Director: Cheng Kang, Charles Tung
Writer: Cheng Kang
Producer: Sir Run Run Shaw
Cast: Lily Ho Li Li, Ivy Ling Po, Li Ching, Yueh Hua, Lisa Lu Yan, Tina Chin Fei, Karen Yip Ling Chi, Wong Ping, Ha Ping, Lam Jing, Chan Shen, Chen Yan Yan, Cheng Miu, Cheung Ban, Cheung Hei, Chow Siu Loi, Paul Chun Pui, Chung Wa, Fan Mei Sheng, Gai Yuen, Gam Gwan
Running Time: 117 min.
By JJ Hatfield
This is a wonderful old school film from the Shaw Brothers. Truly an epic, the plot and characters are a small part of the historic writings of “Yang Jia Jiang” (Generals Of Yang Family). After yet another attack on the Yang family those loyal to them formed a group of supporters that turns into a power to be dealt with by their enemies.
Some people refer to this movie as very early feminism. In fact it is another chapter from “Yang Jia Jiang”. This most popular account is found in one long story or written as novels spanning fewer years each. The Yangs were the Generals of the Song Dynasty during the later years of Northern Song. The story makes for an interesting read but it certainly is not required before you see the film. What exposition is required is there but the movie is all about action! The “Fourteen Amazons” takes place after the Yang family men are slaughtered in an ambush. The Seven Yang sons are dead and the father after being seriously injured and seeing his sons die in horrifying ways kills himself.
All of the women are widows who have nothing left to lose and the restoration of the Yang family name to regain, not to mention freedom. China, indeed many countries were not unaccustomed to having women fight. It was not a statement of equality it was a matter of life and death. When marauding armies and savage gangs used might, mostly simply outnumbering their victims, everyone who could fought. No doubt many women and children have found it necessary to fight to survive.
Highly trusted by the Emperor The Yang family was formally charged with defending the territory and maintaining experienced troops to deal with attacks from the Mongols and others who tried to invade China. They were said to be just rulers and beloved by their people.
The Yang family troops fought war after war for over four decades. They always won! Or so they held that reputation. It is difficult to describe the enormous amount of respect and honor accorded them. The Yangs were excellent fighters. It took betrayal and malice to bring down the Yang men. And some very careful planning involving people who claimed to be loyal but answered to those who wanted to annihilate the Yang influence once and for all. However the women of the Yang family had the same courage, skills and love of country as the men. The group is led by She Tai Chun (Yan Lisa Lu ), the General’s widow.
When the need arises the “Fourteen Amazons” go into action and I do mean action! Every one of the women fights with skill, ferocity and determination and they are not afraid of inflicting mortal wounds on invaders nor hesitant to spill their enemies blood. There is something for everyone! Martial arts, many different spears, unique swords, shields, archers, all kinds of axes, knives, even a rope dart or two. There is not much screen time when there is not a match or a battle being fought. When the screenplay slows for a few moments the participants are plotting strategy. The Yangs were known for their exceptional fighting skills however they also were quite brilliant in strategy. This allowed them to fight and win over enemies with greater numbers.
The fights are phenomenal and beautiful in their own way. No hint of pretend fighting because these were *girls*. For a film released in 1972 the physical moves look very realistic. Even the decapitations, amputations, etc. seem to indicate someone has taken some time with the props. Not all of them, some scenes just don’t show the same effort but things happen so quickly there is little time for acute assessment of one particular move or set. Fights are tight and surprisingly realistic for the film. It is somewhat confusing having so many women dressed virtually the same however you begin to see their style of fighting and it becomes much easier to identify the character.
Cheng Hsiao-tung/Siu-Tung hing and Hsiao Sung Liang are listed as the Stunt Coordinators. Fighting Instructors listed as Liang Shao Sung and Cheng Xiao Dong. With the massive number of people mostly fighting there were definitely many more people involved in the actual practice and coordination. There are fights that are more correctly considered multiple stunts. The only reason this movie worked was because most of the women had fought before or at least seen enough of it to look deadly serious. The use of weapons was a real treat. So many fighters with so many weapons will keep you glued to the screen.
The Yangs will be remembered as China’s finest, representing true nobility. Their love of country and self sacrifice for a better China has been used in many ways to inspire the people. They were not in search of glory. They felt it was their duty to defend the people and the land.
The cinematography is tight in the right places and shows off the actors skills though no one is acting hammy. The actors become their role and they stay there. The viewer forgets actors names and becomes invested in the individual characters. “Fourteen Amazons” is not small in any way. From the huge cast to the enormous amount of people required for sets, costumes, weapons, staging scenes this is a big movie! Some of the battle scenes are just incredible. Tremendous numbers of combatants filmed across gorgeous landscapes. The filming is excellent. The result of all those people and all that hard work is a damn good film!
There are a couple of… interesting tactics used that might seem a bit like wu xia or fantasy but again things are happening so fast there is no time to dwell on something so mundane. The editing was a bit odd in some places. It leads me to wonder if bits of the film master are not in good condition.
Although not a huge seller now this film was a box office goldmine and one of the top ten domestic films of the year. Quite a feat! The credit really lies with the entire group effort. Even the extras in town or the big battle scenes did a good enough job to make it seem there was a frickin war coming down on your head.
The directors, Cheng Kang and Shao-yung Tung are to be congratulated for pulling off an excellent epic tale of devotion, betrayal, honor and love of country.
JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 8/10 Highly Recommended