After a Private and a General, Judge Michael Nazarewycz knows some random Lieutenant Colonel will need saving soon.
"Seven sons will leave. Six will return."
This year, I have reviewed Asian films set in nearly all of the last 100-plus years: the modern era (New World); the 1950s and 1960's (The Gangster); post-World War II (Ip Man: The Final Fight); and the first four decades of the twentieth century (The Last Tycoon). I figured it was about time I gave the flux capacitor a serious workout and go way back to China circa 986 AD for Saving General Yang (Blu-ray).
Facts of the Case
A series of events forces the legendary Yang family in a position to fight for the life of their patriarch.
The film opens with the sixth of General Yang's (Adam Cheng, The Legend) seven sons accidentally killing the son of rival General Pan (Bryan Leung, Kung-Fu Master) in a competition for the hand of Princess Chai (Ady An, Chrysanthemum to the Beast). As the families discuss the matter, word comes that their mutual enemy, the Khitan Army, is on the attack. Yang agrees to personally lead his army in the defensive (as a way of trying to make good on the tragedy), and Pan commits troops to the cause. However, when Yang's forces square off against Khitan leader Yuan (Bing Shao, The Myth), Pan's men are nowhere to be found, an act of spite by the bitter leader.
Yuan, whose father had been killed by Yang's forces years earlier, wins the battle yet allows an injured Yang and a handful of his men to live, but he keeps him pinned in his location. He spares Yang's life only because he knows Yang's seven sons will come to their father's aid, and Yuan has designs on killing all seven sons along with Yang.
Despite the warning that "[s]even sons will leave. Six will return," from a local psychic, the strong Yang matriarch, Saihua (Fan Xu, Back to 1942), directs her sons to save their father.
If wishing a film ran 402 minutes instead of 102 minutes is wrong, I don't wanna be right.
This is not my normal move. If anything, I find that films tend to run longer than they should. This is not the case with Saving General Yang, a beautiful film with action to spare that would have been much better served as a three-part epic or even a six-part miniseries, simply because the scope of the thing demands it.
Consider the players in the story:
• Yang, who is responsible for Yuan's father's death years
earlier, as well as Pan's son's death (indirectly) days earlier.
That's twelve main characters (including Yuan and Pan), plus other spouses and children, plus all of the history that comes with everyone, plus all of the action that takes place. This is a film with great breadth and depth, but with a script and subsequent run time that only allow for the bare minimum of a story to be told. Imagine The Godfather trilogy, or the original Star Wars trilogy, presented in a single, 102-minute film. That's what this film feels like.
That's not to say the finished product isn't any good; it simply lacks depth. What it doesn't lack are excellent, large-scale action sequences that put you on the field of battle in turn-of-the-millennium China, with realistic combat complete with soldiers on charging horseback and era-appropriate weaponry—including one fabulously creative use of fire. While there are a couple of one-on-one fights with martial arts components, this is not a martial arts film; it's a war epic, so don't expect gravity-defying leaps or one-on-fifty fights. (My favorite conflict is a glorious one-on-one duel between two archers in a wheat field. I revisited that scene several times.) It's revealed in one of the extras that director Ronny Yu (Fearless), in his quest to make the battles to look as authentic as possible, used actual weapons, not props. This decision pays off as the weight of those weapons really shows, adding to the fight scenes' believability.
With little script to fill in the moments between action sequences, Yu is helped by the cast of seven sons, all of whom are varying degrees of matinee idol-handsome. I won't say it's completely unbelievable, but it sure is obvious, particularly when the brothers are lined up side-by-side or shot in a profile row. Princess Chai, as the token young female, is beautiful (although not sexualized in any way). Even bad guy Yuan has an eye-candy factor. Again, I would rather have had substance over style, but at least the style I got was high-quality.
Well Go USA is making gorgeous Blu-ray transfers a habit, and Saving General Yang (Blu-ray) is no exception. The anamorphic 1080p imagery beautifully showcases the rich costumes and sets of the time, as well as cinematographer Chi Ying Chan's (The Man with the Iron Fists) wonderful use of shadows and light. Chan sets many quieter scenes at golden dawn or dusk, or aglow in moonlight, and the Blu rinse shows every lighting contrast in vivid detail. Even the muted tones of the dismal field of battle are a sharp contrast to the violent red of the blood of fallen warriors. The DTS 5.1 HD track is strong, bringing the old-school battle scenes thunderously into the living room, but also taking great care of the quieter scenes, too, like the aforementioned archer's duel in the wheat field.
There are three extras on the disc. The first is the obligatory trailer. The second is a 9-minute Making Of. About the first half of it is nothing more than scenes from both sides of the camera, set to music. The second half has the director and some stars discussing the filmmaking process. The third extra is a mighty 90 minutes' worth of interviews with the director, the actor playing Yang, and the actors playing his seven sons. Each speaks of character, motivation, technical aspects of the process, and interesting facts about the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are a few instances where the superior imagery exposes some of the cheaper special effects. This is most notable when catapults hurl boulders towards Yang's army; the boulders are glaringly CGI. One or two nighttime scenes are clearly green screen-aided as well.
While I still want to get to know everyone better, I am more than pleased with the technical excellence of this film, from both the filmmaking and transfer aspects. If you are a fan of Asian cinema (that isn't martial arts-focused), Saving General Yang (Blu-ray) is one you must own.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go USA
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