Sadly, The Warrior and the Wolf has all the hallmarks of a movie that got away from its director, and from its budget. The story and its logic are very hard for the viewer to get a grasp of. Some reviewers suggest that it may be an attempt at an art movie, and this may be true, but in that case it is most assuredly an insufficient attempt. In some places, esp. at the beginning, the narrative is neither clear nor linear, and the general impression suffers greatly as a result.
We start with a situation “thousands of years ago” (nothing more specific), where nomadic tribes are fighting the forces of the Imperial Court. They fight for years, only having truces when snow makes fighting impossible. The beginning is very confusing. It is unclear who is who, and a couple of characters that are introduced here are soon completely forgotten. A warlord named Lu turns out, after a while, to be the main character. He captures a general of the opposing side, and there are about three scenes – one in the beginning, one in the middle and one towards the end – where the two are shown together, talking about killing. Lu considers killing the general. However, these scenes seem entirely detached from the main story, and are very difficult to connect to the rest. They appear to be almost irrelevant.
The main story is that Lu and his soldiers are hiding out in a village inhabited by a nearly feral tribe called the Harran. These are unkempt and wear rags, and when Lu decides to make a seemingly abandoned cottage his personal living quarters, he finds an attractive woman (Maggie Q) hiding in a hole under the floor. She is a widow, and tries to throw Lu out. Next, however, follows a long (but not very disturbing) rape scene, which turns into a series of mostly consensual love scenes (mainly, um, wolf style). Now, apparently, the Harran are wolf worshippers and believe in some kind of reincarnation cycle where they alternate between being wolves and humans. In a short and confusing scene, the woman’s cousin is caught in a wolf form, and latterly turns back into a woman. It has to do with some curse, related to a solar eclipse (like in Ladyhawke).
Several of these scenes are never clarified or followed up on. The story turns into the tale of the two lovers, and how it brings shame to both of them to be seen (and to copulate) with each other. A central myth of the Harran is that if two wolves are seen copulating, they will be so ashamed that they have to kill those who saw them. And that is basically the set-up for the ending, which in my opinion makes no sense and is not satisfying.
The movie proceeds very, very slowly and fails to engage the viewer. It is based on a book, and it is possible the movie makes more sense to those who know the book, but a movie is also supposed to make sense on its own, and this one really doesn’t.
The blu-ray disc gives as great a screen picture as you would expect. The English captions are passable, but have the minor imperfections often seen in movies coming out of Asia.
The special features consist in a trailer and a Making Of feature, in which we learn that the book it is based on is a very thin one. The director talks about the mountain landscape being an important part of the movie, and perhaps it would have been more noticeable if the narrative had seemed more coherent. But pictures most often need words in order to tell a story, and to me these pictures did not make enough sense on their own.
The Warrior and the Wolf is out on DVD and Blu-ray 30th May 2011.
Director: Zhuangzhuang Tian
Cast: Maggie Q, Jo Odagiri, Chung Hua Tou
Runtime: 101 min
Country: China / Hong Kong / Japan / Singapore / USA