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  Publicity Stills of "A Battle of Wits"
Courtesy of Shaw

Genre: Action/Drama
Director: Jacob Cheung
Starring: Andy Lau, Ahn Sung-ki, Wang Zhiwen, Fan Bingbing, Wu Chi-lung, Choi Si-won
RunTime: -
Released By: Shaw & Scorpio East
Rating: PG
Official website:

Opening Day: 23 November 2006


A lavishly-produced historical drama from China, A Battle of Wits tells the complex story of a lone warrior whose mission is to save a besieged walled city from the savage attack of a 25,000 strong army.

Late in the 3rd century, when China comprised seven rival kingdoms, Ge-Li – an remarkable savior in rags – stands alone in an endangered city waiting to fulfill his destiny.

It is an impossible battle however you look at it. But here is a lone man willing to climb every mountain and cross every river just to get to the city of Liang with only one aim: to deliver Liang from the overwhelming threat of the Kingdom of Zhao in her battle against the Kingdom of Yan.

Ge Li is the last Mohist in the Warring States period of China. Facing him in the field are thousands of swift chariots ad many thousands more mail-clad soldiers. His battle will be the loneliest battle in the history of war. No battle has ever been this unmatched in strength.

Would this one man alone be able to change the destiny of Liang? On the surface, this is a battle for which bloodshed would be inevitable. But in reality it is also a battle of wits. A struggle between power and desire: between a ruler and those being ruled. A message of anti-war through war itself.

Movie Review:

We will probably never know what historical warring states looked like, and how it feels to live during that era. However, thanks to history books, and most importantly, movies, we get an idea how people lived then.

Also, we get to learn some important and valuable historical lessons in the process.

But alas, historical dramas are gradually becoming computer-generated spectaculars with heavier emphasis on showing off what technology can do, rather than making sure that the movie flows with a sturdy storyline.

Imagine how relieved we were, after viewing this 2-odd hour China-Korea-Japan production which not only boasts of countless magnificent battle scenes, but also a strongly anchored plot.

Based on a mid-90s manga, the expensive production tells the story of one noble man who goes all out to guard a city from a massive horde of enemy army. Along the way, he faces obstacles in the forms of a selfish ruler, traitorous townsmen and most crucially, his own beliefs about peace and survival.

With US$16 million thrown into the budget, it is easy to lose the production to senseless special effects and fancy mindless postproduction. But director Jacob Cheung makes sure that his film does not end up like Chen Kaige’s laughable The Promise (2005), by paying particular attention to the pacing of the plot.

The movie takes it own time to develop the screenplay, and this may shun away some less patient viewers. But we’d recommend that you stay with the film, because of its gradual buildup of character personalities, interspersed with impressive battle scenes starring many soldiers, horses, bows and arrows.

And most of them aren’t even computer-generated.

Considering that Chueng’s director filmography consists of mainly affecting human dramas like 2001’s Midnight Fly starring Simon Yam and the late Anita Mui, as well as 1997’s Intimates featuring Carina Lau and Charlie Yeung, this latest big-budget work of his is definitely a commendable feat.

The Hong Kong director would probably want to thank his reliable cast as well. While we have never been too impressed with Andy Lau’s acting; his toned-down performance as the lone warrior is pleasantly well-portrayed.

But our favourite performance comes from veteran Shanghai actor Wang Zhiwen who plays the unwise ruler of the town that is under siege from a strong army. His stubborn and selfish ways comes through effectively, with just a proud swagger or a condescending look in the eyes. These subtle gestures are enough for you to detest his character.

Other familiar faces like Taiwanese pop singer Nicky Wu, Chinese actress Fan Bingbing and Koreans Ahn Sung Ki and Choi Si Won round up this well-represented Asian cast.

What really completes this movie is the noble message behind it. Thought-provoking notions about universal peace, philanthropic human nature, innocence and victimization are raised throughout. These concepts keep prodding you at the back of your mind while your eyes feast on the visually-glorious captured on the films lens.

At the end of the day, the movie may not provide you with answers to those questions. But perhaps, that is the most valuable lesson you can take home after stepping out of the cinema.

Movie Rating:

(A sincere historical mega production with values that resonate with today’s viewers)

Review by John Li


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