Warrior Lanling
China 1995
Directed by Sherwood Xuehua Hu.

A cross between QUEST FOR FIRE and CONAN THE BARBARIAN, this is a fantasy adventure for those who like 'em sweaty and grunting. Lanling (Lorenzo Callender) is the warrior of the tribe, the son of the high priestess (Yang Liping). But he is such a girly boy that the rival Black Eagle clan laugh at him and refuse to fight. He runs away, pouting, they rape and pillage at their pleasure. Finally he has a frightening mask made, to wear into battle. He strikes terror into his enemies, but after claiming victory, he discovers that he cannot take the mask off. But of course he can't take the mask off! That's the way these things work, as anyone who has seen the classic Japanese horror ONIBABA can tell you.

WARRIOR LANLING is quite unlike anything I've ever seen before out of Mainland China. It's set in a prehistoric time, when animism is predominant and everything is signified by ritual, from combat to carving to marriage to sex. In fact its a wonder anyone gets anything done at all when you look at how much ceremonial drumming, dancing, and chanting goes on. Special note must be made of the weird, tribal music created by He Xuntian -- haunting and usually just strange enough to come from another time. Dialogue is extremely spare, perhaps one or two spoken lines per scene. Instead, everything is expressed through movement, through dance.

Happily the lead dancer, the high priestess, the warrior's mother, is played by Yang Liping, a world renowned dancer (which means, other dancers know who she is). She is incredibly beautiful, and her movements are mesmeric. A large amount of screen time is devoted to her dancing, and by the end of the movie I just kept thinking they could have shown a little more. She's called the "Peacock Princess" in China for her dance representing that bird, and you can see some of her bird-like movements in the various ritual performances of WARRIOR LANLING.

Lorenzo Callendar is a mushy faced pretty boy and one can only relate to the Black Eagle clan when they start mocking him. But once he puts on the mask, he transforms into a violent demon, and though he occassionally overdoes it with the growling and howling, for the most part his performance is suitable for a flat, simplistic character of legend.

WARRIOR LANLING tries to bring to life a prehistoric age in which the people of China spoke a different language and were led by mysterious, shamanistic women. But all the music and dancing, while attractive and interesting on their own, undermine the seriousness of the tale and make it feel a bit like a Broadway musical (I half expected to hear THE LION KING themesong kick in at some point). Still, director Sherwood Xuehua Hu has crafted an altogether great looking film, in a spectacular mountain setting, it simply lacks sufficient substance to go with its overabundant style.

WARRIOR LANLING is from 1995, but at last released on DVD. Dialog is subtitled in English.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on September 02, 2005.

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