AKA: Shaolin Masters
Director: Chang Cheh
Writer: Chang Cheh, Ni Kuang
Producer: Run Run Shaw
Cast: David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chan Chuen, Lily Li Li Li, Chan Sing, Bolo Yeung, Ku Feng, Chin Han, Wang Chung, James Nam Gung Fan, Chan Feng Chen, Cheng Hong Yip
Running Time: 121 min.
By JJ Hatfield
In a time when warring factions fought for a divided China, a powerful Mongol warlord and his thirteen generals ruled the territory with swift and savage force. Any and all who dared challenge their authority were summarily dispatched. They were an invincible force none could defeat, meeting every challenge with supreme confidence, never doubting certain success. To those who counted them on their side they were The Heroic Ones.
Amidst the chaos and conflict of the latter part of the Tang Dynasty, Li Ke-Yung, played by Ku Feng (My Rebellious Son), together with his thirteen generals, is a power to be reckoned with. Li considers all the generals his offspring, lavishing them with the best of everything, denying them nothing. His generals are as enthusiastic about bloody battle as they are about drunken debauchery – every one of them a fierce fighter and arrogant as hell.
The Heroic Ones is directed by the prolific Chang Cheh (Five Deadly Venoms) with David Chiang (Kung Fu Jungle) and Ti Lung (A Better Tomorrow) having standout roles in the large cast. Though an early ‘Iron Triangle’ film, Chiang has the lead role to himself with the most screen time as Li Tsun Hsiao, the youngest of the thirteen and the fond favorite of Li Ke-Yung. Tsun Hsiao is deadly in combat being exceptionally skilled with a spear. He also carries out a unique piece of action choreography during an encounter with an enemy general played by Bolo Yeung of Enter the Dragon fame.
Ti Lung is Shih Ching Szu, the only other brother to recieve much attention from Li Ke-Yung. Though he isn’t the focus of the film, Ti manages to shine in an epic warrior battle against a barrage of hundreds of the enemy. Not only an impressive display of valor but one of the longest fight scenes to be found in a martial movie of any age.
With The Heroic Ones, Chang and his co-writer Kuang Ni (The Pirate) drew from the late 800’s – early 900’s China for the basis of the story with more more than a few liberties taken with the facts. The movie has been noted by some for the effort afforded to costumes and set pieces consistent with the time period and culture, but it should not by any means be taken as a true portrait of history.
If The Heroic Ones was being filmed today, it would feature computer generated armies with one or two actual people doing battle. In 1969, they did it the real way with a couple hundred people and Lau Kar-leung, Tony Gaai, and Lau Kar-wing orchestrating the training and directing for the throng of actors, stuntmen and extras who must appear to be familiar with weapons. The hard work paid off in the realism of fight scenes, many times with one general against a multitude.
Once the onslaught begins, the torrent of enemies rarely lets up. Purely on an action level fans will be thrilled with the profusion of nearly non-stop combat and The Heroic Ones certainly delivers on that count. Unfortunately, the size of the cast is unwieldy even in Chang Cheh’s usually capable hands. And though the film clocks in at a little over two hours, Chang spends little time on character development for the majority of the cast. That decision on Chang’s part ultimately renders the film’s ending unfulfilling, lacking the impact The Heroic Ones could have had.
JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 7.5/10