A Battle of Wits brings to the screen the story of a warrior during 370 BC known for his defensive skills who takes up the task of seeing to the protection of a city faced with superior enemy forces. This is a beautiful movie on a delicate and difficult subject. There are no bad guys and good guys. The philosiphies and principles behind what makes one decide to fight, kill and make war is discussed by the main protaganists in the movie. The city-state of Liang is about to be overrun by the overwhelming forces of the kingdom of Zhao, who in turn are on their way to wage war on the kingdom of Yan in China’s Northeast. The city’s only hope lies in the arrival of a military contingent from the Mo-Tsu. However, when only man arrives morale begins to falter.
I can finally rejoice to the heavens for finally witnessing an Asian war picture that has a great plot as well. I’ve seen a few in my days but they are fairly few in between and I usually go months before seeing one executed properly. The typical pattern for historical dramas are gradually becoming CG spectaculars with heavier emphasis on showing off what technology can do, rather than making sure that the movie flows with a sturdy storyline. Battle of Wits is essentially a tale of two halves. The first half of the film depicts Ge Li’s arrival, rising influence, and initial clashes with Xiang Yanzhang’s army. The second half is where the film’s focus begins to waver. The movie takes it own time to develop the screenplay, and this may shun away some less patient viewers.
With a small population of only four thousand, City Liang was ruled by King Liang. Watching this I realized how much it has in common with Seven Samurai. The similarity that jumped out at me immediately was Ge Li is practically the same character as Kambei in Kurosawa’s masterpiece. Praise aside, there are of course, faults, that I can’t overlook. The dull browns and greys of the desert aren’t much to look at and the heavy use of the same colors for costuming and set design can make for a straining experience.
Those who bootleg off the internet shouldn’t worry about the proceeding but those looking to purchase, avoid the DVD like the plague and jump ship to blu-ray. The picture quality is a no brainer and looks gorgeous. All in all, this is a fine above average film and the attempt to inject some pathos into a largely mythological genre film is very welcome. Despite some mixed characterization and stylistic choices the film is worth picking up for its impressive battle sequences and assured treatment of the subject matter.