« Coffee Break | Main | Death Occurred Last Night »

April 15, 2014

Seven Warriors

seven warriors 1.jpg

Zhong yi qun ying
Terry Tong - 1989
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

In Christopher Frayling's biography of Sergio Leone, Frayling recounts how issues of plagiarism held up the release of A Fistful of Dollars in the United States. After making millions of dollars, well more than a fistful, throughout most of the world, Leone had to settle a legal dispute over his publicly acknowledged use of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo before United Artists would introduce American audiences to what became known as a spaghetti western. Just a few years earlier, and with the same studio, Kurosawa made more money from the United Artists' remake of Seven Samurai than he had earned making the original film.

I wouldn't know if Kurosawa was unaware of the Hong Kong film that was very obviously inspired by both his work as well as the Hollywood remake by John Sturges. Maybe he thought any financial rewards would not be worth the effort. Certainly, at the time Seven Warriors was made, it was not seen by anyone outside of Hong Kong and some Chinese language areas in East Asia. If the film played in the U.S., it would have been seen in the circuit of Chinatown theaters. Whatever the case of the film's visibility, Kurosawa's name is nowhere to be seen in the credits.

seven warriors 2.jpg

The concept is of some interest, transposing the story to China of the 1920s, known as a time of conflict between various warlords vying for regional rule. The more remote regions of China were similar to "the wild West" with people essentially fending for themselves. There is one scene that plays on that analogy, with one of the soon to be members of the seven, a tall man armed with several knives, facing a man in a very western style black suit, along with a cowboy hat. The story is essentially the same: a group of peasants wish to defend themselves against a gang of bandits, and hire some professionals to fight on their behalf. The professionals are men, down on their luck, who take on the job as a means of keeping what is left of their self-respect.

At a little more than ninety minutes, Seven Warriors is quite a bit shorter that either Kurosawa's original, or Sturges' popular remake. Character development is set aside for action. A couple of sources list Sammo Hung as having had a hand in the direction. Hung is quite visible in an opening scene, saving his sister from the clutches of a warlord, and showing off his kung fu moves. The most notable stars would be Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Jackie Cheung, both relatively early, when they were starting to gain traction as Hong Kong stars. Leung is more of a lover than a fighter, the idealist of the group. A scar-faced Cheung is a martinet, training the villagers in military tactics. Old school Shaw Brothers star, Lo Lieh, has the plum role are the warlord the seven are fighting against.

Seven Warriors hasn't aged as well as the films it was trying to emulate. Particularly grating are the sound effects, the punches and clanging of swords that sound like they came from the same library as countless other Hong Kong martial arts movies. There are a handful of nice action scenes, especially those with Ben Lam as the knife throwing Mao, and a heroic Jackie Cheung. I also like the inclusion of a point of view shot from blacksmith, the top screen grab, taking a peek through the burnt out bottom of a pot.

seven warriors 3.jpg

Posted by peter at April 15, 2014 07:32 AM