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Jiang Wen stars in his third directorial work that boasts a stellar cast including Joan Chen, Anthony Wong and Jaycee Chan. A polyptych of interconnected stories in different time-zones, ... See full summary »
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North of the vast 8th century Tang dynasty Chinese empire, the commercially and culturally priceless silk route is controlled by 36 friendly Buddhist kingdoms. Their are threatened by Turkic nomad tribes, the caravans also by brigand bands. Japanese scholar Lai Qimay not return home until the emperor is satisfied with his missions to retrieve refugees from the barren border lands. The last is competent imperial lieutenant Li, who was proscribed for refusing to execute Turkic prisoners. He now lives among fellow warriors for hire as caravan escorts. Lai Qi and Li reach a gentleman's agreement to postpone their lethal duel till after the safe arrival of a caravan including a young Buddhist monk and his mysterious freight. When Turkic warlord Khan's daughter's hand seals an alliance with brigand sword master An, the only way out is trough the grimly dry Gobi desert. Written by
Though this is a "heroic epic" telling of the Golden Age of China, director Ping He does an outstanding job of blending depth of character with period- and action-realism within only 115 minutes.
The springboard/wire-fighting is kept to a minimum and is subtly crafted. These are heroes who have skills far beyond the ordinary, and the fighting effects merely convey that without rubbing it in or going over the-top.
Every major character is developed in this story except for the young monk, and you'll understand why at the end. We even spend a little time with Lai Qi's 3 loyal soldiers and their families, getting to understand what they've been doing and what is important to them.
The plot does involve a magical object, but there are only two scenes with associated special-effects, which were as nicely done as any Hollywood CGI. The first time, it is essential to developing the story and our understanding of why these men will fight so hard to protect it. The second time, only to establish its proper role in the epilogue.
There is a hint of a love-story, which I find unnecessary in films like these, but I didn't moan or groan here because it is kept deep in a minor subplot and used primarily to demonstrate that the protagonist is not truly a criminal or a bad man. Not that Ping He doesn't know how to tell a good love story, as he did brilliantly in 1994's "Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker" (Pao Da Shuang Deng). I think he was forced to add it, and simply relegated it to the lowest priority.
I don't understand how someone could like "Jet Li: Hero" or "Crouching Tiger..." better than this film, unless they have little taste for dramatic, action-adventure epics, and must have a perfectly happy-ending every time. I thank thee, Buddha, that Hollywood hasn't taken over the Chinese film-making industry!
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