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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai gets a Hong Kong facelift in the 1989 film Seven Warriors. Like its inspiration, Seven Warriors is about seven rugged warriors who band together to protect and defend a helpless village from plundering bandits. Adam Cheng stars as respected Chinese military commander who puts aside his binge drinking to put together a motely crew of warriors. The band of soldiers consists of various types: the handsome, capable second-in-command (Max Mok); a by-the-book soldier (Jacky Cheung); a kick-ass marksman/kung-fu artist (Lam Kwok-Bun); the jolly, money-grubbing old-timer (Wu Ma); the large, lovable lout (Shing Fui-On); and the pseudo-intellectual country boy (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), whose innocence and righteousness are the audience's twin anchors. Their opponent: ex-comrade-in-arms Lo Lieh, who is obviously a bad guy because he has a massive mole with hair sticking out of it. For sixty minutes, Seven Warriors features minor action, routine character development, and obligatory plot setup. Then, there's forty minutes of tense standoffs, heroic bloodshed, masculine righteousness, a mounting body count, and other assorted stuff which you might remember from Seven Samurai. Except this movie is in color, and it's not as good as Seven Samurai. The film also lacks cachet: these guys are not iconic figures like Japanese samurai are. Instead, they're just ex-soldiers with more cartoonish personalities. Overall, the acting is nothing to write home about, but the actors bring requisite charisma and likability to their roles. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is convincingly innocent and lovably righteous, and Max Mok, Adam Cheng and even Lam Kwok-Bun are cooly charismatic. The supporting cast helps; having guys like Shing Fui-On and Wu Ma fill out the smaller roles helps do away with a lot of time-consuming character development, and director Terry Tong can cut straight to the big stuff. To be more specific, the big stuff would be a not-so-interesting love triangle between Max Mok, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and a token female character, and of course the climactic battle where the bad guys show up and are dealt with by the warriors. There are minor conflicts between some of the men, and some threatened dissension from villagers who don't trust the seven warriors, but unlike Seven Samurai, the details don't speak to a greater thematic whole. The themes of honor, brotherhood, and the pathetic weakness of man are given only cursory attention. Such lack of depth is to be expected; it's a safe bet that Terry Tong was never mistaken for Akira Kurosawa. There are other glaring debits: Sammo Hung gets a top credit for a two-minute nothing of a cameo, and some of the subplots of the film are as interesting as day-old bread. Originality and genuine emotional surprise are not present either. If one were to compile a list of Hong Kong's most visceral rollercoaster action flicks of the late eighties and early nineties, Seven Warriors would never be among them. But for what it is—a B-movie remake of a genuine action-adventure classic—the film is decent enough. Thanks to the familiar genre storyline, the all-star cast, and the bullets-and-bloodshed violence (which is choreographed in that much-beloved hyper-realistic Hong Kong-style), Seven Warriors is able to bypass its banal production to become an entertaining, though messy Hong Kong action flick. Seven Warriors is no classic, but it's not bad. (Kozo 2004)

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