SEVEN SONS WILL LEAVE, SIX WILL RETURN
“Saving General Yang” tells the story of the house of Yang and the house of Pan ( nope, not that Pan ), two rich and noble families at each others’ throats following the accidental death of General Pan’s son at the hands of General Yang’s 7th son. Both men were fighting in a sparring match over a woman, Princess Chai, while invading enemy hordes, the Khitan, were closing in. Sounds familiar? Yep, sounds familiar to me too…
I, personally, am not a big fan of the “supreme-ruler-acts-like-a-tool-but everyone-just-smiles-and-bows” formula. So when the Pan family goes on to plead for the execution of the entire Yang family, a whopping five minutes into the movie, and the majestic ruler of the kingdom is too busy fondling a sculpture to even care, I start to wonder what the heck is going on. Then his Majesty flip-flops and gives away Yang’s position to Pan. All because Pan said: “Can I have it? You know, for my dead son and all?”. Ughhh… really? One issue has nothing to do with the other! Who would demote a great, probably the best, General of his own army because of a dispute between sons?
And so, the two Generals head out to meet the enemy. Pan is the new commander, Yang the vanguard. It doesn’t take but two minutes before Pan retreats and leaves his nemesis to get shredded. Meanwhile, Yang’s wife goes out to consult their version of the Oracle: an old, wise grandmaster atop a mountain; a Pai Mei look-alike from Tarantino’s”Kill Bill Vol. 2“. That was brilliant, in an oh-snap!-that’s-funny kind of way. The old man prophesies that to ensure victory, the seven Yang boys will have to go to war and that only six of them would return.
But then, the ridiculous sets in… and so you stop caring about the fate of the characters. Here’s one example of such absurdness: in a skirmish that lasted, I kid you not, a total of 1 minute 26 seconds, the good guys charge the opposing army on horseback, then suddenly chuck a hundreds gourds, yes, gourds, you read that right, filled with oil, in perfect unison, while their archers launches a volley that miraculously hits every gourd mid-flight, spilling all that oil over every enemy soldier, thus creating the opportunity to fire a burning arrow into the falling liquid to produce a veritable rain of fire that decimates the opposing forces in one blow. Dear reader, that last sentence was actually painful to write. And much more painful to watch.
It surely doesn’t help that most characters talk in clichés almost the entire time. Who hasn’t heard such classic lines as: “You want to go to war? Have you ever even seen blood spilled before? Have you ever seen a man die before!?” No. I haven’t. But I have seen that scene play out with this exact dialogue a hundred times before.
And so, “Saving General Yang” becomes, unfortunately, extremely predictable. That’s not to say that you can figure out exactly what’s going to happen in every sequence, but rather when a plot twist occurs you sort of lean back and go: “Yep, saw that one coming.” Even the large battles, which are key in a flick this, have a way of feeling too scripted and claustrophobic.
We’ll just skip over the part where I mention the horrendous editing job but I’ve got to talk about the somewhat mediocre acting and the barely acceptable camera-work. That’s an uncommon thing for me to say since I’m usually very lenient and easily entertained by the cinematography and the costumes and all that, except this time around I just couldn’t get into the incessant slow-motion fighting that takes away any kind of immersion and realism and the made-for-TV outfits. On the upside, the music is very, very good.
Now I’ve gone to great lengths to describe the failings of this movie and yet, I’m still not completely disappointed with the experience I had watching this film. I like this genre, a lot. And to me this feels like I was reviewing a friend’s work. I particularly liked “Fearless“. It made me overly critical and less forgiving than usual. I see potential here. But it was so poorly done that I have to be honest: Ronny, my friend, if you’re reading this, I’m giving you a pass, just barely, but you got to step your game up. Seriously.
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