Seven Warriors (1989)
Director: Sammo Hung and Terry Tong
Writers: Tsang Kan-Cheung
Starring: Adam Cheng, Tony Leung, Max Mok, Jackie Cheung, Shing Fui-On, Wu Ma, and Phillip Kwok.

The Plot: Our story takes place during the Warlord period in China where bandits are numerous and safety is far from guaranteed. Guanxi is a small village that is being pressured by one particular group of bandits who continually rob them and know that they are too weak to defend themselves. These farmers of Guanxi, with no ability to defend themselves, come to the realization that they must hire an army to protect them. This leads them to hiring seven warriors, skilled in martial arts, who will protect them and help scare away this group of bandits in the hopes that their village can once again flourish. The warriors are: Adam Cheng, Max Mok, Jacky Cheung, Lam Kwok-Bun, Wu Ma, Shing Fui-On, and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, and Lo Lieh is the leader of the bandits… who was once a brother to this group of seven.

The Review
There is often a great deal of talk between genre movie fans about the similarities between the samurai films of Japan and the Westen, either the traditional Hollywood western or the deconstructionist spaghetti western. These genres often featured mysterious strangers entering unknown towns, very distinct villains, and usually a code of ethics. Even in the spaghetti western, which in many ways gave birth to our traditional view of the anti-hero, there was still a “code” that the characters would abide by. However, what really draws this distinction is the way that some classic samurai films have been re-told within the Western genre. Most notably, Sergio Leone took Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) and turned it into the gritty classic Fistful of Dollars (1964). Before that, John Sturges took Seven Samurai (1954) and turned it into the cleaned-up The Magnificent Seven (1960) starring Yuel Brynner and featuring breakout performances by Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. Although The Magnificent Seven (1960) is easily the most known remake of Seven Samurai, especially considering the poor box office returns for the 2016 remake, these Hollywood attempts are not the only version of the film made outside of Japan. The Western doesn’t hold claim to being the only other genre to adapt this story into its own narrative. Today we look at a genre-defying take on this classic story via the Hong Kong film industry during its prime years. Seven Warriors is probably best described as a Western-inspired martial arts war film that cuts right to the chase and shows off the pacing that at one time made Hong Kong THE PLACE for action cinema.

Our movie begins, as one might expect, with a great deal of action. We watch as a group of rebels are slaughtered by military forces, and we are introduced to Sammo Hung’s character as he is being chased off into the mountains. This scene, as with much of the film, is absolutely gorgeous. Shot with an unnatural and beautifully blinding yellow light that fills up the entire screen as we see Sammo do battle with an army in the midst of a sparse forest that emits smoke/mist in all directions. Seven Warriors doesn’t set itself up as a typical Hong Kong action vehicle. There’s a great deal of polish and pageantry on display within the film. As can be seen with just about any screenshot from the movie, the locations are gorgeous and the cinematography by Gary Ho is absolutely his best work. Although the film was made during the heyday of Hong Kong cinema, it’s arguable that the movie looks better than the majority of “greats” from the era. This has to be attributed somewhat to the pristine presentation of the film via Well Go USA’s bluray. So many films from this time do not have this sort of quality when it comes to the surviving prints, and its unfortunate that film preservation within Hong Kong has not been as topical of an issue until recent years.

As with many re-tellings of this classic story, there are humorous and fun ways that each of the seven are introduced to the audience. There’s a fun bit where Tony Leung and Max Mok (The Outlaw Brothers, Once Upon a Time in China 2, 3) take on a giant whilst Phillip Kwok (Five Deadly Venoms) watches on and decides to hire these two. Fun moments such as this fight sequence, as well as the general chemistry of the cast, are what makes the movie memorable. While the film on the whole couldn’t be accused of being innovative and wholly original, the characters are what keep the viewer engaged. Each member of the cast manages to capture the imagination of the viewer, and audiences are left to debate which character is their favorite. Unfortunately, much of the plot that keeps the characters tied together can be dull and repetitive in many ways. There is a long triangle within the film that does very little to keep the viewer’s attention, and despite being an epic tale told in nearly 90 minutes, one gets the feeling that there was still more to cut from the film. The charisma of the Seven are what holds our attention until the finale comes along and blood begins to spurt via geyser-like squibs.

If there is a problem with Seven Warriors, most of it comes from the fact that we’ve seen much of this before. There’s very little to surprise the viewer. Although it is nice seeing cartoonish personalities, as one found in the original Magnificent Seven, mixed with the melodrama and stunt work found in Hong Kong cinema, there isn’t a lot here that makes this “must see” cinema. It is, however, a very fun time-waster with one spectacular ensemble cast. Recommendations for the film come via its action and the cast, the rest of the story is unfortunately a bit of “been there, done that.”

The Conclusion
While Seven Warriors is no Seven Samurai, nor even a Magnificent Seven, it serves as a fun piece of popcorn cinema. It is the Hong Kong retelling of this classic story and while it doesn’t feature the macho heroics and tear-jerking melodrama of John Woo, it does manage to encapsulate much of what made this period in Hong Kong cinema so interesting. It’s worth owning for Hong Kong film fans and definitely worth checking out if you’re a big fan of HK action cinema, but overall the movie stands just inches above mediocrity.