Sunday, March 18, 2012

Comica Obscura Marathon: Battle of Warriors rebuttal

To make sure one fully appreciates the subtleties of the article below, please visit Bill's Movie Emporium and read his review of Jacob Cheung's Battle of the Warriors.
At this stage, it is safe to say that the Comica Obscura marathon has been our most divisive yet. With the one exception of the Star Wars: A New Hope review from a couple of years ago, none of our marathons have provided for as many diverging opinions on such a consistent basis. I believe this to be a good thing, first and foremost because it produces a level of excitement when the time comes to formulate rebuttal posts (something which, I think you would agree, lacked in our previous marathons for the most part) and secondly, because now the reality is that I really do not know what your views on the next films will be, whereas before one could almost predict that if I enjoyed or not, you would echo those sentiments.

Sure enough, the film's lush visuals will impress just about any movie goer, unless they have a stick up their ass. It is unfortunate that modern productions only rarely create movie sets as Jacob Cheung and his crack team of production and set designers did for the purposes of Battle of the Warriors. There is a classical feel and texture to the film which has become hard to find in our current day and age of blockbuster movie making. On topic at least, we found common ground.

I do not think that the remainder of the issues we tackled in our respective reviews see us adopting such contrasting views that one might believe we did not even watch the same movie, but truth be told, Battle of the Warriors certainly did not work for us in the same ways, and, in fact, there seems to be some significant elements which did not work for you at all. My chief concern, as was yours, is the idea that Cheung's picture attempts to serve the audience an anti-war message all the while revelling in war scenes. Conclusion: this contrast did not mesh well in your eyes. I take it this is what you are referring to in the concluding paragraph when, upon listing the things that displeased you, you write that 'the story is disjointed'. Maybe I can see what you are talking about, but that is only a maybe. With such lavish productions values, the director was of course capable of creating the biggest battle scenes as possible, with painstaking detail invested in making them as captivating and thrilling as imaginable. All the while, especially in the latter stages of the film, the protagonist, Gei Li, admits to wishing men did not have to go to war in order to settle their differences. There are also some scenes involving simple denizens of Liang who express their disdain about the wartime proceedings and how it affects their lives. My response to this is twofold. First and foremost, it should be emphasized that Gei Li has come to Liang for a very clear purpose, that is, to protect the city and its inhabitants. Whether correctly or not, Gei Li predicts that if the Zhao army advances any further in their quest for future domination, the city of Liang will enter a dark period. Therefore, the reasons he is engaging in battle are ultimately for positive means. His purpose is less about destroying Zhao (which would be difficult anyhow given how they largely outnumber Liang) and more concerned with the protection of Liang. Notice that Gei Li does not execute any blatantly offensive tactics during his time in Liang. Rather, he employs defensively minded tactics. He even mentions to the king in the early goings that the city will survive provided it holds for a month (if memory serves me well). We aren't talking about crushing any opposition here, we are talking about defending oneself for the purpose of survival. Now, Gei Li happens to be especially good at concocting war tactics, but so is James Bond good at kicking ass. It does not mean 007 has fun killing people (in the books he explicitly mentions that he does not take pleasure in it).

Second, Gei Li's philosophy is in stark contrast to the two opposing leaders, the King of Liang and the general of the Zhao army. Both are obstinate in their obsession with emerging victorious. Conversely, neither, by the end of the film, looks any better, smarter, or more accomplished than the other and both come across as far more stupid than Gei Li himself. Recall the final confrontation in the tower between Gei Li and Gang Yangzhong. The latter is determined to see that only one of them leaves the room, thus finalizing what would, in his mind at least, be considered clear cut victory or clear cut defeat. At this stage, after having seen so many people perish, after engaging in multiple skirmishes with the opposition, after being betrayed for defending the city, Gei Li is tired of all of this. Another important detail is that Liang is the very first city he has ever had to defend. This is his baptism, his initiation, and he has come to the conclusion that it simply is not worth it if people are to behave in such barbaric, vulgar manner to settle their points of contention. When taking that into consideration, I do not see a film plagued by a disjointed story, unable to reconcile with its two vastly different elements (being a war and anti-way film simultaneously). Quite the contrary, this is what lends Battle of the Warriors its major strengths and helps solidify the character of Gei Li, providing him with a satisfying and complete character arc.

You also make use of the word 'preachy' in your final paragraph to define how the characters behave. Now, I, like yourself, am a movie reviewer who likes to evaluate a film as is and only use comparisons in exceptional circumstances, but this is one instance where such a method is called for. So Battle of the Warriors disappointed you for being too preachy. What about Avatar, a film you are on record, my friend, for loving? Do not mistake me, I enjoy Cameron's film a fair deal, having even purchased the beautiful collector's edition blu-ray a couple of years ago. That being said, if there is one film of the two that is being more preachy, I have difficulty arriving at a different conclusion than Avatar. And if you must know why, it goes back to the previous issue I elaborated on, the fact that the film does, indeed, present what you call 'disjointed' elements. Granted, you use that term negatively in your own review whereas in this very article I argue in such a way as to put a positive spin on it because I think the disparate ingredients help the film instead of worsen it, but for simplicity's sake, let us stick with it. I'm admittedly a little confused how a film that is apparently so disjointed can also be too preachy for you. Does disjoint not, at least in some ways, mean that there are contrasting ideas and notions at play, whether they work or not being an altogether different matter of course? Just look at how the king of Liang turns out. By the end of the film, he is a far worse character, morally speaking, than the invading Gang Yangzhong despite what strong reservations we can have about the latter too. Suddenly the audience realizes that in the end, there really was no 'right' team on whose side Gei Li could have chosen to play for. Contrast this with, I'm sorry, Avatar, a film which could not be more black and white (or blue and white?) even if it tried its hardest. Chinese films do have a tendency to wrap their stories in pretty little bows which espouse some simple morals, but Battle of the Warriors does so with some tact.

On that note, it is time for me to enjoy my Sunday. A little bit of movies, a little bit of sushi, and a little bit of Celebrity Apprentice. This was really fun to write though. It always is when a worthy opponent brings out the best in you. Battle of the Warriors indeed. 

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