The Warlords (Blu-ray Review)

I remember a few years ago when the studios were billing Jet Li’s Fearless as his final “epic” film.  I then saw the trailer for The Warlords over a year ago and was kind of surprised that Jet Li was doing another…”epic” film.  You gotta do what you gotta do, right?  I was also surprised to see that this film was released almost three years ago in late 2007.  I am aware that there was a U.K. blu-ray release sometime ago.  Magnolia has acquired the U.S. home video distribution rights to this film.


Pang (Li) survives the massacre of his soldiers by playing dead in the pile of bodies strewn about  in a field.  Shortly thereafter, Pang joins a group of bandits led by Er Hu (Lau) and Wu Yang (Kaneshiro) and helps them defend a village from oncoming attackers.  After the attack, the three swear an oath to become “blood brothers,” and pledge their loyalty to each other until death takes them.

As usual with these tales, a love triangle, in addition to some political scandal will be their undoing.  Pang and Er Hu get involved with a courtesan (Jinglei).  I guess the problem that I had with the film early on was that it telegraphed itself too early.  Ten minutes in, I already knew how all of this was going to end.  Cliches are spread throughout, like Li’s character gaining power and swearing that he will never fall like those that have fallen around him.  He will lead with integrity but will never rule with cruelty.  Um, no he won’t.

In a sense The Warlords is somewhat of a rags to riches tale, but for the bad guys.  The film is set in the 1860s, during the Taiping Rebellion in the late Qing Dynasty in China.  The production, costume design all come through in vivid detail.  This IS 1860’s China.  It also takes place in the span of about decade or so, but in my opinion, doesn’t frame the passage of time very well.  I’ll say for the occasional beard, hairdo, or spoken dialogue that tells the viewer that they just fast forwarded five years, you wouldn’t of known that.

Nit picking aside, the battles are awesome, and so is the hand to hand combat.  I like seeing Jet Li dishing out violence in full rated R glory.  One scene in particular made my jaw drop.  Let’s just say you really haven’t seen old school violence until you’ve seen what a spear can do to ten to twelve legs with one fell swoop.  In addition to spear and horse violence, we will get into some up close and personal Braveheart style ultra violence.  I guess it’s safe to say that if it weren’t for the violence, my rating of the film would have been lower.  The Warlords is just under two hours.  I’m sure if the film was given some room to breathe it would be a great companion piece to Red Cliff, because Red Cliff it ain’t.


The Warlords is presented in a 1080p 16X9 (2.35:1) format preserving the director’s original aspect ratio.  This is a tricky one.  The Warlords does not have a bad transfer per se, but a very inconsistent one.  This is the main reason it gets a low score in the video department.  We’ll have one scene that is beautifully composed, then it will switch over to something that is a grainy mess.  I understand what they are trying to convey, but if that’s what the filmmakers wanted it, they should have stuck with it.  This is most visible during the fight scenes.  Another issue is the contrast.  The contrast has been blown out giving the film a very foggy appearance.  I have heard rumblings that two masters exist for The Warlords, so that may also be one of the reasons why this particular transfer is lackluster.


The Warlords is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.  Two audio tracks are included-a Mandarin track (original) and an English track (dubbed).  I hate dubbed films, so I recommend the original language version with English subtitles.  Now where The Warlords fails in the video department, it surely succeeds in the audio one.  Dialogue is clean and crisp with no drop outs of any kind detected.  The surround channels faithfully reproduce the ambient nuances in the back, and the LFE will get a workout during the battle scenes.  You will definitely feel every cannonball, horse gallop, and spear during those scenes.

Special Features

The Warlords contains several featurettes and deleted scenes. All of the featurettes are in standard definition with English subtitles.

  • The Warlords 117 Days: A Production Journal – A compressed edition of what went into making the film.  As the title implies, it’s a four month production journal.
  • The Warlords: Behind the Scenes Special – A behind the scenes making of special.
  • Deleted Scenes – A collection of deleted and extended scenes. They can be watched individually or altogether.
  • HDNet: A Look at The Warlords – Standard Magnolia  EPK making of.
  • International Trailer – The Warlords international trailer.

Final Thoughts 

Certainly not one Jet Li’s best films, The Warlords remains a curious exercise in Li’s filmography.  Did it really need to be made in the first place?  I’m not really sure what I took away from watching the film.  Awesome battles scenes aside, the rest of the film could have used a bit of a polish and expanded on certain plot points.  The Warlords does have over thirty minutes of deleted scenes.  If they ever release a director’s cut, here’s hoping they restore that footage. I’m more or less on neutral ground as far as a recommendation.  Rent it, see it, make up your own mind.


Bring home The Warlords on Blu-ray!



Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

3 Responses to “The Warlords (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Brian White

    So in other words…this is kind of like an Asian mobster movie set in elder times? Glad to hear they went old school with the fighting scenes. Disappointed to see the video so bad though.

  2. Gerard Iribe

    I was shocked by the video. The fights are ace.

  3. Gregg

    If I can get a hold of a rental, that’ll be my viewing of this film. I am still waiting for the price to drop a bit on Red Cliff. Based on your previous review of that film, I am sold! Blind buy here I come. I will say, China’s film industry has gotten significantly better over the last decade or so over what it used to turn out for the masses. Films like House of Flying Daggers and Red Cliff have garnered a fair amount of positive press, and while I have yet to see Red Cliff, Daggers was pretty good.