A 1972 production for Shaw Brothers Studios, this film features a fun from actress extraordinaire, Lily Ho with help from the lovely Betty Ting Pei. The 14 Amazons was a little ahead of its time in portraying the fairer sex as just as capable of dolling out a good thrashing as their male counterparts. While it was probably never intended as a legitimate feminist statement of any kind, it still manages to stand out for this reason and on top of that, it's incredibly action-centric and features no shortage of remarkable set pieces.
The film follows the Yang Family, a group of noble warriors who valiantly defend the borders of China against would-be invaders from Mongolia. They do a pretty good job at keeping things on the up and up until a slime-ball politician named Minister Wang Ching (Cheng Miu), a true bastard of a traitor if ever there were one, sells them out to the Mongol hordes. The results of his actions have horrible consequences when a Mongolian attack kills off the valiant General Yeh and seven of his brave warrior sons.
With the men-folk out of the picture, save for one sole survivor, the general's wife, She Tai Chun (Lisa Lu Yan) rallies up the ladies to fill their shoes and soon enough, She and thirteen other pissed off Yang Clan women have polished up their swords and are on the hunt. These women are intent not only on protecting their turf and avenging the deaths of their loved ones but on bringing the fight to Mongolian territory and getting them out of China for good.
The 14 Amazons is a pretty impressive effort. While it can get a little confusing in spots thanks to the sheer size of the cast that's been assembled for the picture, it works really well on an epic scale as it gives us some fantastic battle sequences and hand to hand combat scenes. There's some great weapons work here and some stunning fight choreography that, if nothing else, ensures that the film is a constant feast for the eyes. In addition to the large scale battle sequences, some smaller scale one on one duels also stand out not only because of their impressive choreography but also because of their viciousness. 14 Amazons is a pretty bloody film at times, and not a picture that shies away from the graphic depiction of violence.
The feminist angle isn't really exploited all that much. The fact that the central characters are female isn't as important as the fact that they're patriots, fighting more for country than for revenge; it's simply that the death of their husbands and male family members opens the door for them to evolve into the unit that they become. The film isn't always realistic - there are moments that are rather bizarre, such as when a group of people literally form a human bridge, something that probably never happened in real life the way it does here - but it is always entertaining, which is the more important of the two aspects. The costumes are elegant, giving the picture a sense of pageantry that, when coupled with the contrasting gracefulness and maliciousness of the fight scenes, makes the film a visual treat.
There isn't much here in the way of character development and so telling the fourteen different female fighters apart from one another can be a bit tricky in spots, but despite some pacing problems in the first half of the film, 14 Amazons, once it gets going, proves to be a whole lot of good, crazy, violent fun. It might not be the best title to show someone new to the Shaw Brothers catalogue, but those with an acquired taste for all that the studio has to offer definitely ought to check this one out.
14 Amazons arrives on DVD in a progressive scan anamorphic 2.35.1 widescreen transfer this is generally a strong effort from Funimation. A little bit of print damage shows up here and there but otherwise the source material used for this disc has been very nicely restored. Colors are bright and bold and garish, just as they should be, and they really bring out the splendor of the various costumes used in the movie. What looks to be some mild edge enhancement pops up here and there but aliasing and compression artifacts are never a problem. Some mild blurring is evident during scenes of very fast motion but aside from that, there's not much worth complaining about here.
The Mandarin language Dolby Digital mono mix is well balanced and easy to follow since the optional English subtitles are easy to read and free of any typographical errors. The score sounds good, never overpowering the performers, while the sound effects are presented at the proper volume as well. It's not a track that will amaze you, but it definitely sounds as good as it needs to. A 5.1 track might have been fun, especially during the zany last half hour, but what's here is good. An optional English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo dub is also provided.
Extras are disappointingly light, limited to a few trailers for unrelated Funimation releases and a forced promo spot for their Shaw Brothers line that plays before you can get to the main menu screen (which also offers chapter selection).
The kind of ambitious and inventive martial arts epic that only the Shaw Brothers stable can deliver, The 14 Amazons kicks all kinds of ass. It's relentlessly entertaining, packed full of excellent action sequences, beautifully shot and sports some remarkable production values all of which results in a wholly entertaining experience. Funimation's DVD looks pretty decent and sounds good too, so we can forgive them for the lack of extras and still consider this one recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.