Tian di ying xiong (Warriors of Heaven and Earth) (2003)

 

 

 

Director:     Ping He. 

Starring:     Wen Jiang (Lieutenant Li),  Kiichi Nakai (Lai Qi),  Xueqi Wang (Master An),  Wei Zhao (Wen Zhu),  Bagen Hasi (Cao Jin),  Tao Ho (Ma Gun),  Linian Lu (Wu Lao'Er),  Deshun Wang (Old Diehard),  Haibin Li (Zao Zimo),  Yeerjiang Mahepushen (Master An's Servant),  Chuangao Hou (Guard),  Yun Zhou (Jue Hui (The Monk),  Wei Li (Di Hu). 

an imperial agent has to escort a caravan carrying an extremely valuable item to the capital, while fighting off the Turks and their allies

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the film. 

A pretty young woman named Wen Zhu says that Sir Lai Xi was her father’s friend. Her father was General Wen who died at the Battle of Frontier Pass. Lai Xi was an imperial agent on a secret mission. His task was to eliminate fugitives in the western regions. He came originally from Japan. The Tang Emperor told him that if he fulfilled the mission, he may allow him to return to Japan. They send him off in style by giving him the imperial sword.

Ten years ago Lai Xi stationed himself at the town of Frontier Pass. General Wen, her father, was in charge of the area. Lai Xi has been in China for some twenty-five years. And now he has been given the task of escorting a caravan from India to the capital of China and Wen Zhu will be going along with him and the caravan. After that, Lai Xi can finally go home.

Along the way Lai Xi is to kill the outlaw Butcher Li. He was a lieutenant in the army and refused to kill unarmed civilians. When he resisted his buddies joined with him and fought off the soldiers who were trying to kill Butcher Li. This resistance was considered an uprising and Butcher Li was condemned to death. The Emperor has been looking for him and his buddies ever since. Now Butcher Li has reappeared and Lai Xi is on his trail. And Wen Zhu is along for the ride.

In one of the towns Lai Xi kills a man who resists arrest. A man named Master An with his two assistants applauds Lai Xi saying: "Well done!"

The Iron-Gate Pass army delivers the caravan to the troops of Frontier Pass. Now Lai Xi is to take the caravan to the 18-Mile Fortress. Along the way, a huge sand storm comes upon the caravan. Most of the men die. The only ones left are a very young Buddhist monk, a soldier, Wen Zhu and Lai Xi. They are able to reach the next town. There the two assistants of Master An demand to know where Lai Xi is from. The bald one hits Lai Xi in the stomach and the agent doubles-over. The two men then tell Lai Xil to get lost!

Lai Xi moves on with the caravan. They are heading north first. The imperial agent has learned that one of Butcher Li’s comrades, One-eyed Cao, lives at Western Lake. He leaves Wen Zhu in the custody of a trustworthy man and heads off for Western Lake. As he prepares to leave, Master An tells him that he is an imperial agent. Lai Xi asks him why does he say this? Master An knows a lot of things. He also knows that four men are waiting outside to kill Lai Xi. The four men try to kill Lai Xi, but instead he slays them.

Lt. Li drops in on his old friends at Western Lake. His comrades want to go with him, but Li tells them to stay home with their families. Li runs into an old man named Old Diehard and a young boy Di Hu. He asks them if they want a job. They are definitely interested.

Suddenly Lai Xi arrives. Butcher Li says he will give Lai Xi three chances to kill him. If Lai Xi fails, then Li will take the caravan to the capital and then the two of them will fight to the death. Lai Xi agrees. They fight, but Li is not killed by the three different attacks launched by his opponent. Li tells Lai Xi that he will see him at the capital.

Butcher tells his friends that he is moving on. But he does not want them to come with him. He doesn’t want to make any widows of his buddies’ wives. Old Diehard and Di Hu are going with him.

Nine men dressed in black come to see Master An. They are from Lord Khan, the head of the Turks. Lord Khan wants Master An to capture a caravan coming from India. There will be a handsome reward for him. Master An says if he is successful, he wants the Khan’s daughter in marriage.

