Eastern Bandits (2012) – By Duane L. Martin

When Gao and his men are sent on a mission against the Japanese invaders during the Japanese occupation of China, his entire group are discovered and wiped out, leaving him as the lone survivor. Later, when he runs across a gang of criminals in the midst of a plan to free their leader Fang, and also happens to fall instantly in love at first sight with Fang’s sister Jen, he comes up with an elaborate plan to join the gang so he can not only be closer to Jen, but also so he can convince Fang and his gang to join in on his plan to assassinate the Japanese Emperor’s brother, the prince when he comes to visit a Japanese army camp. Will their plan succeed or will fate step in and deal them a different hand? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

I expected this movie to be something different than it was actually. I was expecting it to be more of a comedy, but it ended up being more serious and quirky than amusing. There’s also a quote on the cover from Film Biz Asia that says that it’s "Part western, part martial arts homage."

To be honest, it’s not really either. There really isn’t much in the line of martial arts in it at all, so if anything its more akin to a western, but it’s not really that so much either. More than anything it’s simply a period piece that takes place during a very contentious time in China’s history that, at least judging by the films that are made about that period, is a time that China is still incredibly bitter about, and with good reason.

While Gao’s plan to join the gang is so bizarrely obscure that it becomes laughable, not only did it work, but he ended up with Jen as well. The gang itself is full of characters that you’ll come to find yourself pulling for, but one of the big shortcomings of this movie is that some of more interesting member of the gang don’t get the focus in the story that they deserve. Cook Zhao is this tough, middle aged woman who doesn’t take crap off of anyone, and she would have been a great character to have done something with, and yet sadly she’s killed off in a meaningless way without ever having contributed much to the story. Many members of the gang should have had more focus, as it would have greatly enhanced the entertainment value of the film. Sadly, this didn’t happen, and while it still is quite a good film in its own right, removing some of the filler and giving these characters more focus would have made it far better.

The look of the film is pretty spectacular. There’s almost a steampunkish feel to it, even though it’s not a steampunk film. The underground hideout of the gang is particularly impressive in both its look and it’s layout. They really had a great set up down there and just that one location added more to the film than any other.

One unfortunate misstep in the film is that at one point there’s a flashback to when Fang rescued gained the freedom of three of his gang from a local town leader and Japanese collaborator by biting off one of the fingers on his left hand for each of them. Why is that a misstep? Because throughout the film he doesn’t seem to be missing any fingers, so I’m not really sure what the deal was with that, but if he was missing three fingers on one hand, they should have made it more of a point to make that apparent from the get go. Once I realized he was supposed to be missing those fingers I really watched for it, but nothing in his actions or appearance indicated to me that he was missing any fingers at all.

All in all this is an entertaining and enjoyable film, and while the writing could have been better in some ways, the end result didn’t overly suffer because of it. The characters are the biggest reason to watch this film. You’ll find yourself pulling for them throughout, and honestly, that’s reason enough to spend your time watching it. Add in the fact that it looks great and is just generally entertaining, and you’ve got a definite winner.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page on the Well Go USA website here.