An invading army with a general named Yelu Yuan who has a grudge against the Yang family for killing his father in a previous invasion attempt has come into the Song territory with approximately 50,000 men, horses and catapults.
The Yang family and the Pan family have always been at odds, but after one of Yang’s seven sons accidentally kills one of Pan’s sons, Pan uses that to get the emperor to make him the supreme commander of the army, with General Yang serving under him. He immediately assigns General Yang to the front line, initial attack force, and Yang leads his men in bravely, only to be abandoned by Pan, who sounds a retreat before they even attempt to assist them.
General Yang goes on the run, and the invading general lets him live so that his seven sons will attempt to rescue him. That way he can wipe out the whole family, all at once, leaving only their grieving mother, just as his own mother was left to grieve after the death of his father.
Now Yang’s sons are tasked with trying to rescue him. The emperor has ordered Lord Pan to send assistance to them, but he doesn’t, so the Yang clan along with the small group of soldiers that come along to assist them, have to face the entire invading army alone in order to rescue their father. The question is, will any of them make it back alive?
This movie is yet another historical type drama in a long line of these types of films that seem to have been popular in China in the past several years. Some of them work quite well, while others just fall absolutely flat. This film, fortunately, succeeded on a wide number of levels.
I think the one thing that struck me first and foremost about this film was the realism of the battle scenes, and the aftermath thereof. After the initial battle, the sons and their men are riding through the battlefield, and there are just bodies and blood everywhere. It’s one of the most realistic looking scenes I’ve ever seen of the aftermath of an ancient battle, and was just incredibly well put together. It’s so good, you can almost smell the death in the air.
The costume and armor design for the film were expertly done as well. You feel like you’re watching real soldiers gearing up and riding off to battle. There are also some really cringe-worthy scenes of wounds being treated that will make you wince. There’s one particularly nasty scene where one of the sons has to cut a poisoned arrow from the back of his father’s shoulder, and then has to cut out some of the bone along with it.
The entire cast did a great job with their roles, though I did find the acting to be a bit overly dramatic at times, and some of the decisions they made didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Things like a couple of the brothers staying behind to face the general and his men to buy the others some time to escape. They were ahead of them anyway. They should have just kept going.
There are only really two areas I can mention that didn’t really measure up. The first was the CGI they used. I really wish they’d just stop using CGI in these films. They really don’t need to, at least, not on the level they’re using it. One of the big places it was used in this film was when the old, abandoned fortress was being attacked by catapults. The destruction looked real enough, but the whole thing was unnecessary, and it didn’t make sense that they’d drag along a whole bunch of catapults just to kill a small force. They’re incredibly cumbersome to move and the size of the boulders they had them throwing was just ridiculous. There’s no way they could have moved those things loaded, or loaded them at all without some mechanical assistance considering how big those boulders were.
The other place the movie didn’t make much sense was the part where Master Su Wu, some kind of a mystic type, gives the mother a message that seven brothers will leave, six will return. That turned out to not be the case at all, so I’m still trying to figure out what the whole point of that was.
One of the more striking things about this film is that, in many cases, the invading general is just some evil man out for power. In this film, the invading general is out for revenge, and you can actually understand his reasons for wanting revenge, which make him seem more human. After General Yang killed his father, his mother wasted away in her grief, and he had to watch that. He wasn’t angry about his father dying, because that’s what happens in war. He wanted revenge for his mother, which is something you can’t really hold against him. It was a nice dynamic to see, when so many other films are all about power and control.
For special features, this new release from Well Go USA includes a making of featurette, interviews with the director and cast, the film’s trailer and an English language track.
All in all, this was a really well made film that manages to feel slick and stylish, while at the same time bringing you the horrors of ancient battles and the aftermath thereof. If you like these kinds of films, this is definitely one you’re going to want to check out.
If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page on the Well Go USA website here, and if you’d like to pick up a copy for yourself, you can get the blu-ray or DVD from Amazon, or from any of the other usual outlets.