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Friday, September 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Movie Review
An epic of honor in China of old

By Tom Keogh
Special to The Seattle Times

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As with his "Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker," He Ping's "Warriors of Heaven and Earth" is remarkable for its stimulating, metaphor-rich setting, in this case some wild topography in China reminiscent of mountains and deserts in the American West.

Known as a superior visualist and maker (apart from the noir-ish "Red Firecracker") of "Chinese Westerns," Ping's elaborate "Warriors" owes much to the action direction and more chivalrous male relationships of John Ford's horse operas, as well as the operatic trappings of Sergio Leone.

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***
"Warriors of Heaven and Earth," with Jiang Wen, Nakai Kiichi, Wang Xueqi, Zhao Wei. Written and directed by He Ping. Rated R for graphic fight scenes. 120 minutes. In Mandarin, with English subtitles. Metro.

Set in the seventh century, "Warriors" features two heroes on a collision course who partner up, temporarily, in the interest of a greater good. Lieutenant Li (Jiang Wen), a fugitive from the emperor's army after refusing to kill Turkish innocents, guards a caravan carrying a mysterious treasure. On Li's trail is Lai Xi (Nakai Kiichi), a Japanese warrior serving the emperor but yearning to go home. Killing Li is his ticket back, but Lai decides to help protect the caravan from the mercenary Master An (Wang Xueqi) and his cutthroat bandits.

The ensuing bloody clashes take place against spectacularly rugged exteriors where only codes of honor matter. Unfortunately, the story's pace prohibits a deeper appreciation of both Lai and Li, and an out-of-nowhere, Spielbergian batch of special effects, signaling a transformation of reality, makes for a jarring (if provocative) ending.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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