Friday, December 10, 2010

Battle of the Warriors

A martial arts movie that is more battle epic than hand-to-hand combat, Battle of the Warriors takes place in China almost 2500 years ago. My Chinese history is a bit - er - dusty, but the movie does a great job of laying out the background. This is a wartorn time, and the city of Liang is about to be besieged by an army that has to steamroll through it to get to their real military target. Raw deal.

Enter Ge Li (the amazing Andy Lau), a Mozi that the slimy king of Liang has begged to come protect the city. How can one man defend a city against an army? With brains, strategy, and cunning psychology. While there are plenty of battles in this movie, the real core of Battle of the Warriors is the planning - the game of chess - that takes place between the invaders and Li as each side plots their next move or parries that of the opponent. I've never seen a war movie that is so much about the tactical planning of war, and it was fascinating. Of course this focus means the movie is a little slow at times, but I was never not interested. The battle scenes are really creative and the tactics devised by each side to attain their objectives are amazing. I even recognized tenets I remember reading in The Art of War surface in Ge Li and his adversaries' thinking, which was awesome!

In addition to masterful battle scenes, Battle of the Warriors also has tremendous cinematography, wonderful acting, and great costumes and sets. There's even a tragic love story thrown in. As affecting as the love story was, I'm glad they kept it at the subplot level. I generally find it a weakness when a martial arts film lets a love story get too front and center; this one is kept on the backburner where it belongs and it adds spice rather than getting in the way of what the movie is really about.

The main theme of the film is how war only creates more and deeper conflict, a sentiment Andy Lau's Li actually verbalizes in one of the final scenes. This theme is illustrated very effectively in the way different characters become mistrustful, turn on one another, and backstab or even destroy each other (sometimes unintentionally) as a result of the conflict they are trying to win. This theme is also given life by the fact that Ge Li is a Mohist/Mozi. Of course, this piece of the story will be a bit unclear for some viewers. For example, about half way through the movie a character accuses Ge Li of always talking about 'universal love'. Huh? The guy never said a word about it up to that point! As far as I recall, anyway.

This piece of the movie relies on a bit of historical backstory that is probably obvious to Chinese audiences. I had to look it up. The Mohists apparently were militant pacifists during this wartorn time. They were master strategists who defended people from large armies as a means of thwarting military ambitions, and there's some religious/philosophical underpinnings to their beliefs that are generally distasteful to anyone in a position of power. As such, to defend the city Li does not launch attacks. His work is all defensive, yet very much aimed at prevailing. In this case, the goal is outlasting an army that can't afford the effort and losses of a long siege. Li's defenses are cunning, powerful, and deadly enough to daunt even a battle-hardened army. In short, he's not the kind of pacifist who gets his way by sticking flowers in the barrels of guns. He's someone you do NOT want to be stuck attacking!

I enjoyed Battle of the Warriors, and I'd recommend it to martial arts buffs who are okay with no hand-to-hand combat epic flicks and will have some patience for the few times the plot demands it. And thanks to Dragon Dynasty for bringing another great martial arts movie to US audiences!

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