Master An hones his sword fighting skills with a wooden sword against assailants armed with real swords. A little later he learns that Lord Khan has agreed to give his daughter to him if he captures the caravan.

The caravan is headed to Big Steed Outpost. Li and Old Diehard head into the outpost. Everyone seems to hide from them and the two know something is up. Master An shows up with his assistants and requests that either Li hire Master An’s men or let him purchase the caravan. Li won’t accept either choice. So the fight is on.

Li and Old Diehard kill quite a few of their opponents, but have to run for it to stay alive. They are surprised when they run right into Wen Zhu. She tells them to come with her. She shows them a way out of their trap.

The two fellows get cornered again. From a second balcony porch Lai Xi asks Li if he needs any help. Li says he does not. So Lai Xi just watches. The two fellows are able to get away.

Lai Xi stops Master An from following Li and the others. He says this is still Tang territory and as long as there are no officials, he is in charge of the territory. Master An backs down.

Back at the caravan the group of Li’s comrades shows up, reporting for duty. There is One-Eyed Cao, Ma Gun, Zimo and Baldy. From the mountains Lai Xi keeps an eye on the caravan.

Lord Khan’s men take over the outpost.

The bald assistant of Master An tells his employer that the caravan is going to Red Rock Gorge with half a dozen guards. With a small army Master An gives chase to the caravan.

Lai Xi goes back to the outpost. He sees many civilian bodies hanging from ropes. He rescues Wen Zhu. They are spotted by two guards. Lai Xi kills them and they put on their black uniforms and easily leave the outpost.

The caravan is entering a perfect place for an ambush. The men are very uneasy and watchful. And soon enough they are attacked by the forces under Master An. Lai Xi sees the fight below him. He tells Wen Zhu to stay behind, while he goes down to the valley floor. The caravan makes its way past the initial forces of Master An, but now they are face to face with Master An and his larger group of men. Both sides charge each other.

Master An kills Baldy with a crossbow. Wen Zhu comes down to the valley floor. They get past Master An and use two camels to block the enemy at the narrowest point of the valley. Li takes the crew to a underground cemetery in a huge cave. Wen Zhu comments that Butcher Li pretends not to recognize her.

Master An wonders where could they be hiding? But he knows his opponents will be in desperate need of water. He sends his bald assistant to poison the Bitter Well.

At the underground cemetery the men begin to wonder why are the "bandits" so determined to capture the entire caravan, especially after having lost so many men. They start thinking that they must have some very important in the caravan that the other men want very badly. And Lai Xi thinks he know what it is. He asks the young monk to show him the miniature pagoda.

The pagoda is made of gold. It is a bit bell-shaped and there are multiple bells, one inside the other. The monk keeps removing the outer bells until he gets to what he says is a relic of the Buddhist saint Sakyamuni. When he lifts the final covering from the relic, a series of concentric rings of light shine through the entire cave.

The monk explains that the western regions are mostly Buddhists. With the relic, all the Buddhist kingdoms could be controlled by one firm ruler.

The men give Di Hu some money and send him home. Li sends Zimo to the Bitter Well to pretend the caravan is headed there. The group has two choices. To go north to 18-Mile Fortress or to head to an isolated fort ten days travel from the underground cemetery. They choose the later after Old Diehard tells them he knows where there is an underground river.

Old Diehard and Zimo are send out to see if they can find the underground river. Wen Zhu definitely likes Li. She goes to Lai Xi to ask him if he is really going to kill Li? Lai Xi answers: "It’s my duty."

Zimo and Old Diehard arrive back with the caravan. They did not find the underground river. And Master An is still on their trail.

Master An and his men see smoke about eighty miles away. They break camp and travel through the night to catch up with the caravan.

The next day Master An catches up with the caravan. Li puts the camels in a circle with the men and Wen Zhu in the center. Master An charges with about thirty men. It’s a tough fight, but the caravaners are able to force Master An to retreat. Only Old Diehard got wounded and this in the leg. The caravan also lost more of its precious water in the fight. Wen Zhu develops a fever and needs water badly.

