The Warlords: Swords and Arrows Fly in 19th–Century China

No less a man than Jet Li cries multiple times in this impressively gargantuan Chinese battle epic. A quasi-remake of the Shaw brothers’ 1973 hit The Blood Brothers, Peter Chan’s gory melodrama follows the tender bonding and tragic split of a trio of 19th-century bandits turned warlords. Yes, a “beautiful courtesan” (Xu Jinglei) is partly to blame. She nurses Li’s battle-scarred General Pang back to health with soup and batted eyes despite being married to Er-Hu (Andy Lau), a gang leader who, along with sidekick Wu-Yang (Takeshi Kaneshiro), makes an ill-fated blood pact with Pang. An early bullets-vs.-arrows skirmish stretches to almost half an hour, climaxing with a rather wicked decapitation. Then, power-hungry conqueror Pang, building an army of starving heroes, begins to set his sights on Suzhou City and Nanking! Chan’s old-fashioned, highly watchable mega-production comes complete with God’s-eye surveys of mass carnage, the moist sounds of sword-skewering, and little or no discernible CGI. Pushing two hours (whereas the Chinese version runs slightly longer), the damn thing finally ends with a helluva knife fight—in the pouring rain, yet. Or are those Heaven’s tears?