There was an explosion of foreign cinema coming to American shores throughout the 70’s and 80’s that largely consisted of grindhouse-type entertainment. Italian production companies were churning out some interesting splatter and gore; the French were making some clever forays into pretentious artsy flicks as well as melodramatic romances; while the smaller Chinese and Japanese companies were putting out an awful lot of what many of us called ‘chopsocky’ – kung fu and karate films light on story but heavy on action, though quite a bit of it required the audience to suspend their disbelief of concepts as elemental as gravity. These heavily cloaked fighters could jump and soar when delivered kicks and punches and holds, and they’d almost dance across the silver screen with heavy swords, spears, and clubs flailing magically. You never had to think all that much about story, and you were – at best – modestly entertained.
LEGENDARY AMAZONS pretty much follows in the vein of those imports from three to four decades ago. Set during the days when men of the Yang Clan were massacred on the battlefield, a group of women – all ages – suit up and march out to kick some serious butt. Each of the ladies has a special gift with a sword or a spear or some particular fighting skills, and there will be hell to pay if the ladies – think of them as ‘The Expendabelles’ – won’t help their families throw off oppression, re-establish the rule of their husbands and fathers, and maybe (just maybe) build a whole new world for you and me.
For all intents and purposes, the action remains pretty constant from start to finish, so much so that I found it quite difficult to distinguish so much when one battle ended and another one started. That may not be a detriment – after all, this is billed as a “legendary martial arts spectacular” – and I would imagine folks who enjoy their ‘chopsocky’ with few distractions will have something to look forward to her. Me? I tend to like my films with more story – it helps me to establish things like conflict, theme, and motivation – but I’d be lying if I didn’t point out that quite a bit of the fight choreography is impressive.
However, there’s a fair amount of this that’s clearly been accomplished by speeding up the film by the smallest increments; regardless of its effectiveness (which is debatable), I’ve always found that a distraction. It reminds me that I’m watching a film and not experiencing a physical match-up in real time. There’s nothing wrong with a little camera trickery, but when an entire picture relies on it I tend to think that some elements of the production needed to be re-conceived.
Also, it’s never a bad thing to stuff a film with as many pretty faces as you can find. Cecilia Cheung, Cheng Pei-Pei, and Liu Ziaoqing aren’t too shabby to look at for the course of 108 minutes, and that translates to some modest moments of entertainment for even the most discriminating viewer.
LEGENDARY AMAZONS is produced by Shanghai Film Group Corporation, China Media Cultural Industry Investment Co Ltd, Beijing Shaitengfei Movie and Teleplay Cultural Media Co Ltd, Dao Culture Investment Ltd, and a whole host of others. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through Well Go USA. Picture and sound quality are exceptional, and the production quality is quite good throughout. There’s a brief behind-the-scenes featurette available, along with the theatrical trailer, and that’s all she wrote: nothing impressive, just more of the routine, much like the produced picture.
RECOMMENDED only for fans of traditional martial arts films. While I’ve read others who’ve pegged the picture as “a genre breakthrough,” I’d caution them to actually go back, seek out, and watch some of the imports I mentioned above; I think they’ll find that there’s really nothing ‘groundbreaking’ on display here. There’s nothing wrong with LEGENDARY AMAZONS, but there’s really not all that much interesting in it either. Excellent costuming and set pieces elevate the feel of the production, but so much of the production relies on rather obvious wire-fu and somewhat dated camera trickery to accomplish these feats and fisticuffs. Still, it’s harmless fodder for those inclined – kind of a brain-candy action flick – and, on that level, it mostly succeeds.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA provided me with a DVD screener copy of LEGENDARY AMAZONS for the expressed purposes of completing this review.