Barbarians threaten the border of the Sung Dynasty, and the widows of the Yang family are the only ones willing to march to war. No obstacle will stop these fourteen amazons from their victory!
What They Say
Long before feminism made it to Hong Kong, women proved themselves more than equal to men in this martial arts classic, a forerunner to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Set in ancient China, a matriarchal clan proves as adept with sword, fist, and gravity-defying leaps as anything conjured up by the Crouching Tiger ladies thirty years later.
The cast is a veritable "who's who" of the golden age of Shaw Brothers swordplay adventures, and was not only a major box office hit (ranking fourth for 1972), but also a top prize winner, including Best Supporting Actress for Lisa Lu, a special citation for outstanding lead female performance for Lily Ho, Best Director for Cheng Kang, and an award for Honorable Mention For Drama.
My initial viewing was of the original Mandarin mono soundtrack; given the age of the film, it was surprisingly clear and free of any hiss, distortion, or other defects. The English stereo track was checked at points heavy in dialogue or foley rich action sequences; it provides a minutely richer audio experience also free of issues.
Released in 1972, the picture was remarkably pristine, a gorgeous transfer of the film in its original 16:9 aspect ratio. The only noticeable issue was some motion blur at points in the beginning, but this is brief and not during any of the kung fu sequences. I was expecting the dull, faded colors I remember from my youth but was dazzled by a vivid, clear picture that had me marveling that a film from well over three decades ago could look so crisp.
The DVD case is within a cardboard sleeve that features the same artwork, as the DVD cover. The cover is blood red, a fitting choice given the subject matter, but the color works against the image of the amazons and their adversaries. The back cover contains the requisite details about the DVD and its contents.
The menu system is simple featuring the same image from the DVD cover and a snippet of music. It will not win any awards for creativity, but it will get you setup and into the action quickly and intuitively.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While the first entry from the Hong Kong Connection was nearly blood free, this tale of revenge and heroism more than makes up for it. The 14 Amazons opens with General Yang fighting a hopeless battle against the barbarians threatening the borders of the Sung Dynasty. The barbarian king and his five sons brutally slaughter the General's men in front of him before doing the same to him.
News of this loss reaches his rather enormous family on his birthday, not the best way of celebrating to be sure. The family is light on men, and the Yang's have sacrificed sons and husbands to the various wars over the years. Only one son remains, and he is allowed to march with the widows, the titular 14 Amazons and what soldiers are faithful to the Yang clan.
The film runs nearly two hours and is a good example of how ambition and execution do not always meet. The sets at the beginning are fairly lavish affairs, but much time is spent simply building up to the march to war or the actual march. The initial battles involve more running around than actual fighting, and at one point features both hero and villain being thrown to their death behind the same burning piece of scenery.
The director or writer must have realized that the pace was dragging because the film begins to escalate the carnage exponentially. Soon, human pyramids are being built to form a bridge, bodies are sliced in half, heads are being used as skeet targets, and impalements are on the menu for all. It makes for an uneven viewing experience, slow and ponderous and then suddenly brimming with violence, but it does highlight the fact that the barbarians are living up to their name.
These are vicious psychopaths that delight in torturing their victims and have crafted weapons to do so. By the end of the film, you are rooting for the amazons to win despite the overwhelming odds; they do come up with a clever solution to destroy most of the barbarian army that ends up just as over the top in terms of blood as their opponents. While not the most compelling tale set in China's history initially, it manages to hold your interest long enough to see some memorable, near campy bloodshed.
Where Shaolin Hand Lock was a good introduction to the kung fu of the Shaw Brothers, 14 Amazons is a decent companion introduction to how bloody, almost to the point of camp, their films can be. If you can make it through the initial slow pace of the story, you will be rewarded with plenty of large scale bloodshed you will not soon forget.
English Language, Mandarin Language, English Subtitles
Sony Bravia KDL-46S4100, Panasonic RP-82 via component video cable, Sony STR-DH800 receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers