Warriors of Heaven and Earth

Year of release: 2003

Genre: swordplay

Director: He Ping

Action directors: Stephen Tung, Leung Mau Hing

Stars: Jiang Wen, Nakai Kitchi, Vicky Zhao, Wang Xequi

Rated IIB for violence




VCD Information

Company: Columbia (catalog number 0503302173)
Picture format: full frame
Languages: Mandarin
Subtitles: Chinese/English (electronic)
Extras: trailers for "CSI" and "Once Upon a Time in Mexico"

It's really great seeing a movie like Warriors of Heaven and Earth -- something which you have not heard too much about that knocks your socks off. While it may have gotten lost in the hype surrounding Hero, swordplay fans would do well to seek this film out. This mainland production manages to escape most of the cliches of the genre and create a lively story with a heaping amount of action.

Warriors of Heaven and Earth's plot is thankfully simple compared to many other movies of the genre, which can come off as too complicated for their own good, especially to western viewers. Jiang Wen plays a solider named Li who becomes a criminal after he refuses to kill civilians. Banished to the desolate western part of China, Li (along with some loyal members of his platoon) makes his living guarding caravans from bandits. During one such job, Li runs afoul of a local overlord named Master An (Wang Xueqi) after he refuses to give up a precious artifact a young monk is carrying. While trying to battle An's men, Li also has to contend with an imperial guard (Nakai Kiichi) who has been sent by the Emperor himself to bring Li to justice.

The lines are drawn fairly early in the movie's proceedings. There's not a whole lot in the way of double-crosses or big secrets, and that works for this film. Director He Ping always keeps the movie going -- there's not any wasted time in subplots or romantic schmaltz. Warriors of Heaven and Earth reminded me a lot of Kurosawa's samurai pictures or Ford's westerns. The film lets the characters and the story develop naturally, without adding in a lot of fluff. Even though most of the characters are fairly stock in nature, the movie actually brings a lot of depth to them without hammering the viewer over the head with big showy overly-dramatic scenes.

But don't worry if you're the kind of viewer who couldn't give a crap about things like plot and characterization -- the action here is top-notch stuff. While it kind of lacks that "epic" feeling a lot of the great movies in the genre have (though, truthfully, that might be due to the VCD's full frame format than anything else) the stuff featured here is outstanding. While it does take a bit to get going, by the end of the film, if the fights don't get your heart pumping, then you need to check yourself into the hospital. Eschewing the current computer-fu craze, Warriors of Heaven and Earth creates some of the most hard-hitting and explosive martial arts scenes this reviewer has seen in quite a while. When that's combined with tight story-telling, you have the makings of something that's (hopefully) going to be considered a classic a few years down the line after more people have had the opportunity to take in this excellent motion picture.


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