Saving General Yang (2013)
Director: Ronnie Yu
Writers: Edmond Wong, Liu Shijia, and Ronny Yu
Starring: Adam Cheng, Ekin Cheng, Vic Zhou, Wu Chunm, and Raymond Lam

The Plot: Our film begins with a brief lovestory unfurling between Yang Yansi, the sixth of seven sons within the prestigious Yang family, and the lovely Princess Chai. Yansi wants to pursue his love and earn Princess Chai’s hand in marriage via a local martial arts competition. Unfortunately, this contest is a sham, and the winner has already been predetermined. When Yansi’s younger brother steps in during the contest and accidentally kills the man who was SUPPOSED to take Chai as his wife, the entire Yang family is expected to fall. Their father, a powerful politician, is demoted back to a general at the frontlines of the war. This means the senior Yang must head off to the front in a battle with the invading Kithan army. While General Yang is a genius when it comes to warfare, he is unfortunately marched right into a trap, and the majority of his men are slaughtered. Yang is backed into a mountain where he and his men await further support. Unfortunately, that support will not be coming, and the only people he can depend on are his own seven sons who must suit up and head off for battle.

The Review
From looking at the blu cover art, Saving General Yang looks like yet another Chinese epic, just like the numerous others that have been popping up over the past few years. For those who haven’t read my numerous reviews referring to this phenomena, I am not the worlds biggest fan of these movies. As a writer, I do try to keep an open mind, but unfortunately I am often proven right when it comes to these productions. Many of these movies are soulless, vapid, and they forsake any sort of “character,” all for the sake of being pure propaganda. Aside from their government-pushed subtext, the movies are usually complicated by too many characters, too many easy justifications, and incredibly cheap plot devices. After seeing a few movies that commit these same sins over and over again, it’s easy to develop a bias against nearly anything that comes from modern China. However, as soon as I’m ready to give up, I always find something that inspires me to hold onto the faith. While China will likely never rival Hong Kong of the 70s-90s in terms of capturing the hearts of fanboys, good films can still be made. While Saving General Yang is not going to blow away the majority of audience members, it is still very strong and one of the best historical Chinese films that has been released in a while.

The term “historical” can be used in pretty loose quotation marks when discussing Saving General Yang, of course, because the original fable that it is based upon has been told and retold so many times that it becomes difficult to decipher just where the fact ends and the fiction begins. Based on the same story that inspired 14 Golden Amazons and The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (both Shaw Bros. studio films), this is a legend that has had more than a few interpretations. Ronnie Yu, however, takes this story and gives it a decidedly modern twist. Combining story elements that seem inspired by 300, as well as various tales of romance, the filmmaker crafts a relatively strange concoction that somehow works. Clocking in at under the two hour mark probably doesn’t hurt, either. Yu manages to get a “big movie” feel and crams it into a story that has very good pacing, while managing to not sink his ship along the way.

In comparison to many of the modern Chinese epics that are being released today, Saving General Yang keeps things relatively simple. The story put forth is told in simplistic terms that don’t require the film become inundated with minutia. Although we have seven leads in the form of this table of brothers, you can sit through this movie without worrying about remembering each of their names. Like in something similar to Lord of the Rings, each characters has their own distinct element that sets them apart. The brothers all have tiny little character traits that keep them memorable in the eyes of the audience. Whether its a special bond that is shared between two of the brothers, or whether its the gimmickry of the one brother who can shoot his bow and arrow faster than a machine gun. The characters are distinct, interesting, and we aren’t required to remember a multitude of details about their backstory. Only the sixth brother actually stands out in this regard, due to his lovestory that is very prevalent to the plot. While this love story might seem forced, and it absolutely is because it’s a made up fact tacked onto a “real” story, but it comes across as being very human and it manages to work within the context of the movie. All of this and I haven’t even mentioned the villain, who is a definite standout within the movie. A metrosexual looking man here in the first century of the common era, this character looks different from everyone and he hides a dark secret that makes him far more interesting than just about every other character in the movie. Also, he chops off a guy’s head without thinking twice. That makes him a pretty cool villain here on Varied Celluloid.

The movie isn’t without its problems though. While I applaud it for having a clear and precise narrative there are still a couple of hiccups along the way. Some bad CGI is used every now and then, some painful character exposition pops up at times, and there is a bizarre choice made at one point where our characters seemingly find their father with relative ease. This little twist, which comes midways through the first hour, is a bit on the shocking side. If there is any indication that the seven brothers know of their father’s whereabouts, it is dropped only in passing. When we see General Yang for the first time after the battle, it comes after a long period of time where the audience is not even sure if his character is alive. Then, when the brothers show up, it doesn’t come after scenes that detail them finding the mountain region where their father is cornered. The brothers are literally shown running into the mountain village, explaining that they had to make a run for it in order to get inside. We do not even get the chance to see this particular action sequence. At first the viewer may be caught offguard, wondering if these characters truly are the seven brothers sent to find their father, but rest assured, they are. If you can get over this mild hiccup, though, you can look forward to several other action sequences that ARE on display and a finale that actually manages to be quite emotional.

The Conclusion
Narrative qualms aside, the action is really good and the movie does give the audience the thrill of adventure. We understand these characters, we know what they are striving for, and we are with them every step of the way. Once again, this is not groundbreaking cinema, but it is very entertaining. It gets a strong four out of five.