Warriors of Heaven and Earth

As odd as it sounds, China once had a Wild West. But instead of Indians and pistols, there were swords and marauding Turks on the Silk Road. And, China's Wild West happened hundreds of years before America's. Warriors of Heaven and Earth is a "Chinese Western," taking themes, motifs, and character templates from American Westerns and applying a distinctly Chinese spin to them. It's a pretty interesting idea, and makes for a fun movie to watch, albeit a little lacking in story (like most other Asian films). Hey, it's only fitting that they copy American films, what with American films appropriating all sorts of things from Asian action films.

Nearly one thousand years after Hero, the Chinese are still looking to expand. This time, they are looking west. On the barren Silk Road, hired soldiers guard traders and anybody else going from the East to the West. One of them is Qi Lai (Kichi Nakai, When the Last Sword is Drawn, The Firefly), a Japanese man sent to learn from the Chinese. Qi wants to go home, but before he can do so, he needs to complete one more task for the Emperor: apprehend Captain Li Zai, aka "Butcher" Li (Jiang Wen, The Missing Gun, Devils on the Doorstep). Li is wanted to killing a member of the army. He did so by accident, after refusing to kill some women and children. Qi is also escorting Wen Zhu (Zhao Wei, Shaolin Soccer, So Close), a general's daughter, back to the capital.

Li runs into a monk (Zhou Yun) taking some Buddhist scriptures back to the capital. For some strange reason, local crime lord Master An (Wang Xueqi, Sun Valley) has taken a huge interested in capturing this monk, more than what seems right for a simple monk and camel caravan. Li agrees to help escort the caravan safely back when he stumbles upon Qi. There are two main conflicts here, one between An and Li and the other between Li and Qi. Qi wants to kill Li so he can return home, but realizes that Li's actions are honorable. He agrees to aid Li back to the capital, then they can fight. Wrapped up in this is Wei, who is really great eye candy, but pretty much does absolutely nothing.

Writer/director He Ping (Sun Valley, Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker) and co-writer Zhang Rui's (The Horse Thief) story is impenetrable for the first half hour or so. Characters appear and disappear quickly, and they never slow down to explain what is going on. Once things get moving, the story gets better, and it becomes a desperate chase across the Chinese desert, with Li and Qi fighting both An and the elements. The locations look great, and He does an interesting job melding two genres together. If anything, the concept alone is worth watching this film. And Zhao Wei is in it.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, Mandarin and Japanese with English subtitles, Rated R for violence.

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