Warriors of Heaven and Earth
September 3, 2004
Movie of the Day for Monday, May 31, 2004
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Following in the tradition of other Chinese/Hong Kong films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero, Warriors of Heaven and Earth is a sweeping drama interspersed with elements of martial arts. It was China's submission for the Academy Awards foreign language film category; however, it was overlooked in favor of films such as the Czech Republic's Zelary, The Netherlands' De Tweeling (Twin Sisters), Japan's Twilight Samurai, Sweden's Evil and Canada's The Barbarian Invasions (the eventual winner).
Described as a spiritual follow-up to Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, Warriors of Heaven and Earth centers around two main characters, Lieutenant Li (Jiang Wen) and Japanese emissary Lai Xi (Nakai Kiichi). Both men are powerful warriors and share a masterful talent with the sword. Lai Xi has been serving under the Chinese emperor for decades, and although he wishes to return to Japan, he is instead sent off to the Western Territories to chase after wanted criminals. If Lai Xi is to return to Japan, he must apprehend and slay Lieutenant Li, who is considered an enemy of the government for taking charge of an aggressive mutiny when he rejected orders to kill female and children.
When the two soldiers find themselves ready to stand battle against each other, they agree to delay their final fight until a caravan carrying a sacred and powerful pagoda is delivered safely to its destination. It seems this holy relic has attracted the attention of one of the most ruthless overlords of the land, Master An (Wang Zue Qi). Lieutenant Li's former unit of soldiers rejoins him and Lai Xi to endure the hazards of the desert and risk tenuous battle with the overlord's men to save the artifact. Once that arduous task is accomplished, Lai Xi and Li can at last face each other in a final Battle Royale.
Like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Warriors of Heaven and Earth is being distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. That company put a lot of faith into a product they knew was spectacular, ignoring protests that audiences would spurn a subtitled film with subject matter as weighty and foreign as what CTHD had to offer. Happily, Sony Pictures Classics was right, as they wound up with a huge hit that held the box office record for foreign language films until the juggernaut of The Passion of the Christ overtook it. Their track record in support of their foreign acquisitions is superlative. (Kim Hollis/BOP)