Filled with phallic imagery and a strong homoerotic subtext, “Warrior Lanling” could achieve cult status as a quasi-gay martial arts extravaganza, though there’s nothing overt in this familiar saga of love and revenge. With sometimes stunning visuals that go way over the top in their sheer excess, this is not an unenjoyable offering, but it has no depth or lasting significance.
Shanghai-born, U of Hawaii-trained Sherwood Xuehua Hu attempts to follow in the footsteps of other dazzling Chinese and Hong Kong epic swashbucklers, but he lacks the insights that would make his larger-than-life characters truly memorable. Screenplay, based on his own book, seems inspired by a Japanese legend about a demonic mask (used by Kaneto Shindo in the ’60s thriller “Onibaba”).
The problem facing the film’s effete hero, Lanling, is that he’s too good-looking. The leader of the Phoenix tribe — first seen naked in a kind of initiation ceremony presided over by his formidable mother — is so attractive that his chief enemy, Gen. Big Beard, leader of the Black Hawk tribe, simply refuses to fight against him. The humiliated hero attempts suicide, but is stopped by lissome Ying Ying, who’s turned on by his good looks. Nevertheless, Lanling’s mother has to submit to rape before the enemy army ankles, bringing about a temporary peace.
In order to prevent a similar humiliation in the future, Lanling designs a horrible mask that he can wear in battle. Once in place, however, the mask can’t be removed, and begins to change the hapless Lanling’s personality. This is fine when he’s waging war, but not so good when he’s making love.
Some scenes in this opulent pic are staged like a campy musical, with the camera swooping into the action and the music soaring. But it’s all fairly familiar material, and even the energetic performers can’t lift it above the routine.
The leading actor’s name is spelled simply Lo Renzo in the opening credits, but listed as Lorenzo Callender in the final cast-list crawl. He has good looks to spare, but seems a little out of place in this strange action epic.