With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Sunday, May 11, 2014


Well Go USA
Seven Warriors / Zhong yi qun ying
Directed by Sammo Hung and Terry Tong
Hong Kong, 1989, 94 minutes

Akira Kurosawa's jidaigeki (period, as opposed to contemporary) films have certainly proved to be remake fodder for other filmmakers. Rashomon (1950), the film that brought both Kurosawa and Japanese film to the attention of world cinema, was remade by Martin Ritt as The Outrage (1964). Yojimbo (1961) was refashioned into Sergio Leone's spaghetti western Fistful of Dollars (1964), and years later Walter Hill set it in a Prohibition ghost town in Last Man Standing (1996). Seven Samurai was done as The Magnificent Seven (1960) by John Sturges.

And now, with Well Go USA's recent release of Seven Warriors on Blu-ray and DVD, North American fans have a Hong Kong version of Seven Samurai to add to their collections.

This time the tale is set in China during the turbulent 1920s when some former government soldiers have become thieves and bandits. Guangzi, one of the villages threatened by a marauding band, sends a group to search for protectors. Seven warriors are recruited to assist the villagers in defending their land and lives.

Adam Cheng as Commanger Chi

The group is led by Commander Chi (inconsistently spelled ""Qi" in some of the subtitles), a former military leader. He is played by Adam Cheng (Saving General Yang). Tony Leung Chiu Wai (The Grandmaster, Infernal Affairs, etc.) is Wong Way-Wu, whose enthusiasm for the role of defender is far greater than his actual abilities to fight. Ching (Jacky Cheung, Bodyguards and Assassins) is a former army training officer who sports a scar on his right cheek. Actors Mak Mok, Lam Kwok-Bun, Shing Fui-On and Wu Ma portray the other four warriors. The gang is led by Piu (Lieh Lo, Five Fingers of Death, Supercop).

Aside from an opening scene that features co-director Sammo Hung as Hung, who taught villagers that "unity is strength," there is really no kung fu in evidence. (This scene, by the way, is Sammo's only onscreen appearance in the film.) The fighting is almost completely restricted to pistols and rifles, with a machine gun, some knives, and a few grenades thrown in.

This brings up what I think is the main problem with the movie, the same problem that I found with The Magnificent Seven. Namely, the tale isn't nearly as interesting with these weapons as it was in Kurosawa's original, which overwhelmingly relied on swordplay or other direct contact combat. Furthermore, both Seven Warriors and The Magnificent Seven have the climactic battle taking place in fine weather, unlike Seven Samurai's torrential downpour.

Left to right: Tony Leung, Jacky Cheung, and Wu Ma

I also found Seven Warriors weakened by two things things that I consider silly or stupid. One was a row of sandbags that conveniently gives the attacking bandits a barrier to hide behind, while the defenders get behind another row of sandbags closer to the village. The outer row might have made sense if the villagers initially used it, but were driven back to the second row, but nothing of the kind happens. It's like that row was there just to give the bad guys something to hide behind.

Another silly thing -- at least to me -- was one warrior just standing upright out in the open as a bandit on horseback comes charging at him with sword in hand. It's like the defender is just standing there asking to be hacked at, which is just what happens. 

Seven Warriors looks very, very good on Blu-ray, far better than I'd expected for such an old Hong Kong film. There are no bonuses on disc.

AsianCineFest Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars; a better than fair but not quite a really good film. For me personally, one of the nice things about it was seeing Tony Leung and Jacky Cheung in a film released one year before they appeard in John Woo's Bullet in the Head. Such young boo-boos.