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十三太保 (1970)
The Heroic Ones

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 03/15/2011
Summary: Don't go to pieces on us

“The Heroic Ones” operates on several levels. It involves a stately progression from feast to feast with lots of pageantry, pomp and ceremony. Even though the thirteen generals and their king are Mongols from the steppes for to the northwest there is a stylized spectacle to everything they do, from deciding where guests (and rival warlords) will sit at the big dinner party to which of the generals is best suited to lead the attack on the enemy. While they seem untutored and rough, these Mongols, with their buffoonish actions, are better soldiers than the more effete allies, allies who are much less inclined than they to engage the enemy.

An example of this is the very first fight when General Meng and his men attack the fortress. Li Tsun Hsiao tells those assembled that he will defeat Meng and bring him back to the banqueting hall wrapped in a rope. When visiting warlord Zhu Wen scoffs at the hubris shown by the young warrior Li bets Zhu that he will be successful, wagering his head against Zhu’s ornate jade belt. Li defeats the hulking General Meng (played by the hulking Bolo Yeung) using a Tang dynasty version of Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope in his classic fight with George Foreman, letting the bigger and stronger man wear himself out by flailing at a target that stays just beyond reach. It is an all or nothing strategy—you must be close enough to your opponent for long enough that he constantly thinks he is just one big blow away from victory. Li is executes the strategy perfectly and returns to the banquet hall dragging Meng with a rope around his neck.

Each of the thirteen generals has the attributes of a superhero. While large scale slaughter of bad guys by good guys was a convention of martial arts movies like this, “The Heroic Ones” is excessive to the extent that one wonders why King Jin and his sons bother with strategy or tactics since any pair of them can defeat (and kill) scores or even hundreds of enemy soldiers. Some of the extras employed by Shaw Brothers in this film must have spent day after day being killed.

Another set of images and devices shows the antagonism and rivalry among the brothers. We find out early that they are the “sons and godsons” of King Jin and later on that some of them were adopted but not given the Jin name. This has led to competition and discord, in this case between the paired opposites Li Tsun Hsiao and Kang Chun Li, the 12th and 13th generals. Li is boastful and enjoys being the center of attention. He is brave and impetuous. Kang is more cerebral and cunning, willing to think things through before acting, sometimes becoming obsessed with his target. Li is hot, Kang is cool. But most importantly Li is unalterably loyal to his father and will not only kill for him but also die for him. Kang has become so fixated on what he considers to be slights and lack of respect from the King and his brothers that he betrays the family and their mission.

Casting David Chiang and Wong Chung as the competitive siblings was a stroke of genius. Both of them are “lean and hungry men” and at first seem very much alike, as if they could change places and missions without much difficulty. Chan Sing was perfect as the conniving warlord more interested in weakening the Mongol warriors than defeating their common enemy. Lily Li Li-Li was a welcome change from the otherwise all-male cast although her role could have been cut from the movie without damaging it.

There were a few technical oddities in the production, particularly two very unsteady dolly type shots that clearly weren’t on tracks, the camera kind of wandering toward and more or less parallel to the actors being filmed but with jarring missteps along the way. Since it happened twice one imagines it was noticed during editing—someone had to decide that they were the two best shots to use in those spots—an unusual type of error for Shaw Brothers.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 05/06/2006
Summary: Misfires hurt otherwise great film

1970’s “Heroic Ones” is a bit of a departure from your usual period martial arts epic, in that it is set in the Tang Dynasty (which, for the uninitiated, is WAY before most kung fu films are set – up to 1,000 years before, to be exact) and that the protagonists are Mongol barbarians.

The plot is an absolute bugger to follow sometimes, but it goes something like this: King Jing of the Mongols has thirteen warrior sons and is at war with King Wang. After an attack on Wang's town of Changon goes awry, the warrior sons take refuge in a house - where the traitorous 4th and 12th sons try to rape the occupant, only for her honour to be saved by the 13th son (David Chiang). On their return back to their castle, the 13th son begs the king to lift the death sentence imposed on the two brothers. The king relents and instead issues the two with a severe drubbing with an army stick.

More attacks follow, and instead of handing over the territory to King Jing, Wang burns his own town to the ground. A stroke of tactical genius.

Furthermore, the 4th and 12th sons side with an aide of the Emperor and plot to kill the 13th son – the man that saved their lives.

