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I love Asian films, and i love in particular period action pieces from Hong Kong. Recently, fares like the great Ip Man (2008) and Fearless (2006) provided for great entertainment, and quality film making. When i heard about this movie, i was all excited. The trailer was fantastic, the cast was fantastic, and the story promised for historically significant developments. In short, i loved it from the first time i laid eyes on it and couldn't wait to get my hands on the DVD.
In the early 20th century, Hong Kong is a hot bed of revolutionary thoughts, and ferments of freedom and democracy are rising against the crumbling and corrupt Qing dynasty. In 1905, SUN Yat-Sen, one of the creators of modern China, intends to come to Hong Kong to meet with fellow revolutionaries a plan that will ultimately lead to the fall of the Qing emperor in 1911. Of course, the Emperor hears about this and dispatches an army of Assassins to stop the meeting, and kill Dr. Sun. At the same time, the revolutionaries do not sit idle and start organizing a small force of protectors to ensure the safety of Dr. Sun while on the island. What follows is an incredible 2h-long action set piece as the bodyguards try their best to protect their guest against a seemingly infinite army of foes, all the while the British empire sits by, abiding to its policy of non interference with China's internal politics.
What is so cool about this movie is that in spite of the stunning action sequences, the movie is above all a mini history lesson that goes by so fast at 2h20mn. My kids and i watched this, and it seemed to have been over before we even caught our first breath. It's epic in scope, if only because of its cast of characters, who are all so well fleshed out. In a way, i was reminded of other "ensemble" action classics such as Seven Samurai (1954) or its great remake Magnificent Seven, The (1960). The film takes its time to cover a lot of historical and personal ground between all the main characters, and the cast is simply impeccable. One of the main attraction though is the undeniably strong and cool action sequences. This is Hong Kong martial arts at its best. Technically, the film is also beautiful, with great sets that recreate Hong Kong from 100 years ago. The art direction on this film is simple phenomenal, with attention to details, and grandiose views of the city and its architecture.
In spite of all this film making joy on the screen, the film is also quite bittersweet. All the characters on the good side are genuinely freedom lovers who didn't hesitate to sacrifice themselves for a promise of democracy for this country they love so much. From Teenagers to older men, they laid down their lives for a man they had never met, for an ideal that he represented. The word "revolutionaries" is somewhat tainted these days, and i felt that calling those men revolutionaries does them a disservice. But it's all the more tragic when you know where history ultimately lead the country. Although Dr. Sun has effectively been revered by, and a mentor of sorts to, both Mao and Chiang Kai-Shek, both camps (the Communists and the KMT) eventually went into a bitter war that led to Communism overtaking China, and the nationalists escaping to Taiwan. To this day, there remains a bitter anger and mistrust between the 2 sides. Seeing such great ideals on screen, and rooting for the heroes, while knowing where it will all end some 40 years later, is very sad.
This is a great movie, one of the best Hong Kong films of the last 10 years, sporting a great cast, great art direction and cinematography, action scenes that will blow your mind, and a great historical backdrop. This is highly recommended for any fans of the genre, or anyone wanting to watch a great film.
- Laurent Hasson