A story of love and betrayal that doesn't rely on special effects to shine A powerful film of impressive craftsmanship and energy, The Warlords is the biggest and best local film this year. Set against the chaotic backdrop of the mid-18th-century Taiping rebellion, the story tells of three blood brothers - General Pang, Zhao Erhu and Jiang Wuyang (Jet Li Lianjie, Andy Lau Tak-wah and Takeshi Kaneshiro respectively). They bond together for survival but their friendship eventually collapses under the weight of power, lust, jealousy and politics as they become successful military leaders. Inspired by Chang Cheh's 1973 martial arts classic Blood Brothers, director Peter Chan Ho-sun's first attempt at both an action movie and a non-contemporary setting is no ordinary Chinese period film. Unlike, for example, Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower, there are no ludicrously extravagant costumes or action moves that defy the law of gravity. Instead Chan relies on good storytelling and relates a realistic and human story about the corruption of the human soul amid extreme and difficult times. Everything in The Warlords is raw: from the characters' emotions and ragged costumes, to the majestic battle scenes that are perhaps the most brutal and spectacular in recent Chinese cinema. Even the love scenes are more heart-wrenching than romantic. Chan deliberately distances his movie from the cliches seen in many recent martial arts epics made for international markets. In a sense, he is repairing the damage caused by the likes of Zhang to the wuxia genre, an important part of the Chinese cultural heritage. Good wuxia films are stories about ordinary people striving to maintain their honour and dignity amid adversity rather than fantasies about sword-wielding freaks. Li's character is a complex man torn between his grand ambitions and his ties to his two adopted and naive brothers who know little about politics. His multi-dimensional role cannot be categorised as 'good' or 'bad', but that intricacy works for Li. Freed from the shackles of his hero image, the martial artist delivers his best performance since playing the kung fu hero Wong Fei-hung in Tsui Hark's Once Upon A Time in China series in the 1990s. The Warlords is a war film with a strong anti-war message. It shows the world as a bleak place where people kill each other for gains as diverse as food and power. A hero is someone with the moral courage to stick to his principles, even when, by doing so, his chances of survival are nil. Sticking by his filmmaking principles, Chan has created a masterpiece of Chinese cinema and is the biggest hero here. An absolute must-see.