BLU-RAY REVIEW: Warriors of the Rainbow
Taiwan's warring history hits home video in gorgeous hi-def...
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I may have just watched one of the best foreign films of the year and, as oddly as it sounds, I'd heard little about Warriors of the Rainbow until only recently. Produced by John Woo and directed by Te-Sheng Wei, Warriors of the Rainbow has seemingly slipped under the radar of many a film fans. However, its gorgeous cinematography, dynamic action, and unique and shocking true story have quickly made this film a favorite of mine in 2012.
Now I've seen plenty of foreign films, but few based on recent historical events which took place in the film's native country. Thus, for Warriors of the Rainbow to tell a story set in the early 20th century during the Japanese rule of Taiwan is both interesting and engaging. The film follows the Seediq, a native tribe of people who were used as slave labor and workers during Imperial Japan's occupation of Taiwan. Forced to change their way of life, the Seediq faced cultural extinction. Thus, when a seemingly simple misunderstanding ignites a rebellion, it's up to a tribal chief and a band of warriors to regain their people's dignity.
Tribal chief Mouna Rudo (played brilliantly by non-actor Lin Ching-Tai) has watched over the years as his people change drastically for the worse. Forced to leave their hunting grounds, work for next to nothing, change their customs, and lose their cultural identity, Mouna Rudo sees the Seediq seemingly become a shadow of their past selves. Unfortunately, this is explained little and seems somewhat difficult to pick up at the film's beginning. Viewers watch as native tribes battle one another for hunting ground and game and tribal feuds find causalities on every side. However, this changes once the Japanese, a common enemy, arrive and take over.
Warriors of the Rainbow develops with little need for back story as it becomes evident this Chinese film villainizes the Japanese, who at this time in history had essentially made themselves rulers of Taiwan. Reminiscent of what early settlers did to the native tribes in America, Warriors of the Rainbow is a film that'll strike a cord with many viewers due to its universal tale of greed, lust for power, and ever expanding nations looking for more.
Like many stories of native peoples standing up to newcomers intent on total destruction, Warriors of the Rainbow ends like it sadly must. There is unfortunately no way spears and swords can defend against bombs and bullets. However, it does make for a great story as we all love the underdog. Likewise, it provides viewers with an impression of the Seediq culture and its view of bravery. Viewers will no doubt find Warriors of the Rainbow strikingly similar to 300 as the Seediq, like the Spartans, fight and die bravely at the hands of a larger, better armed, and more technologically modern military force. No doubt history has and will continue to repeat itself and, in cases like those mentioned above, it makes for brilliant stories to capture on film.
The domestic blu-ray release of Warriors of the Rainbow, which clocks in at 2 1/2 hours, gorgeously captures the native jungles and the multiple chase and battle scenes in the forests in 1080p, making the brilliant, bold colors come to life on screen. Lush, immense, and breathtaking at times, the film's scenery feature everything one could hope for in a masterpiece like this. Sadly, some of the film's CGI comes across as low budget and stands out as almost hokey. That, thankfully, doesn't distract too much from the film's overall presentation. Thankfully, the film's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio is impressive and delivers an excellent audio experience. The ambient background noise is faithful to the film's settings, the gorgeous music by Ricky Ho is inviting, and the dialogue (which I've read is actual Seediq dialect, Japanese, and Korean and not Chinese, as it's labeled) is clear and crisp.
As for special features, the domestic release unfortunately features few. Included are a 6 minute "Making Of" featurette, a 22 minute "Behind the Scenes" featurette, and a 2 minute "Make Up and Visual Effects" featurette. Other bonuses include the domestic and international trailers for the film. For those looking for a good dose more of bonus material (and movie), the international release of Warriors of the Rainbow runs a full 4 1/2 hours in length and actually includes all of the above as well as a 2+ hour filmmaking diary entitled "Epic Journey of the Warriors" which explains the film's development, creation, and release.
Overall, the domestic release of Warriors of the Rainbow, while not the full story told by the director, does an excellent job of delivering an engaging tale filled with emotion, violence, and glory. The ending is no real surprise and, if anything, the film will at least give viewers a history lesson on Taiwan and its brutal past. That said, there's no way you'll be bored watching Warriors of the Rainbow nor will you soon forget the experience of watching the deadly Seediq warriors decapitate so many Japanese soldiers.
Warriors of the Rainbow is available on DVD and blu-ray now wherever fine home video is sold both in a theatrical version and in a international version.
- Jess C. Horsley