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Set during the 1930s after the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, a teacher (Jing Tian) and a group of students establish a study club to preserve their language and culture as an act of protest against the foreign invaders.
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A Peculiarly Different Interpretation of History, that is as Nostalgic and Attractive as it is Interestingly Entertaining
For viewers expecting a history lesson from the onset, you might be disappointed, the opening of the feature, though bloody and action oriented at times, being reminiscent of stereotypical comedy. It isn't until much later, when the dramatic elements consume almost the entirety of the plot, that The Warring States is revealed to be a thought-provoking narrative, that remains with you long after the credits have rolled, the many tragedies depicted in the film reflecting how, after so many centuries, people continue to repeat similar atrocities.
From the beginning, the characters remain unchanging in their philosophies, the creators never forcing these individuals to be anything they are not, though at the same time, they are highly unrepresentative of historic fact. The costumes, so beautiful and elegant, could be one of the only accurate depictions the film manages to occasionally conceive, while the use of color adds, both vividly and morosely to the emotional climate exhibited in the scenes. The environments on the other hand deliver varying landscapes, from snow caped mountains, to tranquil forests and large, grassy knolls, making for some startling scenery.
The score is especially notable, its presence in a number of the scenes being beautiful and majestic, adding comfortably and favorably to the narrative's progression. The theme song, Wind, sung by Jing Tian, who I will happily discuss in broader depth later, is equally captivating in this regard. During the fight scenes, the music accompanies the intensity and brutality of these moments, which are as well choreographed as they are attention-grabbing, the blood that flows out from the many wounds fiercely articulating the horrors of the battlefield, whilst maintaining its visually entertaining influence.
Indefinably set during the fifth and third centuries BC, in which the states of Qi and Wei are disputing about territories and power, the film opens at its conclusion, with Sun Bin (Sun Honglei), gazing at the natural wonder stretched out before him, while reminiscing about the beauty of Tian Xi, a young woman he admires. Questions regarding why his thoughts dwell upon her at this moment, and where she might be, immediately grasp the viewer's attention.
There is no doubting the intellect of Sun Bin's character, who finds himself caught between the two states, each desperately seeking his guidance, who revere him for having been taught by strategist Sun Tzu, however, the interpretation provided by the actor and creators, seems remarkably contradictory. Continuously laughing and grinning, Sun is an ignoramus, with delusions of peace, which, in the period the film is set, is an unaffordable luxury. Tian Xi describes Sun as been 'such a fool', and how else would you describe a man who continues to refer to someone as their ally, even after they have horrifically tortured them? Resembling the Disney character Goofy for much of the feature, after experiencing great suffering, Sun goes from grinning in almost every scene, to wearing a long face while mumbling lines of dialogue, this stark contrast, strangely enough, making him quite a sympathetic individual.
Furthermore, this particular characterization, alongside lines such as 'time for suicide!' by assassins who have been discovered by the enemy, sometimes fails to inspire confidence in the characters, or the script. Alongside Sun moreover, is his blood brother Pang Juan (Francis Ng), who, in contrast with the lead, is interestingly constructed, equally employing jealousy, arrogance, friendliness and reason, developing an individual who, although antagonistic, has multiple interpretative sides to his character. His sister, Pang Wan'er (Kim Heui-Seon) however, though deserving additional screen time, is more sympathetic and compassionate, being one of the few characters who, like Sun, vies for peace.
Married to the Wei Emperor, Wan'er is frequently seen looking out for the interests of others, unlike so many of the male characters, who only ever look out for themselves. Although much of the narrative is comprised of male leads, the men are often seen in the rear of any confrontation, or hiding away behind the walls of their cities, the women on the other hand being capable, opinionated, and powerful, this description especially fitting with Tian Xi (Jing Tian), the future queen of Qi.
Although young, and potentially not quite as recognizable in contrast with the other leads, for the most part, Ms. Tian often appears to steal the show - she can act, she can sing, she can dance - is there anything this woman can't do? Always appearing elegant, even on the field of battle, where she is as graceful as she is athletic, Tian is as much a strategist as her male counterparts, professionally demonstrating talent with the dramatic elements of the film, a scene where she is in tears being especially powerful. On more than one occasion, Tian is provided unnecessary material, the likes of which the men are not subjected to, where she either inexplicably coughs, and during one scene forgets what she wanted to say, often appearing as a giggling, gamine, child, rather than the royal warrior she proves herself to be.
The romantic sub-plot, although in any other feature of similar genre may seem peculiar, never feels forced or out of place, instead capturing a gentle, child-like innocence that makes it appear so sweet and charming, granting the audience the ability to hope for a beautiful outcome. However, the anti-climatic conclusion, which leaves several questions unanswered, renders the film, which begins to speed up towards the end, feeling incomplete, as though there was more to be said, but it was instead silenced. Quite unlike many other Chinese features set within this period, The Warring States offers a strangely different, yet nostalgically captivating film, that may sometimes annoy and irritate, but will leave you quietly contemplating the touching narrative.
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