Friday, April 9, 2010

DVD Review: The 14 Amazons

FUNimation's the Hong Kong Connection is their latest lineup. This particular diversion is a cooperation with Celestial Pictures and sees their live-action department focus on the kung fu cinema of yore. That means you can generally expect each of these films to be chockfull of action, cheesy dialogue, and bad English dubs. Then again considering these dubs are new, FUNimation obviously knows its audience (which it certainly seemed they did when they talked about the HKC at Anime Boston 2010). One of their first releases, The 14 Amazons, has made its way into my hands and I have just finished watching it.

The 14 Amazons was a 1972 Shaw Brothers film directed by Kang Cheng. It features a tale about 14 women from the Yang family who are thrust into battle when they receive word that General Yang Tsung Pao was killed in combat. The women, along with the small army the Yang commands, head off to the front despite opposition from ministers of the emperor. It would seem that if you want a job done right, then you have to send in the women. The big villain here is the barbarians of the Western Xia, lead by their king and his ruthless sons. They are the ones that killed Tsung Pao, and just so happen to have the targets painted on their backs by Mu Kuei Ying (Ivy Ling Po) and the rest of the girls.

As the Yang family rushes to war and get into many skirmishes they receive help from slaves of the Xia along the way. The women prove to be not only cunning in their tactics, but also skilled with the blade in battle. There are many outstanding fight sequences here, and quite honestly the battles stand out from the effort we saw in Shaolin Hand Lock. Rather than traditional one on one kung fu fisticuffs, 14 Amazons features large scale action that bear an epic feel to it. Nothing is ever done simply in this movie and some of the scenes are quite impressive. Then again considering this film was choreographed by Cheng Hsiao Tung (House of Flying Daggers, Shaolin Soccer) I suppose that shouldn't be very surprising.

The 14 Amazons entertained from start to finish, but I was disappointed by two things. The first was due to the fact that there were so many cast members, it became difficult to keep track of who was who. Sure some of the Yang family has more important roles than others, but better introductions and more dialogue would have gone a long way to drawing viewers in. The second thing that didn't feel right here was the pacing. This is a film that starts out strong, gets dry for a while, and then wraps up quickly, which leaves the pace feeling rather erratic. Both of these are minor flaws in the grand scheme of things, and quite frankly the movie is ahead of its time in many ways.

The 14 Amazons is presented on DVD with an anamorphic widescreen image. Celestial Pictures did one hell of a job pulling this transfer together and quite honestly this is probably the best this film has ever looked. For a movie that's 28 years old it doesn't show any real decay, and that's an impressive feat. Sure some colors are washed out, there's some dirt, and each scene has grain, but that's all part of the charm, isn't it? More often than not this transfer is sharp with clean details.

The audio here is solid as well with a Mandarin mono track and English stereo being the main sources of output. As one might expect the presence on the soundstage is a little muted, but that's par for the course I suppose. The English dub stands out as having much cleaner, sharper audio, but personally I felt the Mandarin track was better. As far as bonus features are concerned there's nothing to see here folks. Sorry, move along!

The 14 Amazons is a fantastic flick with elements that are downright ahead of their time. The story is rich and deep, though character development suffers due to the overwhelming cast numbers. The same can be said for the pacing which is a little wonky, but regardless of these flaws the movie is quite entertaining. If you're curious about the Hong Kong Connection lineup then this is a great place to start.

Maki Rating:

Review material provided by FUNimation. The 14 Amazons is unrated. Please support Anime Maki by buying from Amazon.

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