There’s a certain base level of awesome that you expect when a movie — a period martial arts movie — is made with Jet Li, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro. Lau and Kaneshiro were both in House of Flying Daggers, and Jet Li’s been in more movies than fits on two hands.
So it shouldn’t be too surprising when the on screen chemistry is very good. Not great, but still full of energy.
Now, a note: I suck at avoiding spoilers. Seriously, I do. After I watch a movie, the first thing I do is talk to everyone around me as if they’ve already seen the movie. So I’m not even going to try.
That said, it’s a martial arts movie. Spoilers are, well, trivially revelatory at best.
Here’s the setup. With pictures!
Jet Li is a now-former soldier who was the sole survivor of a battle.
He survives by pretending to be dead, and hiding amongst his men. Cue angst. Eventually, he ends up sitting around in a village, mired in misery.
Takeshi Kaneshiro is a sub-lead in a bandit group.
He sees Jet Li. He thinks “Hey, that’s Jet Li. I bet he can fight! Let’s find out!”
Then, he thinks “Shit! It’s Jet Li! What do I say to get myself out of this?” A brilliant idea blossoms.
Jet Li is still bound in misery, so he listens. He follows Kaneshiro to a fight that Kaneshiro’s bandit group is about to start.
Many horses are hurt via nasty vicious metal claws.
Fighting ensues. As is wont of skilled martial artists, Kaneshiro gets himself surrounded.
Jet Li thinks “The man that tried to fight me earlier is surrounded! I must help!”
And he does.
But then, he thinks “The man that tried to kill me earlier is about to be stabbed! I must help!”
And he does. By stopping the blades with his hands.
Eventually, the fighting winds down. Jet Li, having entered the fray, is nigh unstoppable and kills the leader of the enemy.
Victorious, they head back to the bandit camp, where we get a closer look at the leader of the bandits, Andy Lau.
And the film continues from there, chronicling the three of them together.
Eventually, they all join the imperial army in order to get rich. They do. But Jet Li is more ambitious, and through the course of the movie, demonstrates his ruthlessness to get his way.
It’s actually a really interesting dynamic.
Andy Lau is a good hearted, simple former-bandit leader who is loved by the soldiers they command. He also tends to speak in grunts.
Takeshi Kaneshiro is the young one. Impestuous, but naive, he just wants everyone to get along. He also likes stabbing people randomly with a pair of knives. Repeatedly, usually. Until they fall down, bleeding and dying.
Jet Li is a weathered professional soldier, who becomes the de facto leader of the army the three eventually command. He’s not nearly as well-liked as Andy Lau by his underlings, but is considered the top boss by the higher ups at the palace.
Eventually, their dynamic causes all three of them to clash.
There are some genuinely poignant moments. In one scene, the three are taking over a city, bringing it under siege. But the siege lasts for months, and is starving not only the soldiers outside, but the citizens and soldiers inside.
Not willing to see his city suffer any longer, the leader of the city invites Andy Lau to a private meeting, wherein he fights Lau and purposefully loses. With his dying breath, the leader wishes to Lau that while his city is theirs, his soldiers and citizens be spared.
Jet Li doesn’t. He orders the soldiers inside the city killed. His reasoning is that even without swords, they’re still trained military men.
Overall, it was a very satisfying movie. It is slightly overacted in some parts, and some scenes are completely unnecessary, but in general, it makes you really feel for all characters involves. Even Jet Li, at his most ruthless, is understandable.
Watch it if you can find it. 4/5 stars.