No less a man than Jet Li cries multiple times in this impressively gargantuan Chinese battle epic. A quasi-remake of the Shaw brothers' 1973 hit The Blood Brothers, Peter Chan's gory melodrama follows the tender bonding and tragic split of a trio of 19th-century bandits turned warlords. Yes, a "beautiful courtesan" (Xu Jinglei) is partly to blame. She nurses Li's battle-scarred General Pang back to health with soup and batted eyes despite being married to Er-Hu (Andy Lau), a gang leader who, along with sidekick Wu-Yang (Takeshi Kaneshiro), makes an ill-fated blood pact with Pang. An early bullets-vs.-arrows skirmish stretches to almost half an hour, climaxing with a rather wicked decapitation. Then, power-hungry conqueror Pang, building an army of starving heroes, begins to set his sights on Suzhou City and Nanking! Chan's old-fashioned, highly watchable mega-production comes complete with God's-eye surveys of mass carnage, the moist sounds of sword-skewering, and little or no discernible CGI. Pushing two hours (whereas the Chinese version runs slightly longer), the damn thing finally ends with a helluva knife fight—in the pouring rain, yet. Or are those Heaven's tears?
Li gets lost in the historical shuffle.
Runs at Varsity, Fri., April 16–Thurs., April 22. Rated R. 110 minutes.