THE WARRIORS (2016) short review

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Another in a long line of slickly-packaged Chinese propaganda war films, The Warriors was directed by Ning Haiqiang (whose oeuvre includes 2015’s The Hundred Regiments Offensive), is set in 1935 and follows a regiment of the People’s Liberation Army – then known simply as the Red Army – led by commander Huang Kaixiang (Ethan Li), as it races towards a key bridge that has to be taken in order to stop the Kuomintang troups’ progress in the region. It’s an incredibly thinly-written film, with sparse historical detail, entirely interchangeable characters (all stalwart, selfless, heroic, saintly would-be martyrs) given the faintest of backstories, and a constantly solemn, clenched-jaw, single-tear tone that borders on unintentional comedy. This makes the film’s episodic structure – it simply hurtles from skirmish to skirmish – all the more laborious and plodding; the copious action scenes are competently staged (action maestro Bruce Law is to thank for that) but devoid of any emotional pull, narrative momentum or epic sweep. For all the explosions and machine gun fire on display, The Warriors feels like listening to a particularly heavy-handed recruiting sergeant drone on for 100 minutes. *

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BROTHERS (2016) review

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Tiejin (Ethan Li) and Bingsheng (Peter Ho) grew up together, two homeless boys looking out for each other in an unnamed dangerous city, until one day Bingsheng was sent to prison for killing a mobster who was attacking his brother. A decade later he’s released, now a hardened, cynical beast of a man. Not long after they’re reunited the brothers get into more trouble and are drafted by force in the army. After a failed attempt at desertion they’re separated again, and through a twist of fate Tiejin finds himself fighting for the opposite side. Years pass and he has now become a tough squadron leader, tasked with escorting an all-women orchestra to a remote fort where they are to perform for the morale of the troops. It’s not long before they’re under attack from the enemy, and the brothers are reunited again, this time pointing a gun at each other.

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BROTHERHOOD OF BLADES (2014) review

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In the year 1627, the Ming dynasty is in its final years as emperor Chongzhen takes over the throne, and in the process expels powerful Chief Eunuch Wei (Chin Shih Chieh) from his position of power. But a large number of court officials are still secretly in the service of the Eunuch, forming the so-called “Clique” that the emperor decides to dismantle. His prime resource in doing that is the “Jinyiwei”, his imperial assassins who are tasked with arresting, getting a confession out of, and/or killing, all presumed members of the Clique. Three Jinyiwei are chosen for the critical mission of finding and killing the Eunuch himself: Shen Lian (Chang Chen), who is in unrequited love with a courtesan (Cecilia Liu) and is saving up to buy her freedom, Lu Jianxing (Wang Qianyuan) who is desperate to meet his father’s standards by getting a promotion and is ready to bribe his way to it, and Jin Yichuan (Ethan Li), who is being blackmailed by a former friend (Zhou Yiwei) who threatens to reveal their criminal past and the fact he stoile a man’s identity to become a Jinyiwei. The fact that their new superior (Nie Yuan) is a pawn of the Eunuch further complicates the matters and soon an intricate web of lies unravels with tragic consequences.

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