After a dispute between clans is left unresolved because of the appearance of barbarian invaders, the Yang family army, led by General Yang (Adam Cheng) heads out under imperial order to meet the threat on the frontline. Victims of an ambush and machinations by the rival clan, the general is trapped behind enemy lines with little hope for survival. The seven sons of the Yang leader head out on a rescue mission to save their beloved father and defeat the horde. As they head towards their destiny, the cryptic words of a fortune-teller resound within their worried mother; “Seven shall leave, and only six will return.”
The saga of the Yang family has been revisited multiple times in comics, novels, television series, and a number of motion pictures. Focusing on the early events of the popular story, Saving General Yang dramatizes the conflict of the males’ struggles under the direction of Ronny Yu. No stranger to period action pictures, Yu ultimately delivers a picture that has good technical execution but lacks focus on the story and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of urgency or peril for a story where the struggle of being hunted and survival is paramount.
The film is filled with terrific shots and photography; it is certainly a beautiful film. Art direction is excellent with great and unique costumes that are eye-catching and memorable and better than average visual effects that do the job well. Composer Kenji Kawai turns in a solid score that is appropriately epic and goes well with the events onscreen. As previously stated, it’s a solid technical achievement that suffers from some basic storytelling problems.
In a picture marketed as an action-epic, it does take a while to get going. The action here, choreographed by Dong Wei, is actually pretty good. Swords, spears, and other weapons clash in tightly shot sequences that give the many characters a chance to shine. Of particular note is a terrific sequence at Wolf Mountain and a very cool bow and arrow duel that is unique and highlights a memorable performance by Li Chen. The ever youthful Ekin Cheng also handles his spear sequences well and gives a solid performance as the eldest son. The rest of the brothers are generally unremarkable and get lost a bit in the goings-ons. Frequent visits away from the action stall the film and weaken investment in the picture, especially when we get a shot of their mother (Xu Fan) looking sad but delivering no lines cut into the middle of a battle scene. It’s just a poor choice that takes the viewer out of the moment and the film as a whole suffers because of it.
With so many previous iterations of the story having been produced, the ending shouldn’t be a surprise to even casual Asian cinema aficionados. It’s a fairly typical action epic that has some good action and fights but struggles with the urgency necessary for a rescue and on the run style picture. When dealing with the Yang family sagas, I do tend to carry preference for what would happen after the end of this film, that is the Lady Generals take the stage, but we only get a few hints of it here. It’s a missed opportunity but one that had been butchered recently with the abysmal Legendary Amazons, so perhaps this isn’t the right period for Chinese cinema to tackle that piece of the story. In the end, Saving General Yang should have enough action and spectacle to satisfy those looking for a battle-style movie but won’t come close to those looking for the next Red Cliff or Braveheart.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: White Vengeance, Hua Mulan, and or Confucius
Special Thanks to Well Go USA for providing a viewing copy!