God of War (NR)
The year is 1557, and Japanese pirates (known as wokou) raid China's coast with impunity. The Ming Dynasty's attempts to dislodge them have failed, until a young general, Qi Jiguang (Vincent Zhao), takes over the campaign, introducing new tactics and recruiting soldiers with a personal stake in the fight. Referred to as a "god of war" for his successes, Qi isn't merely a skilled battlefield tactician; he's also a legitimate inspiration to his troops. For this reason (and, you know, because he rid China of pirates), he would become a national hero.
God of War's political machinations become a bit hazy (one key early character simply disappears), and the bureaucratic intrigues drag somewhat. But the battles are wonderfully dynamic: They showcase all manner of weapons and fighting styles, and Chan gives them an extravagantly epic scope and an often startling intimacy.
Zhao, a national wushu title holder in China, is understandably the focus of most of the kung-fu fighting, but the legendary Sammo Hung (as Qi's superior, General Yu Dayou) gets to show his stuff in a scene with Zhao that serves as both a literal and a metaphorical passing of the torch. The athleticism on display shames much of Western action cinema's quick-cut hand-to-hand editing, and the final swordfight between Qi and Japanese general Kumasawa (Shaw Brothers mainstay Yasuaki Kurata) ranks as high as any in recent memory.