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Saving General Yang

Saving General Yang

The Yang brothers unite to save Dad in Saving General Yang.

Chinese: 忠烈楊家將  
Year: 2013  
Director: Ronny Yu Yan-Tai
Producer:

Ronny Yu Yan-Tai, Raymond Wong Bak-Ming

Writer:

Edmond Wong, Scarlett Liu, Ronny Yu Yan-Tai

Action:

Stephen Tung Wai

Cast: Adam Cheng Siu-Chow, Xu Fan, Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin, Yu Bo, Vic Chou, Li Chen, Raymond Lam Fung, Wu Chun, Fu Xinbo, Ady An, Shao Bing, Leung Ka-Yan, Chen Zhihui, Li Qian
The Skinny: Straightforward widescreen retelling of the Yang Family story, complete with battles, bohunks and a grateful lack of pretension. While not much to chew on, Saving General Yang is solid and earnest entertainment for the masses.
 
Review
by Kozo:
Time to bone up on your Yang family history, because it’ll help you enjoy Ronny Yu’s Saving General Yang that much more. The true story of the Song Dynasty-era Yang family has been adapted numerous times to film and television, e.g., the Shaw Brothers classic The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter and 80s TVB drama The Yang’s Saga, which starred Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Carina Lau and even Chow Yun-Fat. Both depict the near-decimation in battle of General Yang Ye and his seven sons, precipitating the Yang family’s rebirth as a mostly-female clan led by matriarch She Saihua. Her story is told in the Shaws classic The 14 Amazons and the laughable Legendary Amazons, so if you’re itching for a kind-of sequel to Saving General Yang, those films may help. Plot details differ depending on the adaptation, but the gist of the Yang story remains the same: the men mostly die.

Sorry, that’s more-or-less a spoiler for Saving General Yang, which doesn’t deviate much from previous adaptations of the Yang story. However, the film actually works better if one goes in knowing that things don’t end well. Having knowledge of the Yang family’s fate injects a tragic irony into the narrative and helps deepen what’s otherwise a simple and straightforward battlefield yarn. Tasked with defending the Song Dynasty’s northern border, the Yang family is at odds with the nominally allied Pan family. Pan Bao, son of the conniving Pan Renmei (Leung Ka-Yan), is accidentally killed in a duel by seventh Yang son Qilang (Fu Xinbo), who’s fighting on behalf of sixth son Yang Yansi (Wu Chun), who in turn was competing with Pan Bao for the hand of Princess Chai (Ady An). Dead sons, devious fathers, guys fighting over girls – we’re basically ten seconds from a Yang versus Pan family feud.

Internal enmity is put aside when the rival Liao Dynasty sends Khitan warriors to invade the Song Dynasty. The Song Emperor asks General Yang Ye (Adam Cheng) to fight on the front lines while Pan Renmei serves as commander-in-chief. The treacherous Pan retreats, leaving Yang Ye trapped on Wolf Mountain and under siege by the Khitan, who are led by Yelu Yuan (Shao Bing), a canny Liao general seeking vengeance against Yang Ye. With Pan ostensibly unable to help, the seven Yang sons ride to the rescue led by eldest son Yanping (Ekin Cheng). However, mother She Saihua (Xu Fan) fears for her sons’ fate. A prophecy states that “Seven sons will leave, six will return,” and Yanping assures Saihua that if one of her sons must die, he will sacrifice himself before his younger siblings. Sadly, the family may have misread the prophecy, and more than one Yang son is destined for a tragic fate.

Saving General Yang starts in a routine manner, with storytelling that’s numbingly straightforward. The film improves midway, when the Khitan forces launch a surprise attack on the Yangs at Wolf Mountain. Early action scenes are competent, but during the siege it’s upped a notch, with kinetic choreography and camerawork ably conveying the chaos of battle. Ronny Yu and action director Stephen Tung orchestrate an exhilarating set piece following the Yang sons as they escort their injured father while battling soldiers and dodging CGI boulders raining from the sky. Remaining action scenes are smaller in scale but the emotional intensity hits a higher level. Strategy and sacrifice are required to fulfill She Saihua’s wish that Yang Ye be brought home, and as the situation grows more desperate, the Yang sons are forced to make tough decisions. With each sacrifice made for honor and family, the film earns its reverent tone.

The sense of urgency created as the film approaches its climax improves an initially unremarkable film. In the early going, dodgy CGI, underwhelming production design and confined sets reveal the production’s limitations. Characters are barely established as people act grave or upset with little going on beneath the surface. There’s some benefit to this simple storytelling: early melodrama might unbalance the film, and too much banter or romance would be cloying. The filmmakers also eschew pretension and never oversell the themes of brotherhood, honor and sacrifice. The downside is that the film feels predictable and perfunctory for much of its running time, and even when the emotions improve and the action heightens, it never reaches that rarefied air that transforms competent work into something exceptional. Saving General Yang has action and emotion, but it lacks the smarts, style or subtext to lift it to greater heights.

Looking at Saving General Yang less critically, it qualifies as respectable audience entertainment. Despite not featuring enough of the Yang brothers’ iconic weaponry, Stephen Tung’s action is strong and impactful. The Pan-China cast, who range from super-hot (Wu Chun) or handsome (Yu Bo) to popular (Raymond Lam), iconic (Ekin Cheng) and even super iconic (Adam Cheng), serve their hunky and heroic purpose. Vic Chou, as smoldering and silent archer Yangqing, brings welcome badass cool to the mix, while Xu Fan anchors the pathos and Shao Bing shows understated integrity as the surprisingly empathetic antagonist. Kenji Kawai’s omnipresent score complements the action and drama appropriately if not subtly. Saving General Yang provides little to mull over, but its solid filmmaking and entertainment value make it a safe pick for fans of the genre, the actors or both. The Yang family should be proud, or at least generally appreciative. (Kozo, 3/2013)

 
Notes:

• Louis Koo was originally cast as eldest son Yang Yanping, but was forced to quit the production due to a leg injury. Cast as antagonist Yelu Yuan, Ekin Cheng stepped into Koo's vacated role. Shao Bing took over for Cheng as Yelu Yuan.

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Vicol Entertainment Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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Image credit: Pegasus Motion Pictures

   
   
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