Legendary Amazons (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Cine-Asia) Running time: 104 minutes approx.
During the Song Dynasty reign in 11th century China the rival state of Western Xia invades the Northern town of Tongmenguan. The defending army’s General Yang Zongbao (Richie Ren) sends a message back to his wife Mu Guiying (Cecilia Cheung) of the Yang Clan, believing this message denotes the death of her husband.
The only male left among the all female clan, Guiying and Zongbao’s 18 year-old son Yang Wenguang (Xiao Mingyu), is given an official order to lead a Song army against the much larger Western Xia forces. Having served the Song Dynasty for decades and with all of the women being skilled fighters in their own right, Yang matriarch She Taijun (Cheng Pei-Pei) decrees that they form an army themselves to support the inexperienced Wenguang in battle.
If the maxim “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it” was ever applicable to a film then this remake of the Shaw Brothers 1972 classic 14 Amazons warrants it. All of the individual elements that go into Legendary Amazons – produced by Jackie Chan, funded by mainland Chinese companies, directed by veteran Frankie Chan, fight consultant Wushu master Wu Bin (who trained Jet Li) and a top flight cast – make it sound like no brainer for success on paper.
The reality, unfortunately, is that we have a film which is subject to some maladroit handling which belies the pedigree of everyone involved. This is such a shame as the potential for a modern wuxia epic is almost too obvious yet it falls spectacularly short of any level of optimism.
The story is woefully under developed and poorly told at an awkward pace as though getting to the action scenes was more of a priority. Following the aforementioned scene of Zongbao’s message to Guiying, we jump to a flashback recalling their first meeting eighteen years earlier, when Zongbao seeks the clan’s aid in a battle but instead, Guiying beats him a fight, captures him and forces him to marry her!
Then comes a very swift introduction to the extensive cast of battling babes showing off their individual skills (accompanied by tiny on screen notices to strain the best of eye sights), most of whom are rarely seen again aside from the odd group scene. Decked out in their battle uniforms and helmets and they are indistinguishable from another so when the body count starts to rise, the viewer has no idea which one has bitten the dust.
In short, for all its earnestness much of what transpires in this film is inadvertently comical – unless that was the original intention which is doubtful. The most prominent example of this would be the makeshift human bridge the ladies make in an underground cave to escape the enemy, fashioned from two chain mail tunics unwoven to form chord strong enough to support a string of human bodies to act as a walkway for others to walk on. You have to see this to believe it. And when the fearsome females need to send the invaders packing in the final battle, they apparently invent a rocket launcher and bionic legs similar to those sporting amputees today use some ten centuries earlier!
It goes without saying that the fight scenes, of which there are plenty, are the main draw for this film and while they are often spectacular and frantic affairs, they to suffer from poor handling. The behind the scenes footage in the DVD extras show how much the effort the cast made to train for the physical stuff and how many suffered for their craft.
Unfortunately many are vastly under skilled so their weaknesses are disguised by excessive use of camera tricks and gravity defying wire work which pushes the limits of credibility to new highs. Also hampering their efforts is the very noticeable difference between the footage shot in the desert and the stuff shot in the studio in front of a green screen. The discrepancies in the lighting, colours of the background and the fake sand are far too obvious and frankly embarrassing for a major big budget production to have exposed so blatantly.
Also open to question is the choice of leading lady in Cecilia Cheung. Reportedly paid a huge fee for this film, Cheung is returning to acting after a five year break during which she got married, had two kids, get divorced and was embroiled in the Edson Chen scandal. Here she has two facial expressions: bemusement and constipated and thus doesn’t convince as a warrior babe. She is also far too young looking to be the mother of an 18 year-old! The rest of the actors either don’t get enough screen time to be noticed are spend too much time hamming it up when they do.
Part of the problem with this film is that it presumes too much. It presumes the viewer is familiar with the either original fables, the Shaw Brothers film or the many TV adaptations (from which some of the cast here reprise their roles) and thus feels it can take some shortcuts with the story and character developments.
For the uninitiated watching (i.e most audiences outside of Asia) this will be a huge handicap when it comes to following and enjoying the story and while some martial arts films can get away with flimsy plots where the action will suffice, this is one time where that that get out clause isn’t valid.
Taken at face value, Legendary Amazons can be enjoyed as a kitsch homage to the golden era of 70’s kung fu films, which delivers big on the action front if somewhat clumsy in execution. Treat this as a high end piece of serious, historical action cinema and you’ll be able to see through the mistaken pretensions of the project and thus be unfulfilled. A “switch your brain off” slice of hokum popcorn flick on a Saturday night at best.
Dolby Digital Mandarin Language 5.1
Dolby Digital English Language 5.1
Audio Commentary from Bey Logan
Behind The Scenes
Rating – ** ½
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