The 14 Amazons (1972)

Classic epic
Reviewed by Simon on 2006-02-27

When the men of the patriotic Yang family are killed by barbarian invaders, the women take up arms and lead the remaining rag-tag troops to defend the country's borders, despite a total lack of support from the king. The women's journey to the fight is long and full of trials, in the true spirit of an epic story.

"Epic" certainly is the right word for The 14 Amazons, a long, lavish story of patriotism, heroism, sacrifice, honour and all that goodness. The film features a huge cast, with many of the Shaw Brothers' most popular actors and actresses appearing. The women of the Yang family are an impressive bunch, easily matching the men for their courage and fighting skills. This is definitely not a "female-centric wu xia" in the 60's style, it's far closer to Chang Cheh's films of Heroic Bloodshed where the shedders happen to be female - not all of them, it must be noted, especially the fact that Lily Ho seems to be playing a male son, despite looking (and dressing) just as feminine as the rest of the ladies, and Yueh Hua and Fan Mei-Sheng have significant roles on the Yang side. The Mongol invaders are led by Tien Feng, with Lo Lieh having one of the meatiest parts on their side.

The production must have been one of the most expensive and lengthy of any Shaw Brothers film of the period, with such an epic scale and lavish production values. The film won quite a lot of awards, and justifiably so - it has something of the feel of classic Hollywood epics like Clash Of The Titans, though the special effects are definitely not as good in AMAZONS (they're probably the weakest part of an otherwise extremely well directed, filmed and acted work). Cheng Kang was definitely one of Shaw Brothers most accomplished directors, though not very prolific by the standards of the day - perhaps the two facts are related, since it's hard to keep up a high standard when you're making a dozen films a year!

Cheng Kang's son, the now-famous Ching Siu-Tung, got his first action director credit on this film (shared with the more experienced Leung Siu-Chung). The two produced some really excellent work... helped no doubt by a director who knew how to film that action for maximum effect. Much of the fighting is just mass melee-style carnage as armies fight, but there are other scenes that focus more on individual fighters, and this is generally where the more impressive action occurs. The ladies fight ferociously, especially Lily Ho and Ivy Ling Po. Yueh Hua probably has the best action though.

The body count in the film is enormous, and gallons of blood are shed, spilt and sprayed... Chang Cheh would have been proud, I'm sure :) All the carnage wouldn't make the film a classic if it wasn't carried by such a great story, script and the fabulous performances of the cast though.

Definitely one of the best Shaw Brothers films of the era, and one of the finest historical epics of all time!