Legendary Amazons relates the tale of the female generals of the Yang family after the Song army’s invasion appears to lead to the death of the family’s patriarch and leaves the clan with but one surviving male heir to carry on the family name- a young man who is then pressured into leading the overmatched remains of the clan’s forces against a vastly superior number of invaders. Rather than just accepting this fate for their cherished son the women of the clan don their armor and take their place on the battlefield and demonstrate that they take no backseat to the men of the clan in terms of military prowess or courage. If the plot sounds familiar to some it is probably because the story is one of China’s more revered tales with many adaptations having been created in the near millennium since the clan initially thrived, including a take by the Shaw Brothers Studio in The 14 Amazons (and from where this title borrows part of its name).
The biggest challenge with this work is found in its epic nature as the story purports to place its cast at the head of an army of ten thousand facing a force ten times their size with a very sizable cast of personalities for the viewer to become acquainted with in a very short time that a motion picture provides, a situation not made any easier by the film being less than the length one might expect from a tale attempting such epic magnitude. This is probably the place where the casual fan who is not versed in the original Chinese story will find themselves at a loss as the feature doesn’t have a great deal of time to introduce its cast and their circumstances and make them memorable, which unfortunately is a major undoing to the production. At both the beginning and near the end it appears that the story has an idea that it might be a good idea to try to give the audience an anchor into the drama through a central character through which the audience can come to understand the impact of events and their glory in triumph and tragedy in loss. Unfortunately for movie goers this attempt quickly falls apart leaving the viewer wandering from scene to scene that focus as often on barely fleshed out characters as ones that have not had any sort of development which negates in great measure any real feeling of loss as the characters start to fall along the way to the final show down.
It is the path to their final battle where the movie really goes astray though as at times it works hard to establish a liner story telling instrument of how the forces match up and whereas at later points in the film events seem to just happen either because they are historical (or the popularly accepted version of historical) at seeming random with no clear reason given for why the characters suddenly are in certain places as it appears to rely on common knowledge among its intended target audience to fill in those details. But no amount of the audience bringing in their own knowledge can cover for the other faults the film has as it is incredibly inconsistent in tone, seeming not to know if it wants to be a serious epic or a whimsical take on the material and as it walks a staggered and drunken path between the two opposites with some of the actors giving some fine performances while others seem to be hamming it up or worse, recognizing they are in a dog of a picture and just going through the motions. This lack of a singular vision for how the story will play out in tone is reflected even in the action portions of the film which seems to greatly undercut the selling point of the film with its less than inspired choreography and execution that makes one marvel at just how the picture managed to acquire funding in the first place and how it managed to get some fairly big names to sign on to it.
None of this is helped by the inconsistencies in filming with the film looking like it is trying to mesh wirework fighting with some of the sense of humor of some 70’s Hong Kong films at times and other times trying to play events and fights with a far more serious approach that adds to the general discord of narration. These problems are simply exacerbated by the fact that while it looks like the film had a budget they didn’t spend it well with some costumes and props looking alright from afar but many lacking any appearance of being anything more than props when seen in battle as “solid” weapons occasionally bend and shields look to have all the heft of Styrofoam in many scenes. In addition the film makes the error of often trying to make reference to sizes of the various armies, numbers which before the final showdown and their clearly CGI enhanced ranks aren’t anywhere close to what are supposed to be in battle and which serves to further throw realism out the window- and that CGI is rarely impressive either as it often comes across as being far more ambitious in approach than execution with stilted effects (especially in one poorly blended into the film effect being blazingly obvious and not fully covered up on Blu Ray). Many may find themselves wishing for the old soundstages of yesteryear when the mixing of expansive and lush settings clash with the clearly soundstage and green screened interiors that the filmmakers try to intercut, not that the old tricks fair much better here either as the final fight has a laughably obvious projection screen portion that undercuts the impact that the scene should convey. And if that weren’t enough, one final mix of unintentional comedy still permeates through much of the film as many scenes make use of film being speed up in order to move it along faster which leaves one wondering if perhaps this change was made in the later stages to cut down on the run length to save movie goers a bit of the time they spent on this poor project with its seeming lack of directorial vision and poorly executed approach. In short the film feels more like a compilation of a much larger work and its whole leaves its few actually worth watching parts looking like they are simply wasted in this work that never figured out what its ultimate goal was and which comes off the kind of bad execution that makes it more ripe for mocking than taking seriously.