This is a big budget, Chinese-language film which takes place during the Taiping Rebellion. The movie follows roughly the same story line as Blood Brothers, a 1973 “kung fu” movie which fictionalizes and dramatizes the 1870 assassination of Ma Xinyi, a Chinese general and ruling official of that time period. The Warlords was originally titled Blood Brothers, but the director of the former emphatically states that his is not a remake and so came up with the new name as a differentiator. The two stories are roughly the same, although The Warlords does seem to be a bit more anchored in realistic (if perhaps not real) events of the war – full-scale battles rather than the one-on-one fights which mark the martial arts genre. The new film changes the main characters names, notably renaming the Ma Xinyi character, perhaps because the story clearly deviates from the known facts of the real person’s life.
The film is bigger than its genre roots. While there is the occasional martial artistry evident in some hand to hand fighting, it is by no means a martial arts film. The battles are not exactly ultra-realistic, but neither is it pure fantasy. Features drawn from your typical “hero epic” keep this from being a docudrama. For example, in several battles the heroes fight their way through the faceless masses to square off with their counterpart on the opposing side – in fights which seem to feature extraordinarily high concentration of severed body parts hurtling through the air.
The story line is a fairly old fashioned one, probably more suited to the 1860s than the 2010s. Following a quick scuffle the main character and the narrator become instant “blood brothers,” and are tied to each other until the end. That may also be due to the 1973 film, of which this is not remake.
One odd thought I had watching it: The music score is a typical Western-classics -inspired orchestral piece. It’s not particularly notable for being either good or bad, and it would probably fit well into an second-tier historical war drama made in the U.S. When I realized that, it made me wonder why they didn’t choose to use period music? Not that one always does. Frequently, historical dramas either use anachronistic period music (18th century baroque for a 15th century drama) or simply throw in the most modern piece that seems befitting.
It also occurred to me how much the combat portrayed on the screen resembles, not the Victorian era when the story takes place, but the Pike and Shot era. The cannon and muskets used by the armies on screen are more modern than what graced the battlefields of the Italian Wars, but they were not using U.S. Civil War technology. Similarly, the weapon mix seems to favor bow and pike over gunpowder to even more of an extent than in 16th century Europe.
Of course, that’s all going by what I saw on screen. The Taiping Rebellion seems to be incredibly overlooked for a war that matched or exceeded most any that came before it in size and scope. From my own schooling, I remember nothing about it – the focus of that era seemed to be the Opium Wars and the conflict with the European powers rather than the internal affairs. As to wargames, there seems to be next to nothing covering it; neither as dedicated strategic/operation treatments, or as scenarios for suitable tactical engines.
In order to rectify this gap in my knowledge I’ve placed an order for the book Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom and eagerly await its arrival.