Legendary Amazons 楊門女將之軍令如山
Costume action drama
2011, colour, 2.35:1, 107 mins
Directed by Frankie Chan (陳勳奇)
By Derek Elley
Tue, 03 January 2012, 09:00 AM (HKT)
Old-fashioned, '80s-style costume action with a miscast Cecilia Cheung setting the shaky tone. Asian events.
Northwest China, Northern Sung dynasty (AD 960-1127). While hopelessly defending the town of Tongmenguan against Liao forces, General Yang Zongbao (Richie Ren) sends a final message by pigeon to his warrior wife Mu Guiying (Cecilia Cheung). Thinking him dead, Guiying tearfully recalls their first meeting 18 years earlier in Muke village, where he came to ask her help against the Liao and ended up fighting and eventually marrying her. At the home of the patriotic Yang clan, which has devoted several generations to defending the Northern Song dynasty against incursions by the Liao and Western Xia, the only man left is the playful young Yang Wenguang (Xiao Mingyu), son of Guiying. The other members are all widows, trained in the martial arts and presided over by clan matriarch She Taijun (Cheng Pei-pei). An order arrives from the emperor that Wenguang, supervised by She Taijun, is to command an army of 10,000 soldiers against a Western Xia army numbering 100,000. Realising it amounts to a death sentence for the inexperienced Wenguang, the Yang women decide to form their own army and set out against the enemy. Following a chaotic battle in the desert, in which both Wenguang and Guiying contravene military practice, Guiying is wounded and Wenguang disappears, presumed dead. In fact, he has been rescued by the grand-daughter, Xiao Douzi (Zhao Qianyu), of the leader of an ethnic minority clan with whom his father has been hiding since his defeat. Meanwhile, the Yang women's army is trapped in Wolf Canyon by Western Xia forces, and only narrowly manages to escape. When everyone reassembles in Huangtu town, they have to face tough disciplinary measures by Song commander Wang Qiang (Lam Wai) before another massive attack by Western Xia forces.
Apart from being funded by Mainland companies and shot in China, Legendary Amazons 楊門女將之軍令如山 (2011) could have been made in Hong Kong a quarter of a century or more ago. Basically a remake of Shaw Bros.' The 14 Amazons 十四女英豪 (1972) — and even recalling that studio's earlier style in captioned vignettes introducing each female warrior — this first film in a decade by veteran composer-actor-director-producer Frankie CHAN 陳勳奇 is campy, trashy fun if taken in the right spirit but on any meaningful film-making scale is a hopelessly old-fashioned and slapdash museum piece.
The collection of writings known as The Yang Family Generals 楊家將, thinly based on real events of a millennium or so ago, has provided regular grist for operas, books, films and TV dramas over the years. (Ronny YU 于仁泰's forthcoming Saving General Yang 忠烈楊家將 is from the same source.) Those centring on the female warriors of the clan, all supposedly widows, have provided a great showcase for performers of all ages: the 1972 Shaws production teamed Lisa LU 盧燕 and Ivy LING 凌波 with younger contractees like Lily HO 何莉莉 and LI Ching 李菁. Chan's version attempts the same cross-generational casting but then wastes his accumulated talent.
Apart from a catastrophic piece of mis-casting in Hong Kong's Cecilia CHEUNG 張柏芝 as an 11th-century warrior babe, the movie is notable for bringing Japanese action star OSHIMA Yukari 大島由加里 — whom Chan directed in both Burning Ambition 龍之爭霸 (1989), aka Megaforce, and the classic The Outlaw Brothers 最佳賊拍檔 (1990) in better days — out of retirement after 12 years and then giving her almost nothing to do. Now almost 50, Oshima looks as untouched by the passing years as Mainland veteran LIU Xiaoqing 劉曉慶, who's given slightly more to do but little of dramatic consequence. The cast's third veteran, onetime martial arts queen CHENG Pei-pei 鄭佩佩, at least gets to wear a matronly white wig, thump a dragon-head staff and occasionally sit on a horse; but she looks as animated as a hall-of-fame dummy.
The rest of the female cast is hardly distinguishable, especially in helmets and armour, and none emerge as individuals. Chan is clearly making an action movie rather than a costume drama; but even an action movie requires characters to root for, and there are none here — making Legendary Amazons a series of battles (staged OK by Chan's onetime colleague FUNG Hak-on 馮克安 with plenty of wire-work, over-sized ordnance and bouncing extras) interrupted by dramatically dull dialogue scenes.
The restless, '80s-Hong Kong editing keeps things trotting along but the film is not sufficiently over-the-top to signal whether it's a deliberate retro parody. Chances are, it's probably not, though Cheung's scenes with an equally fish-out-of-water Richie REN 任賢齊 as her heroic husband keep the viewer guessing — as well as a scene of Cheng Pei-pei's matriarch walking across a "human bridge" that looks like becoming a cod classic.
ContactSales: Jackie Chan International Cinema, Beijing (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: Hong Kong, 17 Nov 2011; China, 18 Nov 2011.
Presented by Shanghai Film Group (CN), China Television Media (CN), Beijing Sihaitengfei Movie & Teleplay Cultural Medium (CN), Dao Culture Investment (CN), TopFun Entertainment Group (CN), Feng Huang Motion Picture (HK). Executive producers: Ren Zhonglun, Lan Hucheng, Nan Guangcheng, Huang Bo, Zhu Zhiping, Frankie Chan. Producers: Jackie Chan, Wang Tianyun, Feng Jing.
Script: Frankie Chan, Liu Heng, Ma Honglu. Photography: Wu Rongjie, Chen Youliang, Zhang Wenjie. Music: Roc Chen. Art direction: Zhong Yifeng, Lai Guanlin. Sound: Lü Jiajin. Action: Fung Hak-on, Zhang Hai. Action consultation: Wu Bin.
Cast: Cecilia Cheung (Mu Guiying), Richie Ren (General Yang Zongbao, her husband), Liu Xiaoqing (Sixth Lady Yang/Yang Liuniang/Chai Qinyun/Princess Chai), Cheng Pei-pei (She Taijun/She Saihua), Kathy Chow (Fifth Lady Yang/Yang Wuniang/Ma Saiying), Xiao Mingyu (Yang Wenguang, Guiying's son), Chen Zihan (Eighth Sister Yang/Yang Bajie/Yang Yanqi), Jin Qiaoqiao (Third Lady Yang/Yang Sanniang/Dong Yue'e), Yu Na (Seventh Lady Yang/Yang Qiniang/Du Jin'e), Liu Dong (Ninth Sister Yang/Yang Jiumei/Yang Yanying), Yang Zitong (Fourth Lady Yang/Yang Siniang/Meng Jinbang), Oshima Yukari (Second Lady Yang/Yang Erniang/Zou Lanying), Ge Chunyan (First Lady Yang/Yang Daniang/Zhou Yunjing/Lady Zhou), Li Jing (Second Lady Yang/Yang Erniang/Geng Jinhua), Zhou Xiaofei (Yang Paifeng, goddaughter), Wang Ti (Yang Jinhua, Guiying's daughter), Zhao Qianyu (Xiao Douzi/Little Bean, granddaughter of ethnic minority clan leader), Wu Ma (Imperial Tutor Pan Di), Lam Wai (Lord Wang Qiang).