the Kingdom of Zhao, all the men have left for war and Lady
Li, wife of the absent lord says victory will soon bring their
men back home. When two enemy deserters invade the kingdom,
they poretend to be Zhao soldiers and improvise a tale for
Lady Li describing Zhao's victory. Word of the supposed victory
spreads rapidly throughout the town causing misplaced optimism
among the women until the truth is revealed and despair and
horror emerge. Set during the Warring States period, the film
is divided into five sections which corresponds to the Chinese
system of elements: metal (aka gold), wood, water, fire and
We do not usually associate war with pretty
images. Blood, decapitation, loss, grim and dread are the
words that come to mind when the word “war” is
mentioned. War movies also do not bring pretty images with
them. Think Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down and The Thin
Red Line – no bright and vibrant colours to cheer you
up, right? There’s a war going out there after all,
and why would anyone link the unhappy event with lush and
Well, the Mainland Chinese would, apparently.
Six years after making the poetic Warriors
of Heaven and Earth, He Ping writes and directs this drama
which tells (very aptly described on the DVD cover here) a
story involving three years of war, two soldiers on the run
and one long hard look at the absurdities of life.
Set during the Warring States period, all
men from the Zhao Kingdom have gone to fight for their state.
The regal Lady Li believes that the men will return victorious.
When two enemies infiltrate into the Zhao Kingdom and pretends
to be locals, they spread tales of Zhao’s triumphant
moments at the war front, and hope can be felt throughout
the kingdom. When the truth is revealed, things fall apart
in ways unimaginable.
Those looking for action packed battle scenes
will be disappointed, because adrenaline powered war scenes
are sorely lacking here. This is actually not very surprising,
because judging from the DVD cover, you should be expecting
an artistic impression of the war more than anything else.
The cinematography by Zhao Xiaoshi is top notch, showcasing
the titular gorgeous golden wheat fields – they look
too dazzling to be true. That’s probably a grudge we
urbanites have to live with.
As for the story, the casual viewer may easily
lose himself in the almost surrealistic storytelling approach.
The lyrical method of telling the story in five sections according
to the Chinese system of elements (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire,
Earth) is appreciated to a certain extent. The existentialist
mood throughout the film’s 104 minutes may be overbearing
at times, but there is nothing an engaging cast cannot save.
Thankfully, director He has this in place here.
Huang Jue and Du Jiayi are as hilarious as
they are heartrending in their portrayals of the two enemy
deserters. The spot on chemistry between the two men is the
highlight of the film. Then there is the luminous Fan Bingbing
who lights up every scene she is in, complementing the already
fine looking cinematography. Supporting roles played by established
Chinese actors Wang Xueqi and Wang Zhiwen add weight to the
film is no doubt a visual treat, but to appreciate its finer
aspects would require some efforts from its viewers.
The visual transfer of the movie is fine, and it is presented
in its original Mandarin audio track.
Review by John Li
Posted on 21 September 2010