The Warrior and the Wolf -- Film Review


Bottom Line: Disconnected Chinese costumer is a sexy fable with sumptuous visuals.

ROME -- In this epic wartime romance set in western China 2,000 years ago, the main attractions are the visual pageantry of the landscape and the sexual chemistry between highly photogenic protagonists -- Japanese star Joe Odagiri and Hawaiian actress Maggie Q, as a chic young warrior and a wolf-woman, respectively.

The evergreen fascination of Chinese costumers pulls "The Warrior and the Wolf" through some seriously incomprehensible scripting and a surprisingly short supply of exciting effects and battle scenes. Beyond Asian territories, few are likely to have the privilege of enjoying cinematographer Wang Yu's elegantly lensing on the big screen, and will have to settle for video.

Veteran writer-director Tian Zhuangzhuang's early interest in China's ethnic minorities ("The Horse Thief") resurfaces in this magical genre tale, based on a novel by Yasushi Inoue. But film is more a series of anecdotes than a tied-together story geared to emotional build-up.

Entire chapters of the novel are summarized in on-screen type, setting the scene in the Kumlan mountains, where fierce nomadic tribes have long been battling the army of the Imperial Court. Curiously, winter snows are so heavy that the war has to be put on hold; soldiers go home to wait for the spring thaw and more fighting.

Lu (Joe Odagiri) is a simple, good-looking shepherd who distinguishes himself by adopting a wolf cub. One day he crosses paths with the formidable general Zhang (played by Taiwanese actor Tou Chung-hua). Though it's never spelled out, viewers will sense a strong mutual attraction between the two men, without which the ending is incomprehensible.

Under Zhang's tutoring, Lu is quickly transformed into another bloodthirsty fighter lusting to kill. In the rare battle scenes, the barbaric cruelty and axe-swinging of yesteryear is accompanied by heavy grunts and groans. When Gen. Zhang loses a battle, he expects his superiors to execute him, but evidently they don't, or he wouldn't be back in the final scenes.

Time passes and Lu is now a commander. He has also lost a big battle and expects the worst on his return. When a heavy snowfall catches his retreating troops, they take shelter in a tribal village inhabited by the cursed Harran people, who live by night and in the daytime hide away in wolf-like dens.

In the hut he has appropriated, Lu stumbles over a bundle of fur and discovers a beautiful, wild Harran widow (Maggie Q) underneath. When he rapes her, she announces she will be turned into a wolf for copulating with a non-Harran. The film's final third is happily devoted to the passionate animal-like couplings and secret, forbidden love between a man and a woman who have no future and nothing to lose.

There seems to be a lot of missing narrative in this visually sumptuous production, which is enjoyable enough as a sexy fable. Odagiri and Maggie Q are bigger-than-life performers, able to compete with the extraordinary landscapes, and endow these heroes of yore with dignity and fascination, if not emotional depth.

Venue: Rome Film Festival

Production companies: BDI Films, Sky Eagle Worldwide Holdings
Cast: Joe Odagiri, Maggie Q, Tou Chung-hua
Director/screenwriter: Tian Zhuangzhuang
Based on a novel by: Yasushi Inoue
Producer: Bill Kong, Hao Li, Satoru Ogura, Han Sanping
Director of photography: Wang Yu
Production designer: Liu Weixin
Music: Evgeny Galperine, Sasha Galperine, Du Wei, Zhao Li
Costume designer: Emi Wada
Editor: Wenders Li
Sales: Fortissimo Films
No rating, 104 minutes