Film review: Saving General Yang

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 April, 2015, 1:44pm

Starring: Adam Cheng Siu-chow, Ekin Cheng Yi-kin, Wu Chun, Shao Bing
Director: Ronny Yu Yan-tai
Category: IIB (Cantonese and Putonghua versions)

Yang Ye, the venerable eponymous character in Saving General Yang, was the patriarch of a celebrated Northern Song dynasty (960-1127) military clan with female as well as male members.

The Yang women warriors have captured the imagination of many over the centuries, and been the subject of movies such as the 1972 Shaw Brothers classic, The 14 Amazons, and the more recent - and cinematically inferior - Legendary Amazons (2011). Veteran director Ronny Yu Yan-tai's first film since Fearless (2006), however, is emphatically masculine in focus and nature.

In the title role of General Yang, veteran actor Adam Cheng Siu-chow - who made his cinematic debut in I Love A-Go-Go (1967) - makes his first film appearance in more than 10 years. But while he dominates proceedings when he's on screen, this period action epic devotes more time to the exploits of the general's seven sons (above, foreground).

The seven brothers must rescue their father after he is betrayed by a rival Song commander and consequently caught behind enemy lines while battling a large Khitan invasion force led by Yelu Yuan (Shao Bing), the vengeance-seeking son of an old enemy.

Although all seven have had military training, sixth son Yanzhao (Wu Chun) and the youngest brother, Yansi (Fu Xinbo), find themselves riding into battle for the first time after they promise their mother (Xu Fan) they will bring their father home.

The evening before eldest son Yanping (Ekin Cheng Yi-kin) leads his brothers and their forces out on their grave mission, these young men are confident, even cocky - in contrast to their older brothers who have already seen how terrible war is.

Yu and cinematographer Chan Chi-ying ram home the horrors of war with devastating scenes in which the young warriors traverse post-battle landscapes covered by thousands of soldiers' corpses, through which rivers of blood flow. Action choreographer Stephen Tung Wai's many vivid battle scenes are memorably gory.

Yet while Saving General Yang's tone tends towards the brutal, the film doesn't quite approach the depths of sadism that had been achieved by other recent period action epics such as Andrew Lau Wai-keung's The Guillotines or Lu Chuan's The Last Supper.

Still, one major character is shown being put to death in an excruciating manner and there is another killing scene that viewers may find off-putting because it is actually being played for laughs.

The violence aside, another problem viewers might have with Saving General Yang is that it is difficult to distinguish between the seven sons - only the oldest and the sixth brothers really stand out from the crowd of armoured men who populate the film - hence making it difficult for viewers to care about these characters and about what happens to them.

Nonetheless, as a collective, they do enough to impress in a highly emotional offering with a heartfelt message to impart: family is important and worth fighting, and dying, for.

Saving General Yang opens today