Heavy on action, light on…pretty much everything else

Featuring

Adam Cheng as General Yang
Xu Fan as Mrs Yang
Seven handsome blokes as General Yang’s sons
Ady An as Princess Chai Latte
with Shao Bing as Yelu Yuan

I‘m not normally able to watch many Hong Kong films, but sometimes, the opportunity presents itself – like when you’re flying from Hong Kong on a Cathay Pacific flight. Go figure. Anyway, my impression of Hong Kong cinema is that they’re very good at action, martial arts and comedy movies (sometimes, a combination of all three if Jackie Chan is involved), and not much else. Saving General Yang is most definitely an action movie. Despite being presented as an epic in the trailer, it never reaches the length and storyline and character depth that is required of it.

First, a bit of background. In the thousands of years of Imperial Chinese history, there have been quite a few legendary stories and some have made it to the mainstream all over the world. Journey to the West for example, has been adapted faithfully and not so faithfully as Monkey and Dragonball respectively. The stories and fables of the Yang family during the Song dynasty in Ancient China is less internationally known, but is still much loved and studied in China. This film is based (pretty loosely it seems) on the fables and legends surrounding General Yang Ye and his sons.

The background of the movie is a invasion into the Song Empire by the northern Khitan nomadic people with a massive army. General Yang gets sent out under the command of someone vastly less competent and far more egotistical and gets trapped in a mountain fortress while his sons fight their way through the enemy blockade to rescue him. What follows is pretty standard fare in an action movie. There’s lots of cool shots of tomato juice blood, fight scenes with swords, halberds and some kitchen sinks (actually, that last bit isn’t true) and nigh on impossibly hard to kill heroes. Oh and a prophecy that is ultimately misleading (what prophecy isn’t?).

The thing that really irks me is the crass stupidity of some of the characters, leading to some downright stupid scenes on both the good and bad sides of the tale. This is marked abruptly, but in some ways also not so surprisingly when one of our heroes kills one of the bad guy’s lieutenants. Only, ten seconds later, the bad guy spears the hero dead and rides across the screen in his horse, conveniently picking up his spear. I mean, seriously, if you were THAT CLOSE to the fight, why the hell didn’t you help your lieutenant in the first place? This scene epitomises just what’s wrong with a lot of this movie. Characters die are seemingly sacrificed senselessly like this for storyline convenience or a quick and dirty emotional scene and it would be almost comical were it not for the fact that the movie is entirely serious – apart from that one beheading in the middle.

At the end of the day, Saving General Yang is indeed a good martial arts and sword fighting action flick. However, if you think going in that it has any deep, weighty statements for further philosophical analysis, then don’t come here. You don’t even get any good political intrigue or real historical lessons. There’s really only one grey character (and he’s the bad guy), everyone else is either good, bad or an idiot and the only comic relief is killed off far before his time. This is the sort of movie that doesn’t reward thinking of any kind and it would rather that you enjoy it for what it is, lots of violence followed by more violence and some pretty boys pouting and staring at things in the distance.

Rating

All action, nothing else. The story is cogent, but that’s because there’s not much in it.

Should I watch this?

I was on a plane. I didn’t have much choice. You? If you have a choice, go do something else. Gardening. Reading. Plumbing. Anything.

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