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'Saving General Yang' review: Poisoned by the mundane

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Saving General Yang

Rating:
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After General Pan's (Bryan Leung) son is accidentally killed in a sparring tournament that saw two of the seven Yang Clan sons participating despite being forbidden by their father (Adam Cheng), the rivalry between the Pan Clan and the Yang Clan is sent spiraling into an all-out blood feud. The two clans are ordered by the emperor to cooperate with one another when the Khitan and their massive army attacks with Yelu Yuan (Shao Bing), whose father was killed by General Yang, at the helm. General Yang is forced to lead the frontline, but is poisoned, ambushed by the Khitan, and forced to take refuge at Wolf Mountain. Despite a dismal and foreboding prophecy, Yang's seven sons risk everything to rescue their father and bring him back home safely.

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When you're dealing with a foreign film revolving around a story with a family featuring seven sons, it's a bit difficult to distinguish one from the other unless you know the actors backwards and forwards. Wu Chun was the only recognizable cast member thanks to "Magic to Win" being seen beforehand, but the rest of the cast just kind of blends together because despite the sons using different weapons on the battlefield they all have the same character traits and have similar personalities. You don't exactly expect a war epic from Hong Kong to have exceptional acting, but none of the actors really have the opportunity to stand out. Adam Cheng is given enough time to portray a concerned father and a first-rate warrior, but is most interesting when the General Yang character is suddenly stricken with illness. Wu Chun has the biggest opportunity to be emotional in the film, but even the noteworthy actors don't have much time to showcase how talented they really are.

The highlight of "Saving General Yang" is the battle sequences. Everything from the camera work to the performances and even the locations the film was shot in become top notch. The scenery is beautiful and the sunsets are exquisite, but then the film will spin around to show its audience a sky sucked of all its color, dead men impaled on their weapons on the battlefield, and pools of blood deep enough to drown in. The catapult sequence is a little hard to digest at times since the computer generated effects are a bit much, but the scene is so destructive and devastating that it's difficult not to appreciate it. The scene where the third brother squares off against the man with the poison arrows and the worst haircut imaginable is the most impressive in the entire film. Not only is it stunning, but it also has shades of "War of the Arrows" which is one of the best compliments a film like this could possibly receive.

What doesn't make sense about "Saving General Yang" is that the Yang family knows their father is in trouble and is need of rescue. They make preparations, but they also waste too much time standing around, saying goodbye, and reminiscing about the tournament, romance, and their childhood. There's no sense of urgency. Even after they're trying to return home, every Yang brother risks their lives for impulsive reasons whether it's for revenge or to help another sibling. Logic is something that isn't utilized often.

Destruction, war, and fighting for your life are represented quite well in "Saving General Yang" since the impressive action sequences make the film from Hong Kong somewhat worthwhile. However the film has very little if anything else to offer. There's no chemistry amongst the cast and the story feels very safe for a Chinese war film, which gives the entire film a flat, dull, and tedious atmosphere. Unfortunately, "Saving General Yang" isn't anything you haven't seen before.

"Saving General Yang" was released on DVD and Blu-ray this past Tuesday, December 10.

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