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Warriors of Heaven and Earth (2003)

Tian di ying xiong

Men are not born heroes…

Starring:

Kîchi Nakai

Vicki Zhao

Wen Jiang

Xueqi Wang

Yun Zhou

Directed by:

Ping He

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 114 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: China, Hong Kong

‘Warriors of Heaven and Earth’ expertly blends influences ranging from Akira Kurosawa to John Ford to Sergio Leone – but then almost goes and ruins it all by forgetting to chuck in anything that’s actually its own.

Set in China at end of the 7th Century, much of the tale centres around Captain Li Zai (Wen Jiang). Dubbed “The Butcher Li”, he’s on the run from the law after refusing orders to slaughter a bunch of innocent women and children (some “butcher” then, eh?). Acting on instructions from the Emperor, a Japanese war veteran called Lai Qi (Kiichi Nakai) agrees to take a break from writing gushy letters to his mammy for just long enough to track ol’ Butch down and kill him. So, when the pair come face-to-face with each other just a little way into the film, you might think things are hurtling towards a ridiculously premature end – but fear not, epic fans, for the two of them soon strike up a deal not to start hacking chunks out of one another until they’ve safely escorted a precious trinket-carrying caravan across the bandit-riddled Gobi desert.

Of course, like all caravan holidays, the trip is a breeding ground for bickering, and fisticuffs are never too far away. Throw Xueqi Wang into the mix as a dreadlocked dandy who also fancies separating Lai from his extremities, and you have the basis for enough trouble-making to keep any aficionado of mindless violence happy.

A western in all but period and location (oh alright – weaponry as well), this overly-derivative pre-road trip places its numerous fight scenes in a more realistic context than Asia’s other recent big-name beat-em-ups such as the flamboyant Hero or House of Flying Daggers. And, for all its big battle set-pieces, its priorities appear to lie with character study and nice scenery ahead of getting the fighting right. All of that’s fine, but the story can be quite difficult to follow (particularly as the DVD’s English dubbing and subtitles contain COMPLETELY different dialogue from each other), a brief (and completely unexpected) dabbling with CGI effects is unsuccessful, and there’s a constant feeling that everything within the film has already been done better somewhere else.

It's Got: A monk with a memorable party piece.

It Needs: A bit of originality.

DVD Extras A bunch of trailers, a 25-minute ‘Making Of’ featurette, and the music video for ‘Warriors of Peace’ by Taiwanese popstrel Jolin Tsai. Edition reviewed: Warriors Of Heaven And Earth (2003) also from Amazon.com DVD Extras Rating: 4/10

Alternatives:

Red Firecracker Green Firecracker, Sun Valley, Swordsman in Double Flag

Summary

If you thought YOUR family’s caravan trips sometimes got a little heated, then this epic Chinese tale of desert squabbling is sure to prove that you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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