A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Warlords

I've been a fan of Jet Li since he was an adorable 19 year old wuxia champion gracing our screens in Shaolin Temple. To date, I've seen almost all his films. So when I say that The Warlords features one of his best performances, it's no hyperbole.
The Warlords is not a martial arts chopsocky flick or an anti-war film as such. Although it has battle scenes reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, I came away thinking "Shakespeare", in the Macbeth, King Lear or Richard III vein. Bloody, dirty, grimy, sordid, traitorous, obsessive overachievers and littered with seedy politics. Just your everyday, run-of-the-mill Shakespearean type tragedy.

The Warlords is set during the Taiping Rebellion... a civil war in China which took place between 1850-1864. The uprising was started by a heterodox Christian cult leader who thought he was the brother of Christ. No doubt this conflict gained traction with the populace because the governing Qing dynasty (Manchurian) was perceived to be ineffectual and corrupt.

Although interesting, that bit of background is not crucial to one's appreciation of the story... in the sense that Hamlet being a Dutch prince isn't crucial to understanding the play or the fact that Macbeth was a Scottish king. Like Shakespeare, the film-maker is primarily interested in what makes an individual a tragic hero, with war as the backdrop.

Jet Li's character is a complex figure which exemplifies the well-known saying, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." He wants the war to end, for peace to return as he is weary of civillian deaths. And yet the ruthlessness with which he achieves these ends is both disturbing and pitiful. Despite his almost callous determination, he is no match for the Machiavellian machinations of his political superiors. Ultimately he falls victim to his own idealism.

There are two other main characters... also idealists in their own right. Both are Jet Li's sworn blood brothers -- sworn to fealty and well, you know the rest. Because of Jet Li's character is riddled with moral ambiguity, you suspect right from the start that this relationship isn't going to end well especially when there's a love triangle to complicate matters.

Despite looking like an anti-war film, it isn't one. At least not in a straightforward fashion. Clearly, there will always be wars to fight but how much of one's principles does one have to sacrifice to achieve ultimate victory? As Victor Davis Hanson has said in his book, The Father of Us All, often the choice isn't between what is good or bad but what is bad or worse.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant film, and Jet's best performance ever. He absolutely blew me away! (And Andy Lau broke my heart!)


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