When the vast army of Empress Xiao invade the Song Dynasty-led portion of China, the Emperor summons ageing hero General Yang (Adam Cheng) to defend the nation. However, Yang's position at court remains shaky in the wake of an incident in which his seventh son, Yang Yansi (Fu Xinbo), killed the son of his conniving rival Pan Renmei (Leung Kar-Yan) in a duel. Thus when Pan is also sent into battle, Yang finds himself abandoned and outnumbered by the enemy atop Wolf Mountain. Led by the eldest, Yang Yanping (Ekin Chen), the seven Yang sons bravely ride to their father's rescue only to find they have been led into a trap by wily enemy, Ye Luyuan (Shao Bing).
The historical saga of the Yang Family is really two stories in one, both of which have been staples of Chinese art, literature and cinema for years. The first half of the story devoted to the seven Yang brothers was adapted numerous times most notably by Shaw Brothers auteur Leung Kar-Leung with his masterly Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984) which opens on the aftermath of the events shown here and despite considerable dramatic license remains the most potent variation on the story. Also well regarded was the classic Eighties television drama that helped make stars out of Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Carina Lau and Chow Yun-Fat. The second part details the heroism of the female contingent of the Yang family, a story that does not feature in Saving General Yang but spawned another Shaw Brothers classic The 14 Amazons (1972) as well as the critically savaged yet profitable remake Legendary Amazons (2011) that likely inspired the producers to revisit this oft-told tale.
Co-produced by versatile veteran filmmaker Ronny Yu and comedian-cum-innovative movie mogul Raymond Wong, star of the Happy Ghost franchise, Saving General Yang is a solid, handsomely crafted example of Chinese blockbuster entertainment. Yet there is little that sets this apart from the pageant of historical epics to emerge from Asian cinema of late. Eight Diagram Pole Fighter tweaks the tale into an impassioned indictment of the abuse of power. The noble Yang family find themselves at the mercy of incompetent or envious allies alongside an indifferent emperor and end up taking the blame for a failed campaign for political reasons. By contrast, Yu skims this aspect of the story and instead celebrates the inherent values of bravery, loyalty, filial piety and benevolence that endeared it to generations of Chinese. His vivid pictorial gifts have not dimmed since his heyday in the Eighties and Nineties. However by adopting the same breakneck storytelling strategy from his classic The Bride with White Hair (1993) Yu will likely alienate viewers not versed in Chinese history, overwhelming them with sprawling back-story and vast panoply of characters.
Still Yu is a skillful enough filmmaker to pinpoint the odd memorable moment of pathos, tenderness or camaraderie both before and amidst the carnage: the Yang matriarch (Xu Fan) bidding farewell to each of her sons by turn, fourth and fifth brother sharing a flashback as they leap off a cliff, and third brother Yang Qing's (Vic Chou) tense shoot-out with a rival archer in an eye-catching field of wheat. Once we reach the halfway point the film becomes a series of extended skirmishes. As choreographed by the great Stephen Tung, the battle sequences are undeniably spectacular. Spearheaded by an emotive Adam Cheng, who is to Chinese swordplay epics what John Wayne was to westerns, the cast do a fine job inhabiting their roles. Former boy band heart-throbs Wu Chun and Fu Xinbo might have been the big draw for audiences across Asia but it is arguably Ekin Cheng who excels. The former pretty boy idol has matured as an actor of late and proves a genuinely dashing, even iconic presence. Which is not something HK film purists would have thought possible fifteen years ago. So while the film never quite scales the philosophical highs of John Woo's seminal Red Cliff (2008) it remains an entirely engaging, even moving adventure yarn. Music by Kenji Kawai proves Hans Zimmer doesn't hold a monopoly on bombast.
Hong Kong-born director of action and fantasy. Began directing in the early 80s, and made films such as the historical actioner Postman Strikes Back (with Chow Yun-Fat), Chase Ghost Seven Powers and the heroic bloodshed flick China White. The two Bride with White Hair films – both released in 1993 – were hugely popular fantasy adventures, which helped Yu secure his first American film, the kids film Warriors of Virtue. Yu then helmed Bride of Chucky, the fourth and best Child's Play movie, the Brit action film The 51st State and the horror face-off Freddy Vs Jason. He later returned to Asia to helm the likes of Saving General Yang.