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No Need To See These Movies

Wednesday, May 14, 2008
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……………..The Warlords ………………….Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon
……………………投名狀……………………………………………………….三國之見龍卸甲

These are two Chinese-language movies that I have seen since arriving here in Taiwan. They are two Chinese-language movies I wish I hadn’t seen since arriving here in Taiwan, but, hey, you take a chance on something and sometimes it just doesn’t pan out.

I can’t specifically talk about them very easily, for a couple of reasons:

1) I fell asleep during parts of The Warlords;

2) I only vaguely understood the historical context of each, so admittedly don’t know entirely how accurate they were/weren’t; and

3) I spent most of the time I was awake rolling my eyes at the cheesy sentiment exhibited by each, or scratching my head at some curious choices made by the filmmakers.

I’ve linked to each film’s Wiki above if you want to do a quick persual of the plot details, which I won’t talk too much about, instead focussing mostly on Point #3.

There are lots of things that just don’t allow these movies to live up to their obvious dream (as evidenced by an English marketing campaign) of becoming the next Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers; namely, the techinal and storytelling work is often very amateur, specifically evident in one thing I’ve noticed tends to dog big-budget Asian movies for some reason: the editing. There are akward cuts and scene transitions at many places in these two films. One that I can specificaly recall comes from The Warlords; Jet Li has gone to a large city to meet someone important (don’t remember the details); we see him conversing with this person; we then immediately cut back to the ‘home-base’ city of the characters, where Andy Lau is walking along a riverbank, lost in thought, when he looks over and sees Jet Li on a boat with another of their friends’ wife. Nowhere did we see or were we told Li had returned; this lack of information has two confusing temporal effects for the viewer, the first being whether or not Andy Lau is just imagining things since Jet Li is supposed to be away; the second being the assumption that Li must’ve returned without us being aware, and now we don’t know how long into the future we’ve been taken. Is it a week later? A month? Who knows?

Another thing that makes these movies kind of boring is that they are thematically about what pretty much all other Chinese historical epics are about: brotherhood. The Warlords was in fact originally titled The Blood Brothers, and the plots of both revolve around, you guessed it, the notions of fraternity and betrayal (I keep thinking this is some sort of subtle Communist propaganda, given that both of these movies are either in-part or wholly financed by Chinese film companies, and maybe it’s mandatory that they have to have sort of ‘moral message’ in them or something). Whatever the reason, the movies are dull because you know exactly what’s going to happen. Brother #1 betrays Brother #2 over either women, money, or power, and one or both of them die. The End. But, before that happens, you have to sit through many overly-sentimental and groan-inducing proclamations of platonic brotherly love, and declarations to stand by each other forever etc.

All this being said, the acting in both movies was pretty good, given the simplistic stories the actors had to work with. Andy Lau seems to have been born simply to be in these types of movies (other of his film credits include such titles as Sworn Brothers, Bloody Brotherhood and Brothers), but the producers of Three Kingdoms made a big mistake casting Maggie Q. Not that there’s anything wrong with her performance, specifically, but if you’re making a movie about 3rd-century China, it doesn’t help your cause to cast the Hawaiian-born daughter of a Polish, Irish, French-Canadian father and Vietnamese mother, no matter how famous she is or how good her Mandarin is. She stuck out like a peacock in a petting-zoo from the entire rest of the Han Chinese cast, and it really battered any sort of believability that the movie could have (although, despite the fact that Lau’s character Zhao Zilong, was a real, historical figure, the filmmakers took many extravagant liberties from actual historical events, so maybe they figured casting Q — can I say that . . . ‘casting Q’? — wouldn’t matter much in the end anyway).

So, until Ang Lee or Zhang Yimou decide to make another historical epic, I think it’s safe to say that the supremacy of their previous works in this genre is going to remain unchallenged for a while, if The Warlords and Three Kingdoms are all that are being made to try and challenge them.
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. James17930 permalink
    Thursday, December 4, 2008 10:17 pm

    Can’t believe it — The Warlords is the front-runner in the Golden Horse Awards.

    But look at what else is in the running — I love the headline on this article:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20081204/film_nm/us_goldenhorse_2

  2. Friday, December 5, 2008 8:12 am

    A-hyuk.

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