Friday, November 18, 2011

Legendary Amazons (楊門女將之軍令如山 / Yang Men Nu Jiang Zhi Jun Ling Ru Shan)

That Million Dollar Role

I'm not sure how the word Amazons got into the English title, if not to allude to the fact that the women character folks here have tremendous fighting capabilities befitting of the legendary female warriors namesake in Greek mythology. But this is no swords and sandals film since it chronicles the story from halfway round the world in China, celebrating the fabled female Yang army generals in the Song dynasty about their loyalty to the country, and how they defended China time and again against its invaders decked in pretty armour, weapons culled from every martial arts epic, and wearing capes that serve absolutely no purpose.

If there's a question I can ask director Frankie Chan, it will be whether he's genuinely proud of this effort. He's a veteran, and there's no denying that he's done a handful of entertaining films I've grown up with. There's no lack of funding in making this film, from the numerous costumes, weaponry, and sheer logistics in staging large scaled battles, coupled with special effects that looked really slipshod, but this one really took the cake in the disrespect shown toward production values on the whole, and with that insulted the technical craftsmanship of those who work hard in the industry, having their craft sullied by quick hacks who couldn't care less about quality so long as they get a semblance of something done. It's as if the producers had paid Cecilia Cheung millions from their budget, then realized their folly as they ran out of funds to ensure quality in their delivery such that corners had to be cut, and cut in the most disgraceful manner.

Battle scenes were so obviously switched from outdoor shoots to interior sound stages with badly done green screen effects, and the action choreography itself was lacking in ideas that it started to be unintentionally funny, from obvious speeding up of frames to compensate for the actresses lack of martial arts background, to horses definitely on a slow trot rather than being ridden at top speed to escape pursuing enemies. I could have sworn the cast were just going through the motion during production, with little care being taken to ensure some form of proper stance adopted to make them credible warriors. Believability is something never considered at all by anyone in the film, and the wire work utilized here is nothing short of embarrassing the craftsman who had perfected the art of executing such moves seamlessly and without much fanfare. At best, it looked like Chinese Opera (no offense intended), with many twirls and gentle combat passing off as intense life or death battles

Boasting a cast of veterans such as Ritchie Jen, Kathy Chow, Cheng Peipei and Cecilia Cheung herself amongst other relative unknowns to make up the numbers of 10 or more of the widowers from the Yang family who had to step up and be counted when the sole male bloodline is called upon to lead grossly outnumbered troops against the enemy. We learn who they all are, right down to their maiden names and weapons of choice, but frankly you would only remember the many poor wirework and effects trying to pass the characters off as formidable warriors. What you would get is the sorry feeling for any self-respecting performer having to put up with sub-standard support that calls for the actresses to be at their best to avoid laughing at themselves, keeping a straight face to deliver cringeworthy lines and juvenile action pieces.

Which is a pity, because there was so much potential hidden in the film that went unrealized, if only they had paid a lot more attention to what story they want to tell rather than to take on every caricature, and added depth to the romantic story contained within, which came complete with some lesbian undertones as well. But I digress. In summary it's summer blockbuster material with a very simple plot of good versus evil, with the former being outnumbered and hampered from victory no thanks to corrupt officials, and the reliance of their strategies and wits to defeat both the enemy from within and the larger invasion forces. If done right that is. Big action pieces were assembled haphazardly, with the ones that took the cake involving Raiders of the Lost Ark type giant rolling balls on fire, and the constructing of human bridges so ridiculous it has to be seen to be believed. Characters came and went according to their conveniences when doing battle, that the initial strategy of flanking and outflanking the enemy, and the employment of military deceit, turned out to be nothing but one complete, incoherent mess.

The filmmakers could have just gotten away with it if not for the very amateurish martial arts on display, since in my opinion good kungfu trounces the need of a proper plot, though not always. What's legendary in this film, was clearly the blatant slip shoddiness of its filmmaking, grossly insulting all paying audiences by conning their hard earned dollar to deliver something even if made in the 1970s, will be frowned upon for its lack of artistic merit and integrity. The subtitle in Mandarin refers to how military orders are like moutains, unmovable and expected to be followed to the letter, and would have served as a pretty awesome crux to the entire movie, but in reality these scenes became jokes, and the only unmovable experience was the innate need to see just how bad this film will go and stoop to.

Films such as Legendary Amazons can be made with Mainland funding, but please either have a little quality control or stop meddling with a veteran filmmaker's vision (I have an inkling Frankie Chan could have suffered interference from those who hold the purse strings), and restrict its distribution to a home market that is perhaps a lot more forgiving than markets abroad, where competition in quality is keener, and any average films put side by side will make them look like masterpieces. Avoid at all cost, unless you have plenty of time to burn, in which I would recommend you'd get more kick out of watching paint dry. The Yang Family Warriors this is not, but more like The Yang Family Circus Clown Troupe.


YTSL said...

Hi Stefan --

Ouch, the film sounds awful. So sad when it's a remake of a really cool film ("14 Amazons") and/or based on the same legend as that star-studded Shaw Brothers production. And even sadder when you know that Frankie Chan -- whose directorial credits include gutsy fare like "Burning Ambition" and "The Outlaw Brothers". :(

Stefan S said...

Hi YTSL, yes, it's Frankie Chan at the helm! :( though I suspect that could have been external influences and factors at play here... with his experience and pedigree, I don't think this end product would have passed any self-respecting filmmaker. Curiously Jackie Chan's new production house (?) also had a role in this.

And yes, maybe the film wanted to pay homage to Shaw Bros soundstages during its heyday of such productions :P But this was bad too, even if compared to standards put in during those days of old. Shocking, to say the least :(

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