The new movie Warlords staring Jet Li comes out this Friday and I would have had to see it even if I hadn't been given a free preview ticket because it is a historical epic film dealing with the Taiping Rebellion! This film is really dark and normally I love darkness, but in this film I just couldn't see the point.
I just happen to have been re-reading Jonathan D. Spence's classic God's Chinese Son, The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan. There is so much truly great theatrical material in the actual history of the Taiping Rebellion that is truly inexcusable for a contemporary film to bore us by following the bond between three men of prowess--two bandit leaders and a Qing Dynasty general named Pang (Jet Li). There are a couple of OK fight scenes but we've come to expect so much more, stay home and re-watch Once Upon A Time in China if you want action.
I rarely get on my high horse and defend women, probably because none of the women I know actually need defending, but as I walked out of the film with my friend, who happens to be a female martial artist, we turned to each other and the first thing both of us said was, "What was that woman doing in the movie?" You see, the film makers wrote one of those romantic subplots into the story. It was totally irrelevant and uninteresting. You're probably thinking, yeah, whatever, but consider this: During the period of the Taiping Rebellion there were many well known female bandit and pirate leaders. That's great theatrical material that was completely neglected, no? These were powerful leaders, some of whom actually went back and forth between being pirates and being bandits--from horseback to sailing-- These were women with skills! Damn it, I want to see that movie! Not some drivel about men who fought for 5 years without taking a bath. Hello.
But there is more: During the Taiping Rebellion, copies of the Bible in Chinese were widely distributed. At one point there are so many people going into trance and becoming possessed by Jesus, Mary, Moses, God, God's wife and other characters from the Bible, that the leaders of the Taiping Rebellion have to go around from village to village authenticating Prophets--you know--is that really Jesus talking, or is it the devil pretending to be Jesus?
And this was a huge war that lasted for more than 15 years, with millions of combatants. The Taiping population was fanatical. They separated men and women into different encampments during the whole rebellion. It's possible that hey fielded millions of female troops for battle.
Would it be too much to ask that they make a better movie next time?