Originally released in its native China as Battle Of Wits, Jacob Cheung's 2006 epic war film has been re-titled Battle Of The Warriors by Dragon Dynasty for its domestic home video release for some reason. Like many similarly themed Chinese war films to have been released over the last ten years or so, it's a period piece, set in 370 B.C.. At this point, China is a series of smaller nations and roaming tribes, with one of the most impressive being the city of Liang, home to roughly four thousand people. Unfortunately for its citizens, Xiang Yangzhong (Sung-kee Ahn), the leader of the hundred thousand strong Zhao tribe, wants to take Liang over and so he sends in his army to do just that.
What the Zhao warriors didn't count on was the presence of a man named Ge-Li (Andy Lau), a member of a tribe called the Mo-Tsu who will inspire the people of Liang to stand up to the Zhou invaders. A skilled strategist, Ge-Li and the defensive forces of Liang work together to stop the Zhou forces from taking the city.
Quite a bit more gritty and realistic than many of the other recent Chinese epics, Battle Of The Warriors has much in common with similar David versus Goliath films, Kurosawa's Seven Samurai being an obvious influence on the picture. The focus of the film, however, is on strategy. Ge-Li's musings throughout the film are very definitely anti-war and while he's obviously involved in the thick of it, he doesn't want to see any more lives lost than necessary and so he takes the steps to prevent that from happening. Drastically outnumbered, it's made very apparent early on in the film that the only way the people of Liang will have a chance of standing up against the Zhou invaders is to outsmart them, and so much of the picture explains how they do just that. That's not to say that there's a shortage of battle scenes - like any good war film, there's quite a bit of that on display here and the film does get appropriately violent when called for, but Ge-Li is definitely portrayed more as a thinker than a sword wielding killing machine.
Andy Lau does a fine job in the lead role, playing Ge-Li with enough convincing charisma and smarts to allow us to accept him in the part. Though the story gets bogged down with a melodramatic romantic subplot (featuring the beautiful Fang Bingbing) from time to time, which does slow the pace down more than it probably should have, the good outweighs the bad here as Lau is very good in the role. Likewise, Sung-kee Ahn makes for a strong antagonist, his character in many ways the equal of Lau's though coming at all of this from a very different approach.
As far as the visuals go, Battle Of The Warriors doesn't disappoint. There's some beautiful cinematography here and while some might complain that shooting some of the fight scenes from a medium or close in standpoint takes away from their scope, it does serve to strengthen the impact of certain sequences for dramatic effect and never goes in so close as to obscure the important action. The cinematography is top notch, with some gorgeous camera work highlighting all the romance and drama in the air while an appropriately moving score pushes to the forefront when called for. Plenty of beautiful costumes and impressive sets and locations are used to ensure that the movie always looks great and if the details obviously take some liberties with historical accuracy, the film is never the less and entertaining and fairly moving picture well worth seeing.
Battle Of The Warriors looks quite good in this AVC encoded 2.35.1 1080p high definition transfer which sports very nice, rich, bold color reproduction but mediocre black levels. There aren't any problems with heavy compression artifacts though you might notice some occasional edge enhancement now and again if you look for it. Print damage is never really an issue and skin tones are generally quite lifelike in appearance. Some noise is apparent in darker scenes and some of the CGI effects stick out like a sore thumb in high definition but overall, things to look pretty good here - just not perfect.
The Mandarin DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on this disc is pretty impressive, particularly, as you'd expect, in the battle scenes where all of your speakers will be working together at once to create an enveloping listening experience. Dialogue and effects are well balanced against the score, which has the right amount of sweep and punch to it without overpowering the performers. There are no problems with hiss or distortion to complain about, the movie generally sounds very good indeed. Optional English or Spanish subtitles are provided and closed captioning is provided in English. An optional English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track is also provided.
First up, as far as the extras go, is a commentary track with Bey Logan. As is the norm with Logan's commentary, it may not open the eyes of those already experts on this particular film but it's a very solid explanation of who did what, how they did it and why it matters. He provides some welcome historical context, biographical information on the people who worked both in front of and behind the cameras and some interesting general trivia about the movie.
Aside from that, there's also a length fifty plus minute standard definition making of featurette that includes interviews with the principals such as Andy Lau and director Jacob Cheung as well as plenty of behind the scenes clips and fight choreography footage. It's a fairly standard piece but it does offer an interesting glimpse into the location shooting and the effects work employed in the picture. Menus and promo spots for other Dragon Dynasty releases are also included.
Despite the pacing problems that the film runs into here and there, Battle Of The Warriors is pretty impressive. Benefitting from some strong performances and some truly epic battle scenes, it's slowed down here and there by the romantic subplot but otherwise quite and impressive piece of moviemaking from Cheung. Dragon Dynasty's Blu-ray release looks good and sounds great and contains a few decent extras as well. Recommended for fans of period Chinese epics.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.