My fascination with windsocks began the first time I saw Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece, Ran. Whole armies of guys with what appeared to be windsocks on their backs wheeled about, formed battle lines and ran into smoke and chaos. It was insanely beautiful and matched the epic sweep of the narrative about sacrifice, honor and loss.
Warriors of Heaven and Earth came hard on the heels of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Jet Li's Hero, but it's not really part of the same wave. Warriors is far closer in spirit to Kurosawa in this tale of reluctant former soldiers who come out of hiding to escort a camel caravan through the Gobi Desert.
Jiang Wen plays Lt. Li, a soldier who was branded a criminal when he mutinied rather than kill captive women and children. He has become a nomad, staying away from his former comrades so that they might live in peace. Nakai Kiichi is Lai Xi, an imperial agent sent to kill Li, but who writes plaintive letters to a mother he has not seen since entering the emperor's service as a boy.
Both leads powerfully depict men wishing their lives had taken a different track but who deal nobly with their fates. In Warriors, you won't see anybody walking up the side of a bamboo tree -- the Hong Kong wire stunts are used only minimally. You will see sweaty, desperate warriors using all their strength, all their courage and cunning to keep the caravan safe despite relentless and overwhelming odds.
Warriors speaks to the perseverance in all of us. We don't all have swords and armor, though sometimes life feels like we need them. Obstacles abound. Anxiety grabs you by the throat. A lover pulls away. You wonder if you can do anything right.
As the enemy comes charging, there's a small, poignant scene where, one by one, each warrior in the diminished band takes a deep breath, releases a scabbard and pulls out a sword with the sweep of an arm.
For me, for the rest of us, we take a deep breath and throw back the covers. It's the same motion.
It's the same fight for courage, grace, love. We are all warriors, windsocks or no.
Publication date: 05/05/05