Director: Terry Tong
Starring: Jacky Cheung, Adam Cheng, Max Mok, Wu Ma, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Shing Fui-on, Benny Lam, Lo Lieh
In 1920’s China, an overabundance of soldiers but a deficit of employment opportunities drives many former military officers and their men into criminal enterprises, particularly extortion, theft, and murder from villages without the means to go against them. In one such village, the townsfolk decide to hire protectors, and they send out one of their more outspoken villagers (Philip Kwok)to the city to get help. Finding a motley crew of odd people and professional warriors, they return to the village and attempt to prepare the people to fight back against the terrible bandits at their door, led by Commander Piu (Lo Lieh).
For those with any passing familiarity with Asian cinema, this plot will be very familiar. Based on the seminal adventure classic, The Seven Samurai directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa, this is less of an attempt to capture the timeless magic of that film and more an opportunity to create a briskly paced and populist-style film for the action hungry moviegoers of late 80’s Hong Kong. Director Terry Tong, a filmmaker with a generally less than memorable filmography, rightly provides an action packed period film that features some of Hong Kong’s best character actors and a wide variety of action sequences that make me miss the golden era of HK action cinema.
The cast itself is phenomenal; Adam Cheng, Jacky Cheung, Shing Fui-on, Wu Ma, Max Mok, Ben Lam, and a youthful Tony Leung Chiu-wai compose the titular Seven alongside side memorable guest appearances and supporting roles from Sammo Hung, Fung Hak-on, Elaine Jin and Shum Wai. With so many characters the ability to really connect with any of them is limited; only a minor subplot concerning Leung and a potential love interest and Shing Fui-on’s surrogate fatherhood for a young orphan boy really carry any weight and even then it is fairly minor and somewhat manipulative. Regardless, it serves it’s purpose and you get a solid outlook of how to view these characters for when the final, and terrific, climatic battle takes place.
The action itself is widely varied and each of the main Seven get a chance to shine. Fist fights, sword duels, gunplay, and horse stunts all add to the overall adventurous spirit of the film and it is great. Action direction by veterans Tony Poon and Benny Kong keep the adrenaline high and provide some excellent sequences like the Ben Lam staff fight and the ferocious sword duel by Adam Cheng against Lo Lieh. Like in the original Seven Samurai, it is fairly evident who makes it to the end of the film, but it allows for their sacrifices to mean something, even if there is ultimately little screen time for each of them to be developed fully.
Ultimately, Seven Warriors will not live up the immeasurable pedigree of Kurosawa’s classic. It knows this and instead uses the template laid out in that film to turn in an entertaining and memorable HK classic. While cinema purists will without a doubt turn their noses up in derision at what amounts to a remake, genre fans will find so much to like in this fun and entertaining film which is something of a forgotten classic.
Special Thanks to Well Go USA for providing a viewing copy!