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Warriors of Heaven & Earth
(R, 120 min.)
Selected theaters

Thursday, October 21, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Mercury

Warriors of Heaven & Earth

Duel in the desert: Good and evil cross swords in pleasantly pulpy Warriors

By Anthony Del Valle

The title Warriors of Heaven & Earth is more literal than one might think. Writer/director He Ping blends realism and sci-fi to give us a mystical western of good vs. evil. The union, while not always successful, is frequently entertaining.

The story, told from the viewpoint of the beautiful young daughter of a Chinese general, Wen Zhu (Zhao Wei), follows the tale of two 8th century heroic swordsmen. One is a fugitive, Lieutenant Li (played by Chinese superstar Jian Wen), wanted for having refused the emperor's order to slaughter a group of helpless prisoners. The other is Japanese emissary Lai Xi (Nakai Kilichi), whose criminal-catching career will end and his life with family will be restored once he nabs Li. After an initial confrontation ends in a draw, Lai Xi is bound by honor to wait until Li completes his present mission--protecting a young monk on his journey through the desolate Gobi Desert to the capital city--before killing him. Lai Xi helps defend Li against enemies along the way, and grows to like him. But he's determined to kill him anyway. When the two forces realize the bandits who keep ambushing them are after something in the monk's possession, their partnership becomes a spiritual quest.

It's an enjoyable, pulpy story, occasionally slow-moving and pretentious (the ending is absurdly "deep"), but greatly helped by sharp directorial work, masterful visuals (cinematographer Zhao Fei shot the 1991 classic Raise the Red Lantern), sweeping landscapes and an ominous musical score by A.R. Rahman (who wrote the songs to Broadway's current Bombay Dreams).

He Ping is no slouch as a writer either. The thawing relationship between the two heroes is interesting, and the character of the only woman in the film is an intriguing combination of dignity and vulnerability (rare in men's fight films). Warriors might have benefited from dropping the "heaven" aspect of its plot, but it's earthbound enough to recall the better sides of John Ford.



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