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Warriors of Heaven and Earth
2004 - R - 120 Mins.
Director: Ping He
Written By: Ping He
Starring: Kiichi Nakai, Xuequi Wang, Wen Jiang
Review by: Harrison Cheung
Official Site:

Ancient Chinese costume party
With the rising interest in martial arts epics signaled by the success of ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ in 2000, Sony Pictures Classic released this dud earlier this year proving that not all martial arts movies are equal.

Painfully slow, ‘Warriors of Heaven and Earth’ is like a spaghetti western with a long and drawn out wait for the climatic show-down between villain and hero. Set at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (around 800 A.D. – the same dynasty as ‘House of Flying Daggers’), a Japanese emissary, Lai Qi, is sent to the Gobi desert by the Chinese Emperor. The emperor wants him to find and execute a rebel captain, Li, who disobeyed imperial orders when he refused to kill women and children prisoners.

Complicating matters is an imperial caravan heading east to the capital. A mysterious monk guards a priceless treasure. After a disastrous sandstorm wipes out most of the guarding troops, the caravan ends up under the protection of Captain Li.

If you’re a fan of ‘Hero’ or ‘Crouching Tiger,’ ‘Warriors of Heaven and Earth’ lacks the visual splendor of those films. Writer/director Ping He stays focused on the exotic locale of the Western regions of China, which, even in ancient times, was wild and nomadic. Martial arts choreography is grounded by realism so there’s none of the fly-by-wire type of battles currently on display in ‘House of Flying Daggers.’ No, the martial arts here is strictly of the clash and strike variety.

While the central theme of honor and duty is interesting here – especially when duty-bound Lai Qi begins to question his orders to subdue the obvious honorable Captain Li – the audience’s anticipation for the big reveal of the mysterious Buddhist treasure is a huge stretch in credibility. When we first see this treasure, the movie shifts gears into an Indiana Jones wannabe with garish special effects.

Ping He clearly didn’t think this storyline through since the treasure has bizarre and stupid implications. There’s also the problem of consistency since the movie, up until the point of the reveal, had all the seriousness and gravity of a Chinese version of ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ If Ping He had wanted to make a Chinese version of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ he might have had a closer look at keeping the rest of the story matching in tone. Imagine if Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’ suddenly pulled out the Ark of the Covenant to rescue the concentration camp prisoners? It’s that jarring.

As a video rental, ‘Warriors of Heaven and Earth’ is a tough sell. I suspect most people are going to think they’re renting a martial arts flick. Instead, this is a slow-paced historical drama with a surprise ending that will leave you wondering what this has to do with warriors of heaven and earth?
Movie Guru Rating
Bland, boring, inept. Forgettable. Bland, boring, inept. Forgettable.
  1.5 out of 5 stars

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