The 14 Amazons [十四女英豪] (1972)
Starring Ivy Ling Po, Lisa Lu, Lily Ho Li-Li, Yueh Hua, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wong Chung-Shun, Lo Lieh, Tien Feng, Wang Hsieh, Shu Pei-Pei, Wang Ping, Lau Ng-Kei, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Li Ching, Tina Chin Fei, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Wong Gam-Fung, Betty Ting Pei, Teresa Ha Ping, Chen Yan-Yan, Lin Jing, Bolo Yeung, Goo Man-Chung, James Nam Gung-Fan, Tin Ching, Paul Chun Pui, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Chung Wa
Directed by Cheng Kang
Expectations: Very high. This is one of the greats, right?
The 14 Amazons is a true Shaw epic, bringing together a large ensemble cast and a well-known, classic Chinese tale just like The Water Margin had done a few months earlier in 1972. The two films are epics of different proportions, though, and feel almost nothing alike. Where The Water Margin is a small slice of a larger tale (and it feels it), The 14 Amazons feels meatier and more contained (even though it is also part of a larger story). But to compare the two films is wrongheaded, as they complement each other instead of being in competition.
The 14 Amazons is based on the Generals of the Yang family group of stories that have been passed down through Chinese culture since as early as the 11th century. The film specifically tells the story of how the Yang family defended the western Song borders from the invading barbarians from Western Xia. We open on the battlefield as Commander Yang Tsung Pao (Chung Wa) is wounded and cornered without many options. Understanding his fate, he sends two of his generals, Chiao Ting Kuai (Fan Mei-Sheng) & Meng Huai Yuan (Wong Chung-Shun), to travel home to inform his family of his death and to ask for more troops to be sent to the border. They comply against their wishes to stay and help him, and here the film introduces us to the titular female characters.
The Yang family has fought in every war to defend the Song Dynasty, but this patriotic family is not without its share of losses. The Yang men have been all but wiped out, so when the bad news comes that Commander Yang has fallen, his grandmother She Tai Chun (Lisa Lu) does the only thing a respectable patriot can do: she leads what remains of the Yang family — 14 widows and her teenage grandson (for some reason played by Lily Ho Li-Li) — into battle. And the results are nothing short of incredible, epic entertainment. It’s epic, warring films like this that make me wonder what the Shaw Brothers could have pulled together for a version of Lord of the Rings (not that The 14 Amazons is anything close to that style of high fantasy).
Director Cheng Kang contributed a lot to martial arts cinema, but one of his greatest contributions is in the form of his son, Ching Siu-Tung. Ching would later go on to direct such Hong Kong classics as Duel to the Death, the Chinese Ghost Story series, and the Swordsman films. Before that he was an action director and I’ll give you one guess what his first film was… yup, The 14 Amazons! He shares the credit here with Leung Siu-Chung and together they create some truly thrilling sequences. The film’s opening, as Commander Yang Tsung Pao is brutally murdered and his men are slaughtered before him, contains great choreography that leaves you wincing in pain. Later fights, such as the one between Bolo Yeung and Yueh Hua, or the plateau battle between Ivy Ling Po and Lo Lieh, are all stunning and exciting. Even the large-scale, multi-combatant fights are fun! The film is definitely not lacking in action, and the quality of the choreography is fantastic. It’s not the most intricate of choreography, but it works very effectively when coupled with Cheng Kang’s resolute camerawork and artful, avant-garde editing.
I’m finding my love of The 14 Amazons to be somewhat hard to put into words, but suffice it to say that I absolutely adored the film. It’s got a great, well-told story, it’s action-packed and it’s a load of epic fun. What more do you need to know? That it has canyon ambushes, nighttime raids, crafty strategy, cunning plans, and intense fights? That’s basically everything you could want in a war adventure film! The acting is excellent from the entire ensemble as well, with Lisa Lu, Ivy Ling Po and Lo Lieh standing out the most to me. Lisa Lu won a Golden Horse award for her performance, and the film also scored Best Director for Cheng Kang and the award for Best Sound Effects. A stunning film from start to finish, I highly recommend The 14 Amazons!
An original trailer!
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is a controversial and influential film from director Chor Yuen: Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan! See ya then (which won’t be for at least two weeks because we have something special in store starting next week)!