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Friday, March 11, 2016

THE HEROIC ONES -- Movie Review by Porfle

From the legendary Shaw Brothers, THE HEROIC ONES (1970) is a rousing tale of ancient China that's a feast for fans of sword and spear action done on a grand scale.

As the Tang Dynasty wanes, warlords Li Ke Yong and Zhu Wen become allies in the fight against bandit leader Wang Chao, who has taken over the capital city of Changon.

Li Ke Yong's thirteen generals, whom he has adopted and regards as sons, are fierce super-warriors who love a good battle as much as they love getting drunk and making whoopee. He chooses nine of them to be led by thirteenth son Chun Xiao in a mission to retake Changon and kill Wang.

But fourth son Li Cun Xin is jealous of the young general and wants more glory for himself, which will lead to him and another son joining Zhu Wen in a bloody betrayal of Li Ke Yong and the other generals.

Cheh Chang's direction is old-style with lots of restless hand-held camera and whiplash zooms. But with a big budget to work with, he offers up an opulent display of elaborate sets and costumes with hundreds of extras.

His battle scenes are often spectacular, featuring some impressive choreography involving numerous actors performing long, complicated bits of business. Swords and spears clash furiously as the generals take on waves of opponents and rack up body counts well into the hundreds.

There's some less than convincing wirework as Chun Xiao and his brothers execute a few super-human moves here and there, but it's all part of the fun.

The battle for Changon is an early highlight which is surpassed later on when Li Ke Yong is kidnapped by Zhu Weng and is rescued by courageous general Ju Li, who must fight his way through dozens of soldiers on a bridge as the enemy stronghold goes up in flames. Throughout the film, the action is eye-filling and intense.

A lighthearted mood fills the early part of the story as we get to know the comically self-confident and cocky Heroic Ones, who revel in the fact that they can defeat just about anyone and have fun celebrating their invincibility with plenty of wine and women.

As thirteenth son Chun Xiao, David Chiang does a good job taking his character from brash insouciance to wounded disillusionment as the story takes on tragic proportions.

What happens in the latter half of the film is pretty heavy stuff, with the final confrontation between brothers carrying quite a lot of emotional weight along with the action.

I wasn't expecting an epic when I started watching THE HEROIC ONES, but it certainly does its best to resemble one. In addition to being an opulent historical piece, it also has elements of the Italian western and war films such as THE DIRTY DOZEN. And there's a gripping story to go along with all of that beautifully-staged carnage.

Read our review of the SHAW BROTHERS COLLECTION


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