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October 16, 2012

Legendary Amazons

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Yeung Moon Nui Jeung ji Gwun Ling Yu San
Frankie Chan - 2011
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Does anybody know what Frankie Chan was doing for the past decade? I have to admit that his filmography is impressive, with a career that began as a composer of movie scores. I was unable to find anything that explained what Chan had been doing between 2002, when he made his previous film, and his return to filmmaking. I also have to wonder if Chan was paying attention to what other filmmakers were doing during the past decade as the biggest problem with Legendary Amazons is what also plagued several films that came after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with the over-reliance on wire work and computer generated special effects.

The film is a remake of the Shaw Brothers production, 14 Amazons, from 1972. The original production features Betty Ting, Ivy Ling, Lily Ho and the still active octogenarian Lisa Lu. Chan and Cheng Pei-pei comprise the new film's Shaw Brothers connections. The two share credits on the 1971 movie, Lady Hermit, one of several action movies starring Cheng, one of the pioneer female martial arts stars, with a score by Chan. I haven't seen 14 Amazons so I can't make any comparisons, but having seen other Shaw Brothers movies from the same era, there's a charm to the older movies that is missed here.

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A general, Yang Zangbao, is assumed to have died in battle. His son, by order of the emperor, has been enlisted to lead 10,000 soldiers into battle against an army of 100,000. The remaining members of the Yang family, all women, led by the family matriarch, have decided to go to battle as well. In the opening credits, their various martial arts skills are established. Additional troops are to meet up with the Yang army, but their support is held up by a rival general who would rather undermine the Yang family in the name of military law rather than fight their common enemy.

Lisa Lu was a mere 45 when she played the part of the great grandmother in 14 Amazons. At age 84, she would have been perfectly cast and perfectly legendary in the new film. While it's great to see 65 year old Cheng Pei-pei in action as the family matriarch, what distracts from Legendary Amazons also is that it is not clear we are seeing three generations of women. While not every actor has to be the age of the character they are playing, it gets confusing when there is little difference in appearance. For all of the attention spent on a series of elaborate action sequences, it didn't seem important to put in any effort in making Cecilia Cheung look like the mother of an eighteen year old son. Even worse is that Richie Ren looks almost as old as the actress who plays his mother. One might conversely argue that the two grandmothers, played by Liu Xiaoqing and Yukari Oshima are both extremely youthful in appearance.

The best moments have nothing to do with big battles. The first few minutes when Richie Ren is challenged to a duel by Cecilia Cheung make for fun viewing. There is also the scene when their son, played by young Xiao Ming-Yu, discovered seemingly dead in a tree, is rescued by the ragamuffin known as Little Douzi (Little Bean), part of a gang of scavengers. What too many current filmmakers forget is that special effects are not so special anymore when used as a substitute for old fashioned story telling. It's not enough to dazzle the eye if you fail to touch the heart.

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Posted by peter at October 16, 2012 08:00 AM