An epic action film set around on the legendary Generals of the Yang Family.

Bloody tale of honour, revenge and sacrifice intermittently hits the target.

Director Ronny Yu is a paradox: usually a sure hand at orchestrating Chinese-language action-dramas (Fearless, The Bride with White Hair) but a hack who is equally capable of churning out Hollywood tosh (Freddy vs. Jason, Bride Of Chucky, The 51st State).

Yu has a very good eye for spectacle but a tin ear for dialogue

His first film in seven years, Saving General Yang finds the Hong Kong-born, US-educated filmmaker in familiar terrain, drawing on legendary tales of Chinese folklore that have been adapted into numerous films, TV dramas and operas.

Yu has a very good eye for spectacle but a tin ear for dialogue and a slapdash approach to fleshing out characters, and thus fails to redress obvious defects in the screenplay by Edmond Wong (who wrote Ip Man and Ip Man 2, far superior works).

The result is a handsome looking but sporadically satisfying, gory tale of betrayal, familial loyalty, bravery and sacrifice. Set in North-Eastern China during the Song dynasty, circa AD986, the narrative focuses on General Yang (Adam Cheng) and his seven sons and their battles with the Khitan army.

The general is ordered by the emperor to lead the frontline troops to fend off the Khitan invaders commanded by Yelü Yuan (Shao Bing), but is betrayed by Lord Pan (Bryan Leung), who wants to get even after his son is accidentally killed in a scrap with one of Yang’s sons, for the hand of the beauteous Princess Chai (Ady Ang).Yang and his men are ambushed and the injured Yang is captured but is allowed by Yelü Yuan to stay in a fort on Wolf Mountain, thus setting a trap for his sons who set out to rescue him.

The battle scenes are impressive, particularly an imaginatively photographed fight with arrows, and another, fiery spectre, but in parts it’s quite gruesome. Action choreographer Dong Wei conjures up some nifty set-pieces.

Cheng brings a stoic dignity, strength and valour to the role of the patriarch, who endures much suffering. Following Chinese custom, the sons are identified by the number which signifies the order in which they were born, which might be confusing as none has a distinct personality or backstory, a waste of the talents of Wu Chun, Ekin Cheng, Raymond Lam and Fu Xinbo. As Yelü Yuan, Shao Bing is a stock villain, exuding a snarling menace.

The female characters are given short shrift apart from Xu Fan as Yang’s distressed wife She Saihua. As Princess Chai, Taiwanese actress Ady Ang appears so fleetingly one wonders why the duel for her affections triggered a brawl between the Yang and Pan clans. Yu originally intended to use a largely female cast, which would have resulted in a very different and probably more intriguing interpretation of the Yang legend.

The dialogue, or perhaps the English translation, is often clunky ('Father, you must not vex yourself," 'Your so-called ally is a scheming rival") or risible ('Don’t worry, I’ll get out of here"). Two fantasy sequences involving a seer and a sickly goat are poorly staged, while the use of thunder and lightning in another scene is hackneyed and dilutes rather than enhances the dramatic effect.

The lavish production values reflect the generous budget of about $26 million, although Yu and cinematographer Chan Chi-ying are overly fond of the slo-mo technique. Kenji Kawai’s score is intended to be inspirational and emotionally stirring but becomes tediously overbearing.

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1 hour 42 min
In Cinemas 04 April 2013,