras than most imports, the DVD is worth picking up, while the Blu-ray is the better deal overall.

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Filed under: Video Review, Ci ma