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Warriors of Heaven & Earth
If you're a fan of Asian Cinema and own a Blu-ray player you're probably looking for something fun to watch. Sadly apart from a few other titles there just isn't a lot to pick from unless you're looking to import something. In that regard Warriors of Heaven and Earth comes out at a point in time where films from over seas are something of a rarity for the format. With slim picking for Asian Cinema on the market, is Warriors of Heaven and Earth worth going gaga over?
Directed by He Ping, Warriors of Heaven and Earth was produced in 2003 and released internationally the following year. The film features Jiang Wen, Kiichi Nakai, Wang Xueqi, and Zhao Wei playing through a story that takes place in the Golden Age of China. On some levels the picture is successful and can be quite captivating but it's not an entirely solid experience.
When Warriors of Heaven and Earth begins we are introduced to the character of Lai Xi (Nakai). He is a Japanese native who was assigned to the Emperor of China as an emissary when he was a young boy. It has been over twenty-five years since he has seen his family so needless to say he's feeling a little homesick. The Emperor promises Lai Xi that his servitude will end after one more mission which is to eradicate bandits along the Silk Road. Just when his dubious task is near completion he is assigned a final mark; former lieutenant Li (Wen).
Once Li's character is introduced the attention of the film splits between he and Lai Xi. While Lai Xi travels with Wen Zhu (Wei) in search of the bandit, Li struggles to survive in the Gobi Desert. He happens upon a Buddhist caravan in the midst of a sandstorm and barely survives the experience. His life is saved by a soldier and in order to repay the favor Li agrees to accompany the caravan to their destination.
In good form Li and Lai Xi bump into each other but when Li explains his situation, Lai Xi accepts his terms. Basically Lai Xi lets Li and his men go with the caravan until they reach the capital, at which point they will fight to the death. This creates an interesting relationship between the two that is played with throughout the picture. It's a little silly that Lai Xi and Wen Zhu ride together as enemies with the caravan but I suppose it was an inevitable plot device.
Quite honestly, I was perfectly happy with Warriors of Heaven and Earth following the tale of the two men but apparently He Ping was not. During the film it is revealed that the caravan is carrying a mystical Buddhist artifact. This supernatural trinket is the reason our heroes find themselves attacked at every turn by tireless and numerous bandits. With the artifact the Turks could control the Buddhist territories and overthrow the Tang Empire. It adds a silly spin on an otherwise serious and interesting character piece.
While the artifact certainly spoils a good majority of the tale it's not the only sore spot. Some points of the film feel needlessly dragged out and in all fairness could have been cut. Also, there is essentially no rhyme or reason behind the villain's presence other than to create a common enemy for Lai Xi and Li to bring them closer together. He appears at points in the film where Ping felt action needed to be inserted and disappears just as randomly. Equally silly are his mannerisms which make him a force destined to be laughed at, not reckoned with.
In the end is Warriors of Heaven and Earth a bad film? No, not really. It's a flawed and unbalanced film, but not necessarily poor. There are some great performances, memorable characters, fun battle scenes, and decent development throughout. If you can look past the tacky magical Buddhist powers, pointless villain, drawn out scenes, and abrupt, unexplained ending then you'll find a trip worth taking but maybe just as a rental.
Warriors of Heaven and Earth is presented on a 50GB dual layer blu-ray disc with 1080p HD resolution and MPEG2 encoding. Compared to the standard definition release from 2004 the blu-ray features noticeably better quality all around and might be worth an upgrade if you're a fan.
One of the crowning achievements for Warriors of Heaven and Earth is the cinematography which captures some truly beautiful moments. With this HD presentation they appear flawlessly and frankly are about as vivid as you could possibly get. The coloration in the film remains vibrant throughout with natural hues and fine contrast. There are a few points during the movie where film grain is noticeable but it doesn't really detract from the experience. The same can be said for the sharpness of the picture which can be a little on the soft side here and there. Overall this is a great looking movie and it's safe to say that the aesthetics outshine the quality of the script.
Warriors of Heaven and Earth presents a slew of audio selections for you to sink your teeth into. My personal favorite was the uncompressed PCM 5.1 Mandarin though I tend to be a stickler for original languages. Fortunately the uncompressed PCM 5.1 English, and 5.1 tracks for Mandarin, English, and French are high quality as well so you'll definitely be able to find something that suits your taste.
Each of the 5.1 selections offers a decent amount of immersion with the rear channels picking up ambient noise and prominent sound effects. During battle is where you will notice the rear channels the most considering they come to life with every clang of the sword of hit of an arrow. Compared to the relative starkness of the picture the sound effects are almost a little too pronounced but it's nothing that detracts from the experience. The sound quality is still very good with a clean presentation that makes full use of the soundstage.
Warriors of Heaven and Earth includes two features that have been ported over from the standard definition release of the film. The first is a pointless music video that may be entertaining to watch but provides little more than what you'd expect. On the more impressive side of things is a documentary about the making of the film. With an English narrative this feature takes a behind the scenes look at several moments of shooting. Different action scenes and points of locations are included and if you're a fan of the film you'll find some of the commentary to be interesting.
Warriors of Heaven and Earth was a mixed bag of quality in my opinion. The video and audio qualities were phenomenal but the actual content of the film left me wanting. I appreciated the strained relationship between Li and Lai Xi as they journeyed with the caravan to the capitol but most every other facet of the script failed. The antagonist of the two adds little to the story and the mystical Buddhist artifact takes away from the serious tone. This leaves Warriors of Heaven and Earth feeling poorly balanced and lacking direction. There are some moments where the potential of the picture is shown but they are fleeting at best. Rent It