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Cecilia Cheung’s comeback continues with “Legendary Amazons”, a Chinese period epic which also marks the return of Frankie Chan (“A Warrior’s Tragedy”), being his first outing as director in over ten years. Drawing upon the same source material as Cheng Gang’s 1972 Shaw Brothers hit “The 14 Amazons”, the film is another charting the deeds of the heroic and patriotic Yang clan as they fight to defend the land against barbarian invaders, led by their courageous warrior women. With Jackie Chan onboard as producer, the film sees Cheung joined by a host of other top female performers, including Shaw action legend Cheng Pei Pei (star of many classics including “The Lady Hermit” and “Lady of Steel”), Mainland actress Liu Xiaoqing (“The Shadow of Empress Wu”) and Kathy Chow (“Sleepless Town”), with popular Taiwanese actor/singer Richie Jen (“Punished”) and Xiao Mingyu heading up the male contingent and veteran favourite Wu Ma (“A Chinese Ghost Story”) making an appearance.
Cheung plays Northern Song Dynasty Yang general Mu Guiying, whose husband Yang Zongbao (Richie Jen) is apparently killed in a battle with the Western Xia army when the scheming Prime Minister (Wu Ma) refuses to send in the reinforcements. After their inexperienced son Wenguang (Xiao Mingyu) is ordered to lead the imperial forces on a hopeless battle against the far stronger enemy, Mu Guiying, along with Princess Chai (Liu Xiaoqing), She Taijun (Cheng Pei Pei) and the other Yang widows pick up their weapons and join the camp gain.
“Legendary Amazons” is a pretty straightforward historical action epic, playing hard and fast with fact in the name of commercial entertainment, director Frankie Chan clearly aiming for blockbuster thrills rather than accuracy. This definitely works in the film’s favour, as the absence of any serious expectations or the need for depth allows for a focus on fun, with the Yangs taking on the simplistically evil barbarian hordes with only a few nods to political manipulations and plotting. Whilst in narrative terms the film is a bit of a mess, with the first half hour or so muddling through flashbacks and introducing its vast cast of characters via throwaway on screen titles noting their names, aliases and initial weapon of choice, this is rapidly shoved into the background once the battles start. Any confusion soon ceases to matter, and the film has a fine sense of ridiculous enjoyment, and the same spirit of camaraderie which held together the 1972 Shaw outing.
The best thing about the film is the fact that it packs in an impressive amount of action, with most of the running time being taken up with combat of one sort or another. Director Chan manages a few fairly epic stagings, and though some of the choreography is rather over the top, with too much slow motion and characters frequently spinning around several times and flying ridiculous distances when being hit, the swordplay and martial arts are boisterous and fast moving. There’s a fair amount of decent stuntwork on show (also seen in a Jackie Chan style credits sequence blooper reel of mishaps), and though most of the fighting is low impact stuff, it does make for some exciting scenes. It has to be said that this is undermined a little by some often dreadful computer effects, with some bafflingly awful backgrounds and sky colouring in particular – however, on the plus side this does add a few unintentional laughs and so is not entirely unwelcome.
Although the rather basic script doesn’t really give Cecilia Cheung much of a chance to convince that she is attempting to return to serious acting, she’s decent and likeable enough in the lead role, which despite her headline billing is shared with the other cast members, the film being somewhat of an ensemble piece. She, and indeed the rest of the female Yangs are a bit hard to take seriously since they are all quite clearly far too young for their supposed screen ages, in her case by at least a decade, a fact not helped by their looking exactly the same during flashback sequences.
Given the cheerful lack of pretension shown by “Legendary Amazons”, this really isn’t much of a problem, and if anything only serves to up the entertainment value. Although it might disappoint anyone looking for historical realism or grit, as a semi-wacky and action packed costume epic it certainly stands as an agreeable time passer, with a few extra marks added for fans of Cecilia Cheung.
Frankie Chan (director)
CAST: Cecilia Cheung … Mu Guiying
Xiaoqing Liu … Princess Chai
Richie Ren … Yang Zongbao
Pei-pei Cheng … She Saihua
Xiao Ming Yu … Yang Wenguang