Monday, August 30, 2010

Movie Review: Warlords

This post is a reaction to The Warlords, starring Jet Li. **SPOILER ALERT**

All my life I have always been interested in all of my genealogical blood lines. China has been my muse as of late mostly because it is the largest gap I have in my family history. My great grandfather was pure Chinese. He made his way to Hawai'i on a ship delivering sugar cane workers. My grandfather's brother recounted that he arrived in Honolulu and gambled much of the time. He made his way to Kaua'i following the horse races and there met my great grandmother, a pure Hawaiian. They married or co-habitated -- I'm unsure if they ever married -- and produced my grandfather and his siblings. My Chinese bloodline stops at him. Now that I'm back in Hawai'i I can attempt to locate a ship manifest to make the connection back to China. Thus, all things Chinese has been my biggest interest.

Enter the movie, The Warlords.

The Warlords tells a universal story about war. Set in China with the Imperial Ching Army being the bad guys and the Taiping rebels being the good. The best stories are always about "the little guy" victoring over the giant. Jet Li's character is the central character of the story and starts out as a general in the Imperial Army. He joins the rebellion after being betrayed by another general. He merges with two men from a village to create a brotherhood. They enter into a blood oath to always defend each other OR kill each other for betraying the oath. The movie follows the battles that are led by the brotherhood. Their ruthlessness and determination separates them from the rest of the armies. In the beginning, the brotherhood serves their collective desires to raise their families and their village from the depths of poverty. By the ending, their brotherhood unravels as Jet Li's character is lured into his own self-serving desires.

A particular point in the movie caught my attention and has left me somewhat dazed. I can't seem to describe the stupor I was in after this particular scene. One of the 'brothers' goes into the biggest city and single-handedly conquers it by attempting to form an alliance. What happens instead is a one-on-one combat between the 'brother' and the ruler of the city. The ruler of the city gracefully sacrifices himself to save the lives of his subjects, knowing full well that they will be massacred if he didn't. The ruler does it upon one condition -- that the 'brotherhood' spare the lives of the civilians as well as his soldiers. 'Brother' agrees and gives his word that he will keep his promise and the ruler dies by the sword.

Brother leads the civilians of the great city out and returns to the Taiping army having conquered the city by killing the ruler. He is burdened by the committment that he had made to the ruler but intends to keep the promise he had made. Jet Li's character, in savage yet calculated fashion, rounds up the army of the great city and locks them into the city. Jet Li has intentions of killing the entire army of the great city rather than merging. He points out the limited resources that are available for their own army. It would be impossible to feed, house, and outfit the new soldiers without taking from their own soldiers. The Brother asserts his promise to the ruler and pleads mercy upon the conquered army. Jet Li refuses and annihilates the conquered army. Brother is defeated and completely broken by his inability to keep a promise that he had made... even if the promise was made to an enemy.

Perhaps it was the brilliant acting by Brother or the recognition of similar moments in my life that enchanted me. Perhaps a combination of both. Either way, to be placed in such a precarious position to respect the blood oath that was made between Brother and Jet Li or to maintain personal integrity by keeping a committment that has been made. What a decision! The remainder of the movie is spent watching the brotherhood unravel.

How similar life is. One compromise. One single moment of inability to maintain integrity leads to the demise of a fabulous partnership. Life is strewn with single moments of errors and in the end, it's totally up to you and up to me whether we remain in error or reconcile our life fully. Whatever bugs you can be overcome and conquered. Broken agreements can be rectified and begins with forgiving yourself of the misdeed and vowing to never do it again.

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