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December 05, 2013

Saving General Yang

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Zhong Lie Yang Jia Jiang
Ronny Yu - 2013
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

There's a scene in Saving General Yang in which the enemy general, Yelu Yuan, is being second-guessed by the advisor to the Khitan empress. Ronny Yu cuts from a shot of Yelu and the advisor, on horseback, facing the camera, to a lateral tracking shot of a wall, with their voices heard on the soundtrack. We then see the decapitated head of the advisor flying above the top of the wall. For myself, it was reassuring to know that Ronny Yu had lost none of the brand of humor displayed most famously in Bride of Chucky and Freddie vs. Jason.

Most of the time though, Saving General Yang plays like Yu's Lawrence of Arabia, only with a shorter running time and better action sequences. The basic story, taking place in 10th Century China, is about armies led by the patriarchs of two rival families, the Pans and the Yangs, set to defend the Song dynasty against the invading Khitans. The Khitans are led by the previously mentioned Yelu Yuan, whose father was killed by General Yuan. In the course of battle, General Pan allows General Yang to be ambushed by the Khitans. Yelu uses the ambush to lure the seven sons of the general, in order to take revenge for the death of his father.

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There's no denying that Yu has a sense of spectacle. The many battle sequences convey the sense of the constant shifting action. There is one battle with the outnumbered Yang brothers army fighting the Khitans with what look like leather bags tossed into the air, which when shot by Khitan arrows, turn into flammable bombs. Later, the Khitans retaliate by attacking the Yangs with huge boulders, hurled into the air by outsized catapults. Yu shows that war has its price with a shot of defeated Song soldiers on the battlefield, several with their bodies impaled by upright spears, amidst pools of bloody and muddy water. Cuts are cauterized with the hot blades of knives. Bodies succumb to the poison of arrows, if not just the weariness from battle.

Yu also shows a penchant of overhead shots of which there are many. That Lawrence of Arabia reference? There are images of the Yang brothers dwarfed by the vastness of the desert. In another scene, one of the brothers plays cat and mouse against a Khitan archer where visibility to each other is mostly hidden within a field of high wheat.

Even though the film is suppose to be about General Yang and his sons, the most interesting character is Yelu. In this pan-Chinese cast, Shao Bing almost steals the film from everyone else, with his craftiness and colorful costumes. Even if Saving General Yang can't top Ronny Yu's best film, The Bride with White Hair, it is full of moments which I am certain would be spectacular had they been seen on the biggest of movie screens.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 5, 2013 07:58 AM