Master An and his men come back. They throws two sacks of water out in the middle of no-man’s land between the two groups of fighters. One of the men of the caravan goes out to retrieve the water, but is shot in the leg with an arrow. He continues on and picks up a sack only to have an arrow shot through it. He picks up the other sack and turns to bring it back. He receives an arrow into his back. He is able to throw the water sack to the fellows, but again an arrow goes through the thrown sack. The retriever falls dead in no man’s land.

The attack begins. During the fight Old Diehard is killed. As he falls to his knees his sword is thrust into the ground. Water from the underground river bursts out into a geyser of water. Master An says to himself: "It’s the will of the Gods!" He withdraws.

The caravan goes on to Lonesome Fortress. There are only a handful of soldiers now guarding the armory. With the weapons in the armory they set up a good defense.

Now the Turks attack the fortress. This time Wen Zhu is actively fighting. She fires a crossbow, the catapults and the rockets. The Turks get into the outer fort, but the arrow rockets kill so many of them that they have to give up on trying to get through the gate to the inner fort. The defenders drive out many of the invaders by using burning oil that sets many of them on fire. Surrounded by the enemy, Zimo is killed.

The Turks come with a battering ram to knock open the inner gate. Another of Li’s comrades is killed and Lai Xi gets hit with a sword across the back. Master An kills several of the defenders. Li is able to kill the bald assistant of Master An, but Master An is able to deliver a mortal wound to Lai Xi. He also kills the monk. Master An then splits open the miniature pagoda. Lai Xi dies. Concentric rings of light waft over the area.  The rings of light heal the wounds of the monk and brings him back to life long enough for him to kill Master An. Then the light reopens the monk’s wound and he returns to being dead. All the swords of the enemy just melt away. The Turk commander is killed by rocket arrows when he reaches for the Buddhist relic.

At the capital Wen Zhu speaks with Li. Li tells her he is going back west. She tells him that she will go with him.

The remains of the Sakyamuni Buddha were settled within the Imperial Palace. From this time forward the Tang Dynasty enjoyed an era of unparalleled peace and prosperity which would become known as the Gold Age in the history of China.

 

Pretty good movie.  There's not much wrong with it, but there's not much right with it either.  And there's not much history either.  It's mostly action without much interesting drama.  Heroes fight the bad guys.  That's not much of a story. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

The Tang Dynasty

618 – 907 – period of the Tang Dynasty. It was preceded by the Sui Dynasty. It was regarded as a high point of Chinese history. The capital as at Chang’an (today’s Xi’an), which at that time was the most populous city in the world. It was founded by the Li family.

The Dynasty had to content with nomadic power dominating Inner Asia and trade along the Silk Road.

Buddhism became popular. (Later Buddhists were persecuted by the state.)

630 – from the Turks the Tang armies captured areas of the Ordos Desert, modern-day Inner Mongolia province, and southern Mongolia.

639-c.679 – the Silk Road reopened when Hou Junji (d. 643) conquered the West.

640s and 650s – Tang Dynasty conquered and subdued Central Asia

670-692 – a long string of conflicts with Tibet over territories in the Tarim Basin.

690-705 – the dynasty was interrupted briefly by the Second Zhou Dynasty when Empress Wu Zetian seized the throne, becoming the first and only Chinese empress regnant, ruling in her own right.

712-756 – rule of Emperor Xuanzong, who invited Buddhist and Daoist monks and clerics of both religions to his court.

755-763 – the An shi Rebellion (aka, the Tianbao Rebellion) spanned the reign of three Tang emperors. Some 36 million died in the rebellion, the highest death toll until World War II. It was the result of popular discontent with the extravagant Tang court following a series of natural disasters.

763 - the Tibetans captured the capital of China for fifteen days during the An Shi Rebellion.

9th century – rise of regional military governors known as jiedushi.

821 – peace finally reached between the Tang and Tibet as they sign a formal peace treaty.

874-884 – the Huang Chao Rebellion led to the sacking of both Chang'an and Luoyang, and took a decade to suppress.

 

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