Legendary Amazons | Varied Celluloid

Legendary Amazons

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 13 - 2012

Legendary Amazons (2011)
Director: Frankie Chan
Writers: Frankie Chan, Liu Heng, and Ma Honglu
Starring: Richie Jen, Cecilia Cheung, Chen Pei-pei, Yukari Oshima and Liu Xiaqing



The Plot: Set in the early 11th century, our film focuses on the Yang family and their relation with the Emperor. Living under the Song Dynasty, the Yang family have lost all but one male member of their direct family. This family of women are all trained in kung fu, but they are unsure about going to war with the Western Xia. After some debate, this clan of widows and daughters will seek to defend their family name by going into combat against the Xia army. Despite these women all being powerful warriors in their own right, they will be shocked by the violence that awaits them. They will also be shocked by the secrets that are bound to unravel before them as they learn more about the death of the family’s last patriarchal figure, Yang Zongbao (Richie Jen).



The Review
I don’t know the exact specifics, but in recent years Chinese cinema has made some very unique changes. While Hong Kong has been the capital for filmmaking for several decades, recently there has been a mix of mainland crews and aesthetics to go along with the familiar names that we have seen from Hong Kong cinema in the past. Almost every other blockbuster that comes from this nation has turned into either a flag waving film about patriotism or a general action title based around classical stories from Chinese history. These are not things that are necessarily bad in any regard, but the movies, judged on their own merit, are occasionally quite bad. Technically, these movies are usually quite astounding, but from a narrative standpoint they tend to drag. While I am generally a fan of Chinese history and I have nothing against drama, sometimes these movies can become too cluttered to be saved. While Legendary Amazons does its very best to fight against the grain and become something of interest, it definitely dips its toes into the same murky waters that the previously mentioned failures have. Still, for the negative aspects that I find in the movie, I am also quite thankful to see a film that does indeed try its best to be entertaining without pandering to simple patriotism.



Surprisingly, despite this being a new Chinese period piece, there’s a definite influence of classical Hong Kong martial arts cinema. This turned out to be a very positive surprise for myself as a viewer. While in many of these period action films there is a definite lack of excitement, Legendary Amazons manages to build off of a plentiful number of action scenes that are thrown at the audience during the course of the movie. There is definitely a sense of nostalgia that is present while watching the fight scenes within Legendary Amazons. The choreography isn’t the gritty and realistic combat that seems to be more popular these days, but instead the action here is frantic, nimble, and full of energy. The initial ten minutes of the film features at least two fight sequences, but these are also accompanied by some frenetic editing which also gives the movie a nice and exciting pace. While the film does eventually become embroiled in a very deep amount of melodrama, it still has a nice pace that carries it through the majority of the movie.

After all of this mentioning of Hong Kong action, it might not come as much of a surprise to find out that the director of this feature is none other than Frankie Chan. I personally had no idea that Chan was still working, much less working on historical epics such as this one. He is a filmmaker who I know best as the director and star of Outlaw Brothers (a Yukari Oshima title that is packed full of excellent action), and from the work of his that I have seen, he is a action and genre based guy. So much so, that I’d hardly picture him traveling this far out of his range in order to create a gigantic dramatic epic like the one we have here. This does ultimately explain the very different atmosphere that surrounds the movie, the affection for its fast pace, and speedy editing. Chan seems to be an action director in the purest sense, trying his best to to spice up an “epic” like this in the only way he knows how. To go into his background a bit, Chan is a bit of a renaissance man for those who are not familiar with his work. He has worked extensively as an actor as well as a musician, scoring numerous film as well as working often with Wong Kar Wai. His career has been long and varied, and now he has apparently reached such a height that he has been given control of some slightly higher budgeted movies than his contemporaries. Viewers can now see what the guy who made Outlaw Brothers can do with a load of bad CGI and a massively epic plot.

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These historical epics seem to be a dime-a-dozen these days. A byproduct of the Chinese influence in the post-handover environment of Hong Kong/Chinese cinema. Focusing on tales from the past and reinvigorating mythology, the films aren’t particularly bad, but they can often be relatively dull. There’s a lack of imagination and heart in these movies. While they can be fun, one gets the idea that the movies are a bit too stuffy for their own good. Legendary Amazons does its very best to buck this trend in many regards. While it certainly has its fair share of purely procedural/political diatribes, the movie is far more than just a group of generals sitting around a circular table and debating amongst each other. The story is likely a very old one, but it certainly seems reminiscent of many other folk tales from Asian history. Japanese samurai cinema has, in particular, covered many of these tropes in the past. Samurai Rebellion and the immortal 47 Ronin are both stories that seem to have some very similar themes and ideals as the main film we are discussing today. Running through all of these stories is a similar pattern of heartbreak which leads to a clan sticking to their moral guidelines in order to fight against their enemies despite the odds being stacked against them. The main difference, I suppose, is how Frankie Chan decides to tackle such material. While he certainly gives his actors ample enough room to stretch out and find their character, he apparently isn’t much for dead points in his movie. So, as the film presses along, the slow moments are continually broken apart by massive action spectacles.


The Conclusion
If there is a big problem to be found in Legendary Amazons, it is the general lack of interest that it develops over the course of the movie. Once again, this is a massive epic where the characters are not very well defined and the viewer can easily become lost along the way. Sure, we know who our characters are and they provide ample amounts of drama, but the audience rarely feels anything for them due to all of the plot that tries to surround them. Thankfully, Frankie Chan fills his movie with excellent fight choreography so that few would consider the movie boring. After all is said and done, Legendary Amazons is a relatively fun even if it isn’t a necessary movie to check out. I give it a three out of five.

Legendary Amazons has been released on DVD and Bluray via Wellgo USA and should be available in most major retail outlets.




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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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