Director: Frankie Chan
Cast: Cecilia Cheung, Cheng Peipei, Richie Jen, Liu Xiaoqing, Yu Na, Kathy Chow, Yukari Oshima, Jin Qiaoqiao, Ge Chunyan, Zhou Xiaofei, Li Jing, Wu Ma
RunTime: 1 hr 48 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: PG13 (Battle Scenes)
Opening Day: 17 November 2011
Synopsis: During the Northern Song Dynasty, the emperor neglects the political affairs, hence rolling border war. The war created times of hardship for the Xia country. Enemies invaded into Song’s territory forcefully, allegedly attempted to intrude to the country. The Yang family were slaughtered. Mu Guiying, the wife of Yang Zongbao tolerate the pain of bereavement, leads a congregation of Yang's widow and lead them to a battle of war…
Finally! After the glut of big-budget historical war epics that have seen tears and bloodshed, at last we get one that injects some levity into the heavy-handed genre. Yes, there is humour aplenty in director Frankie Chan’s latest take on the classic ‘Lady Warriors of the Yang Family’, apparently titled ‘Legendary Amazons’ as a nod to the Shaw Brothers 1972 movie ‘The 14 Amazons’- and if you’re thinking how such a story would lend itself to comedy, wait till you’ve seen this adaptation.
A prologue establishes the war between the Song Dynasty and the Western Xia Dynasty, the former led by General Yang Zongbao (Ritchie Jen) outnumbered against the latter’s troops launching a fiercely fought border incursion. Facing imminent death, General Yang ties a bundle of hair to a pigeon and sends it off to his wife Mu Guiying (Cecilia Cheung). How ingeniously amusing! What are the odds that a bundle of Mu’s hair carried on the pigeon would be a message of defeat? And what are the odds that the Xia enemies would have on hand a pair of eagles that is, we may add, too quickly shot down as soon as they are released to catch the said pigeon?
It gets even better- as news of Zongbao’s apparent death spreads around the Yang family clan, with nary a man except for Zongbao and Guiying’s son Yang Wenguang (Xiao Mingyu), the whole gathering of women gathered for his 18th birthday celebration start weeping uncontrollably as if on cue. Then, just as quickly, it is decided that the wilful Wenguang- whose earlier childish act of blowing up a wall in the house compound just to get out- will be appointed to lead the Yangs, and with that, fireworks start exploding into the night sky. What a brilliant show of over-the-top humour!
But nothing can quite prepare you for the hilarity as the Yang clan set off to war in obedience of the imperial edict. The first confrontation finds the Yangs outnumbered against their enemies, splitting into five separate divisions to divide up their enemy and hopefully defeat them guerrilla-style. Their tactic is ultimately undone when the reckless Wenguang gets duped by the Xia’s into saving his father- but even before you chuckle at his foolishness, you’ll find yourself tickled silly as his mother Muiying challenges him right on the sideline and usurps his status as marshal. Somehow, we never recalled the family fighting amongst themselves as a centrepiece of their heroism, but hey it makes for good amusement.
Just as comical is the Yang women’s defiance of gravity, leaping into the air and performing some quite marvellous stunts that they can very well parlay into lucrative public entertainment after the war. We have Frankie and old-school villain actor Fung Hak-On to thank for that, with some generous help no doubt from Jet Li’s master Wu Bin credited as ‘kungfu consultant’. No kidding! We were however unable to identify who was responsible for the numerous heroic deaths we witnessed throughout the film, because we’d like to thank that person for the hilariously fake blood spurting out and the exaggerated dying.
Inspired too is the casting of the film. Lead actress Cecilia Cheung, who was reportedly paid a cool NTD$30 million to star, has a heretofore unknown gift of acting shocked that will make you burst out laughing. You have to also hand it to the filmmakers for assembling such a professional cast of actors- including veterans Ritchie, Ge Chunyan, Yukari Oshima and Kathy Chow- who are able to keep such straight serious faces in spite of the hilarious mayhem unfolding before them.
When you’re having so much fun, you probably won’t be bothered by the messy and quite incoherent script (written by Frankie, Liu Heng and Ma Honglu) that can’t quite make up its mind if certain characters- wounded or killed- should stay that way. And here we would like to ask for your pardon for our insolence thus far- it’s probably clear to you that we were being sarcastic all the way, but we thought comedy must have been the sole intention of the filmmakers going by how atrocious the film really is.
If you have to know, it’s histrionic, over-the-top and melodramatic every step of the way. The acting is equally ridiculous, with Cecilia taking the cake for being quite possibly in line for the worst actress of the year. And what of the plentiful action scenes? They are, like the script, chaotic and illogical- worse still when you can so evidently tell the green screen behind which their landscapes were filled in. We’ll leave you with quite possibly one of the most ridiculous scenes we’ve seen this year- a makeshift bridge assembled with two chains of metal shot from one end of a cliff to another with human steps made up of soldiers on their backs clinging onto both chains, all for the sake of their Empress Dowager-like commander Taijun (Cheng Peipei) to get across.
Need a good laugh? Then we’d recommend ‘Legendary Amazons’, one of the most unintentionally laugh-out-loud movies you’ll find this year. At least it makes a genre breakthrough by showing how you can do comedy in the midst of a big-budget historical war epic.
(Quite possibly the most unintentionally hilarious movie you’ll see this year- and hence the one-star for its entertainment value)
Review by Gabriel Chong