Film review: Warriors of Heaven and Earth

Published: Thursday, Dec. 2 2004 1:11 p.m. MST

Zhao Wei as Wen Zhu, left, and Jiang Wen as Lieutenant Li star in import, "Warriors of Heaven and Earth."

Saeed Adyani, Sony Pictures Classics

Enlarge photo»

The success of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" has been a good thing for U.S. moviegoers. Not only has it had a clear influence on American filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, it means we get to see more Asian film imports.

Admittedly, there have been a few bad ones alongside all the good ones. But almost all of them have been worth seeing, including such shaky big-screen adventures as "Warriors of Heaven and Earth."

For most of its two-hour running time, it's a pretty solid action yarn that echoes both the swordsman epics of Akira Kurosawa, as well as some of the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns. However, toward the end it takes a silly and unfortunate turn toward the whole "Raiders of the Lost Ark" metaphysical territory.

One thing preventing it from collapsing at that point is the cast, which includes veteran Japanese actor Nakai Kiichi, who stars as Lai Xi, an emissary to the Tang dynasty, who is on one last mission — to hunt down renegade soldiers.

High on his list is Lt. Li (Jiang Wen), who led a revolt rather than killing the women and children his men captured. But when they finally confront each other, the duel between these master swordsmen is pretty much a draw.

So the two men agree to put their differences aside for now — for the good of those who are under Li's protection. As it turns out, he's leading a caravan of Buddhist monks that is trying to cross the Gobi Desert.

They'll need to work together if the caravan is to survive the attacks of Master An (Wang Xueqi), a warlord who's dying to find out just what the caravan is carrying.

The mystical turn comes pretty much out of the blue. And the film criminally neglects Chinese star Zhao Wei ("Shaolin Soccer"), who is consigned to a minor supporting role (she also serves as the film's narrator).

To be fair, there are some dazzling action sequences, and, refreshingly, the filmmakers don't use wires and harnesses for the stunt work — they favor more realistic action.

Best of all is a sequence in which Lai and Li "share" a sword — tossing it to each other when it's needed. And the performances by both Kiichi and Jiang are convincing.

"Warriors of Heaven and Earth" is rated R for scenes of martial-arts action violence (sword-fighting, arrow fire and hand-to-hand combat), gore (not especially graphic), and scattered use of mild profanity (mostly religiously based). Running time: 119 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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