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Ronny Yu is a Hong Kong director who I know first and foremost for his highly entertaining contributions to two 80s horror franchises. On the one hand, there's my absolute favourite entry in the Child's Play franchise "Bride of Chucky", which managed to successfully combine both the horror and comedy elements as well as introducing the awesome character of Tiffany to reinvigorate the series. On the other hand there's "Freddy Vs Jason", a film which combined the Friday The 13th series and the A Nightmare On Elm Street series and acted as an homage to both, establishing itself as one of the better entries in both franchises.

However, Ronny Yu also has some background in martial arts films and perhaps his most revered is "Fearless". I've also now checked out a low budget flick starring Bruce Lee's son Brandon (who so famously died making the early comicbook flick "The Crow") called "Legacy of Rage" and Ronny Yu's latest contribution "Saving General Yang".

Fearless (2006)

An interesting tale about a fighter who stands against western imperialism. I don't know to what extent it could be called a 'true' story, but it's an interesting one all the same.

There are some fantastic action sequences here. However the central story sometimes feels awkwardly paced. This is often the problem with 'true life' stories or book adaptations. You have to follow a certain set of narrative steps, regardless of how messy they make the script.

The story is pretty reasonable though the fighting representing China at the end feels like a different movie from the fighting for ego and reputation towards the beginning.

Still this is a fully entertaining and engaging action film.


Long zai jiang hu (1986) (Legacy of Rage)

I wouldn't say that I exactly hated this action flick with Brandon Lee, but the acting is bad, the storytelling is somewhat confused and our protagonist has the most unlikely friend ever who, early and obviously, betrays him.

However, the really big problem is that there is barely any action in this film. We finally get some action in the last 15 minutes, but we'd been waiting so damn long for it.

Even though this movie has a sweet side which makes it bearable rather than boring, it really doesn't feel worth the effort. The film may also be lowered in my estimation by some pretty cheesy dubbing on the DVD I watched.


Saving General Yang (2013)

It should be noted right off the bat that this is not a beautiful artsy action film like "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" or "Hero". There's still parts that look good, but it's not going for that same colourful fantasy vision. Things are kept relatively plausible in this film.

While it could be partially a result of the translations used for the subtitles, the dialogue feels a little stilted. Everyone is very uptight and it's rather difficult to identify with the characters. But oddly the character which irritated me the most was the wise Buddhist monk they approach.

There's some political wranglings at the beginning regarding an accidental death during a tournament and some fighting taking place against rival armies. (Our protagonists are serving the Emperor of the Song Dynasty and their enemies are Khitans serving the Empress of the Liao Dynasty.) General Yang is cornered fairly early on in the film during his skirmish with the Khitans and his wife asks a wise monk in the mountains for advice.

Now this monk is a complete arse, no bones about it. He insists that their family is doomed to misfortune because they are involved in warfare. I couldn't help but think of the monk like he was a hippy. This isolated figure sitting out of harm's way in the mountain and musing on transcendent truths and mocking those dealing with the real political minefields of the time. And my view of this figure isn't improved when his servant hands over a note which reads "Seven shall leave, six shall return."

I was wondering how much drama we could ever get in a film where six of the seven brothers are destined to survive, but things are not as clear-cut as you might expect. (And as you might imagine, I'm not endeared to the monk any more when he starts handing out misleading prophecies.) The monk even appears to General Yang in a dream at one point and I felt the monk was a complete dick there too. While the film clearly isn't demonising the monk figure, this isn't a good film if you are hoping for positive portryals of wise old monks.

The pacing isn't perfect and the characters feel a little 2 dimensional for the most part. But this film is a lot of fun nonetheless. One other little annoyance, however, is towards the end when the decision is made to spare someone's life. There's this odd pattern in a lot of films in recent years (particularly often in superhero films it seems) where the protagonists are meant to avoid killing to sometimes quite absurd lengths. If you are dealing with a hardened killer that is very hard to track down and even harder to defeat, you may find your regret sparing them when you finally have the upper hand.

Rather than saying anything which might spoil the "Saving General Yang" movie, I'm going to talk about a Spider-Man comicbook storyline. In the Spider-Man storyline "Maximum Carnage" Spider-Man keeps finding the villain Carnage during Carnage's rampage of destruction and murder across the city. Each time Spider-Man and his allies found Carnage they'd fight for a bit before Spider-Man insists "no, I must not kill him!" and Carnage gets away. Goodness knows how many lives are lost because Spider-Man insists on repeatedly sparing this mass-murderer. Perhaps the more well-known and simpler example would have been Batman crashing his motorcycle rather than killing the Joker in "The Dark Knight". Imagine how many lives would no longer have been at risk if Batman had just murdered that monster!

But what's especially weird in "Saving General Yang" is that these brothers are soldiers. They've killed countless people. The figure being spared is ruthless, untrustworthy, has not surrendered himself, has been actively and visciously trying to kill the protagonist we are following at the time and, in any case, there's no realistic means of taking this figure prisoner at this stage anyway. So our protagonist leaves this guy alive and turns their back on him. This is nuts!

But all this being said, I had a good time watching this film. I think there are some unfortunate flaws, particularly in pacing and characterisation, but this is a fun watch all the same.



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