Martial arts epic ‘Warlords’ hankers for box office blood
Best known for romances like “He’s a Woman, He’s a Man” (1994), “Comrades: Almost a Love Story” (1996) and “Perhaps Love” (2005), Chan, 47, recently shot a martial arts movie, “The Warlords.”
The film, which opens tomorrow in Korea and stars Andy Lau, Jet Li and Takeshi Kaneshiro, has taken 20 billion won ($21.14 million) in China and Hong Kong since mid-December.
Set during the Taiping Rebellion in the late Qing Dynasty, the story tells how war and political intrigue come between three blood brothers ― Lau, Li and Kaneshiro.
General Pang Qing Yun, played by Li, survives a bloody battle, but his soldiers get killed. He befriends bandit leader Zhao Erhu, played by Lau, and Jiang Wu Yang, played by Kaneshiro.
Pang urges Zhao and Jiang to join his troops, persuading them that it’s better to die in battle than of hunger.
Although this film is Chan’s first action movie, the battle sequences are beautifully realized in all full technicolor detail.
Despite his long affair with love stories, it turns out that Chan has been itching to shoot a war film.
“I told myself that if I ever produce an action feature, I would remake ‘Blood Brothers,’” Chan said in Korea while promoting The Warlords.
Chang Cheh directed “Blood Brothers” in 1973, a film based on an old crime story, “The Assassination of Ma.” Chang’s movie greatly influenced Chan as a youngster.
Chan wanted to create a character similar to Chang Wen Hsiang, played by David Chang, the main character in Blood Brothers.
“Hsiang is a villain, but he’s also noble,” Chan said.
Chan was attracted by the delicate balance of good and evil portrayed by Hsiang in Chang’s 1973 hit.
“It’s often tough for young people to distinguish good and evil,” he said. “But as you grow older, you become more subjective.”
In The Warlords, the characters of Zhao and Jiang may appear to be better than General Pang, but they are also professional killers.
During his press conference, Chan was full of praise for Li in his role as the General.
“[Li] has never played such a vicious character before,” Chan said, noting how the actor’s secret charm is brought out most when he takes on a new role.
“Li has great kung fu skills. When he was 12 he met Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese communist leader.
He also demonstrated martial arts in front of America’s 37th president, Richard Nixon,” Chan said.
Chan talked about the hardships that Li has faced in his life. He talked about how Li was devastated when gangsters killed his manager after Li finished the series “Once Upon a Time in China.”
“Li grew up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution,” Chan said. “He experienced the stresses of that period of history.”
Chan said Li’s background mirrored his character in The Warlords.
“An actor often just acts out his role, but sometimes a role allows an actor to draw on real experience to convey raw emotions,” he said.
Some commentators said Lau’s role is similar to Ge Li from “Battle of Wits” (2006), starring Korean actor Ahn Sung-ki. Both characters were prepared to make sacrifices.
But Chan said the two characters are very different.
Ge Li is an intellectual and an idealist, Chan said, whereas Zhao is the opposite.
“Zhao is naive, but that naivete allows him to be courageous in war,” Chan said.
Chan compared Pang to a contemporary CEO whereas Zhao is a traditional romantic. “In my view, the story is quite far from the general concept of brotherhood,” Chan pointed out.
The theme in The Warlords is close to Chan’s heart.
“I’m most skeptical about friendship,” he said. “Brotherhood is a made-up thing.”
That falsehood is depicted in The Warlords.
By Lee Hoo-nam JoongAng Ilbo/ Lee Eun-joo Contributing Writer [firstname.lastname@example.org]