Legendary Amazons Blu-ray Review
Written and Directed by Frankie Chan
2011, Region A, 108 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on October 16th, 2012
Cecilia Cheung as Mu Guiying
Xiaoquing Liu as Princess Chai
Richie Ren as Yang Zongbao
Cheng Pei-pei as She Saihua
Xiao Ming Yu as Yang Wenguang
The Yang Clan has just suffered a devastating loss since all of the males have been massacred in the latest battle. Additional news arrives that their leader, Zongbao, has fallen and is presumed lost, which leaves the responsibility of leadership on the narrow shoulders of the young Prince Wenguang. The women of the clan unite and take up swords to avenge their fallen comrades and punish the corrupt official who stands in their way.
This Chinese epic produced by Hong Kong legend Jackie Chan (awesome) and directed by Frankie Chan (no relation) tells the true story of the Yang family’s female generals. What would appear to be a highly-budgeted cinematic event suffers from convoluted storytelling and an uncomfortable resemblance to a made-for-television melodrama. The production design is stunning and the wardrobe is genuinely gorgeous (except for some of the military uniforms), but there is an unfortunate level of CGI nonsense thrown in along the way.
On paper Legendary Amazons should be a sure thing, but the execution is really disappointing. Frankie Chan’s direction includes a lot of flashy camera work at every opportunity, regardless of content. Quiet dramatic moments of conversation are given the same energy as the battle scenes and the decision to deliver the exposition of the central characters within overlapping flashbacks is simply confusing.
Another obstacle is the unprecedented number of people in supporting roles. At the beginning of the film, a dozen women of the clan are introduced in rapid succession with a brief dossier of their name, special weapon and fighting skills, but there is nothing to distinguish their importance. I had to switch to the English audio track to keep up with the dialogue while trying to read the onscreen bios since the subtitles overlapped the info, and I still had trouble keeping up with each character along the way.
Once everyone is introduced, the problem of casting continues, because just about every one of these women looks to be the same age. This becomes an issue whenever Cecilia Cheung (Shaolin Soccer) talks to her children, who both appear to be about three years younger than her. Cheng Pei-pei (Brothers Five) stands out in her role as the grandmotherly leader not because she is a legend of Chinese cinema but simply because she is old and can be readily identified by her grey hair. The three leads are given the room to develop while everyone else in the group simply fills the frame until it’s time to fight.
The battles are undeniably well-choreographed, but the energy of the scenes is “enhanced” by the awkward decision to speed up the fights in post-production. This removes a lot of the drama from the action and introduces a vibe similar to watching a flashy cartoon. While never falling into outright comedy, the stylistic choice simply works against the whole dramatic nature of all the other scenes.
Mercifully, the film runs under two hours but carries enough material to be crammed into a third. Legendary Amazons contains some truly enjoyable moments, but viewers have to suffer through a bunch of melodrama to reach it, and even then the time is better spent watching something else or researching the actual history that inspired this story.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Legendary Amazons receives a pretty amazing transfer with the exception of some green screen sequences that are poorly executed. Colors are gorgeous, flesh tones natural and black levels solid with well-defined contrast. There is a surprising amount of small-item detail and fine definition in the wide vistas of the battlegrounds are quite pleasing.
The film is given a pair of DTS 5.1 HD mixes in both Mandarin and English as well as similar offerings in DTS 2.0 HD. Unfortunately, the English dubbing is lame, but it is a necessary evil during the round-robin of character intros. The 5.1 mix is rather nice at times as there are plenty of opportunities to work all speakers to capacity. English subtitles are provided but move at a fast pace and are occasionally hidden against white backgrounds.
Well Go USA offers a collection of behind-the-scenes footage that begins with a disclaimer that essentially apologizes for the A/V quality. The material runs for about an hour and is pulled from various sources during production. It is a nice addition to the disc and offers an inviting glimpse of the cast and crew working to make the picture.
The original trailer is the only other bonus feature.