Seven Samurai is one of my Top 5 favorite films of all time and is usually the first answer I give when anyone asks me what the greatest film of all time is. It's perhaps the most influential film of all time as far as the epic action/adventure genre is concerned.
The simple plot outline of seven noble warriors protecting a poor village from a horde of evil bandits is an attractive one for anyone trying to put together effective action adventure fare so it's no surprise that many versions of Seven Samurai appear in various different countries and cultures. The most famous one is of course the Western remake The Magnificent Seven, which itself spawned many sequels as well as a TV show.
However, upon further research you'll find that almost every country has their own version of this story. Russia apparently produced one where a group of circus little people fight against a biker gang. Even my native country Turkey produced a remake of it. Recent iterations can be found in the anime series Samurai 7 and even in Three Amigos, Galaxy Quest and A Bug's Life in form of comedies.
China itself produced not one but two remakes: An old-school kung-fu film made in 1979 called Duel of the Seven Tiger and a 1989 ultraviolent action remake called Seven Warriors.
Those of you looking for the epic heft and grandeur of Seven Samurai will be disappointed by this streamlined old-school Hong Kong action flick where the focus is on stylized battle scenes (Especially during the third act) rather than character development and the philosophical nature of violence. This is fairly standard late 80s action, complete with a healthy mix of kung-fu and gunplay, never-ending bullets spraying into squibs filled with buckets of fake blood. Even the cheesy synth score doesn't disappoint.
These might sound like a bunch of negative feedback, but they're actually where the film's charms lie. It mixes violence, broad humor and blatant melodrama in true classic Chinese fashion.
Taking place in 1920s China when bandits took over the country, the citizens of a town being systematically murdered by evil thieves decide to hire out-of-work soldiers to defend them. The soldiers slowly realize they're vastly outnumbered but decide to stick around in order to preserve their honor and go out in a blaze of glory.
At a brisk 95-minute running time, much shorter than Seven Samurai's 207 minutes, Seven Warriors does not spend too much time introducing the mighty seven who will protect the village. By having the warriors recognize each other from their glory days in war, the section of the story devoted to their search, which almost takes up as long as this film's running time in the original, is conveniently cut down to couple of scenes.
From that point on, we get a cliff's notes version of Kurosawa's original. Almost all of the sub-plot elements can be found here, from the relationship between a farmer girl and one of the warriors to the details of the meticulous planning made by the team's leader in order to protect the village. However, there isn't enough time to examine these elements with any depth beyond a melodramatic surface.
There are even some parts lifted from The Magnificent Seven as one of the warriors agrees to do the job because he thinks there's treasure buried in the village and the leader of the bandits is given a face and a specific character (Although he's nowhere near as awesome as Eli Wallach). Seven Samurai's bandit leader wasn't given much definition.
Of course in true Hong Kong genre fashion, the plot is only there to serve the action, which dominates the entire third act of the film. The focus here is on the stylized blood and violence as opposed to the real-life ramifications of it. Even the ending, which has a very somber quality in the original despite a victory won by the villagers, is laced with artificial heroism.
However, if you approach this material as a fan of old-school Hong Kong action, you'll be pleased, especially during the kinetic finale. It's not as memorable as, say, John Woo's work at the time, but would provide an entertaining rental for genre buffs interested in Asian cinema.
Since the disc is devoid of any meaty special features, Well Go USA Entertainment was able to provide a high bit rate 1080p transfer that usually hovers around the high 30s. For an old Chinese action film, the transfer is surprisingly clean and is devoid of almost any scratches and video noise. There isn't an overuse of digital noise reduction as the scenes containing a healthy amount of grain were kept intact. All in all, this is an impressive transfer loyal to the source print.
There are two options: A DTS-HD 5.1 track and a lossy 2.0 Stereo. Honestly, I couldn't find that much of an improvement in the DTS track over the stereo. Even though there's some ambient noise in the surround tracks, the sound usually sticks to the front three speakers without much subwoofer presence. I have a feeling loyal fans of the genre will prefer the original 2.0 mix anyway so the weak DTS mix is kind of overkill. In both tracks the sound is clean and sharp.
Aside from a 4:3 letterboxed Trailer full of scratches and some Previews from Well Go USA, the disc is devoid of any interesting special features.
Honestly, I'm such a fan of the original that even if someone releases a porn parody of it I'll rent it only to skip the sex scenes and find out how they treated Kurosawa's masterpiece. It's a hard task for die hard Kurosawa fans to treat any remake of his work as a stand-alone piece as opposed to comparing it to the high standards of the emperor of cinema (A Fistful of Dollars is the closest that comes to a distinct masterpiece in my opinion). Seven Warriors is far from a memorable remake of Seven Samurai, but it can be a fun time if you don't think too much about how it compares to the source material.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com