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Friday, September 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Tom Keogh
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.
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: email@example.com
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