Director: Frankie Chan Fan Kei
Writer: Frankie Chan, Liu Heng, Ma Honglu
Producer: Jackie Chan, Wang Tianyun
Cast: Cheng Pei Pei, Cecilia Cheung, Liu Xiaoqing, Yu Na, Richie Ren, Yukari Oshima, Kathy Chow, Ge Chun Yuan, Chang Chen, Chen Zihan, Jin Qiao Qiao, David Lam, Liu Dong, Katy Wang Ti, Wang Lee Hom, Wu Ma, Xiao Ming Yu, Simon Yam, Yang Zi Tong, Zhao Qian Yu, Zhou Xiao Fei
Running Time: 109 min.
Love is a battlefield. Or at least that turns out to be the case in “Legendary Amazons,” a 2011 Chinese historical picture about the female members of the Yang Family. When their husbands are lost to war, these widows of great soldiers are forced to take up arms against the foreign army invading their country. If the story sounds familiar, it’s because the same historical event inspired the 1972 Shaw Brothers movie “The 14 Amazons.”
Promoted as a comeback vehicle for actress Cecilia Cheung, this modern version of the tale generated some pre-release hype due to Cheung’s tabloid woes and Jackie Chan handling producer duties. Once “Legendary Amazons” was actually released to the public, it received an absolute drubbing from critics and audiences alike. The box office results were dismal with a paltry US$ 42,000 in Hong Kong. Maybe I just have sympathy for the dark horse but I honestly didn’t think the movie was that bad.
The fact that this same story was previously interpreted by the Shaw Brothers is a crucial fact – as “Legendary Amazons” very much feels in the SB tradition. It’s a hell of a lot sloppier in its filmmaking and nowhere near as well-choreographed as a vintage Shaw Brothers movie, but the blend of intense melodrama and wire-assisted battles feels familiar.
After sitting through so many dry, overly serious Chinese historical pictures like “White Vengeance” and “A Battle of Wits,” it’s almost refreshing to see something as unabashedly goofy and brightly colored as “Legendary Amazons.” There’s a memorable scene where our female heroines cross a giant chasm by ordering their fellow soldiers to make a human bridge. Another character wields weapons that look like two giant baby rattlers – but, boy, do they pack a punch. This kind of plucky ‘historical accuracy be damned,’ comic book-like spirit is present throughout the entire picture.
It feels like the filmmakers’ key concern with “Legendary Amazons” was keeping the audience entertained. There is rarely a moment of downtime as the screenplay moves from battle sequence to battle sequence. Naturally, the actors are a bit left in the dust by all of the spectacle. Richie Ren looks out of place here with his period wig, while there are so many other female warriors in the story that Cecilia Cheung barely registers. If this film was truly engineered to be her big comeback vehicle, director Frankie Chan should have taken better care to spotlight his actress.
This movie has been lambasted by nearly every critical outlet for its silly costumes, weak performances, poor special effects, and cartoony action. For what it’s worth, I still say “Legendary Amazons” is enjoyable if viewed as a modern B-movie attempting to recreate that old-school Shaw Brothers feel. But it’s highly likely that only the most forgiving fans of Asian cinema will be entertained by Frankie Chan’s earnest but flawed production.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 6/10