This film really is an epic in every sense of the word, and uses every old-school trick in the book in the action scenes – trampoline jumps, reverse photography and (a little) wirework. On one hand, the scale is absolutely breathtaking – the large-scale battles and the sets and locations are fantastic. However, the film occasionally trips over itself due to over-ambitiousness. Furthermore, fans of Ti Lung (who plays the 11th son) will be disappointed that he doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as David Chiang.
Also, the usually high quality subtitles from Celestial Pictures are a let down and suffer very badly from the sort of “Chinglish” we thought were a thing of the past (one of the better examples is: “Jin Si, your belly is open. Run!”).

The ending, without giving too much away, is perhaps THE most gruesome end to a Chang Cheh film – and coming from him, that really is saying something! It’s enough to give you nightmares, it really is…

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 10/29/2004
Summary: Above average

There is something about this movie which makes it better than the average
Shaw Brother kung fu movie but i am not sure what it is.
Was it because it ran for 2 hours, the fighting seemed to be none stop or maybe the ending where you are wondering which brothers will die?

I mean the action itself is nothing special, the plot was nothing new, the actors play there parts well but i am not sure why i like this more than i should!! I guess i was entertained and thats enough!!


Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 01/05/2003
Summary: Probably seemed better at the time than it does now

My first Celestial/IVL Shaw Brothers movie experience was with the first movie they have released by legendary director Chang Cheh. The Heroic Ones is a swordplay epic about a Mongol king who has 13 generals who are all his sons or god sons and all kung fu masters. It's set in a turbulent part of history, and there is much intrigue and battle in which the 13 generals get involved.

The plot for The Heroic Ones is probably quite simple if somebody who understands it were to just sit down and explain it to you. It's quite hard to follow in the movie itself though, and I didn't have much of a clue what was going on in many parts. The fact there are so many characters is a large part of the problem, and I don't think the less than stellar subtitles on the DVD helped.

What it all boils down to is basically a whole bunch of fighting though, and the budget of the production shows with hundreds of extras charging around slaughtering each other for the camera. The action looks very dated by modern standards ("I wave my sword in your general direction and you somersault away from me" style), but features lots of blood and an enormous body count.

I didn't realise quite how old the movie was whilst I was watching it - I guessed it was late 70's, which turns out to have been quite far out. If I'd known it was from 1970 I would probably have appreciated it a bit more than I did.

As it was, my overall impression of the movie was not terribly high. The fact it was so difficult to follow was the biggest problem (this is only a problem with the first 40% or so though), and the fact that the action looked so fake was the second biggest.

I do admire Chang Cheh and Shaw Brothers for putting together a production like this in 1970, but I wouldn't recommend this movie to somebody that was not already a Shaw Brothers fan. Marginal recommendation for those who are.

Reviewer Score: 4

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 05/10/2001
Summary: average

Although I am addicted to the Chinese title of the film, I'm not impressive by the actual film. It's slightly better than average, but the action is worse the mediocore (except when Ti Lung defends his father), the story had enough flaws to fill up a tornado hole, whatever that may be. The acting was pretty good though. Still, you know you can't just go climb up the wall of the capital city supposedly full of thousands of troops. But since this is a 70s movie by Chang Cheh, why don't we just throw our brain to the side and try to watch anyway. Fortunately though, you don't have to watch how everybody dies, and the music isn't too bad either.


Reviewed by: battlemonkey
Date: 12/21/1999

a warring clan laughs a lot, drink a lot of wine, and fightthe Ch'ings.

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 12/09/1999
Summary: Family Feud!

Revenge, burnings, traditional dance numbers, drinking (drunkenness), lechery, attempted rape, plotting, more revenge, .. dynastic intrigue, pageantry, all the elements of a classic Shaw Brothers production (filmed in Shawscope!) are included in THE HEROIC ONES. This gem of the classic age of kung fu movies is directed by the great Chang Cheh who clearly is the forerunner of modern day filmmakers like Tsui Hark and his contemporaries. This epic features David Chiang in the role of the 13th prince, a powerful young fighter, one of thirteen brothers who all seem to be skilled martial artists. The 13th prince is the favored son of the king with 13 sons. he appears to be the youngest, brashest, strongest, and most charming of the 13 brothers. His lofty status with the king causes jealousy among a couple of his brothers which leads to a very gruesome family feud. The last third of the film is full of great sword-fighting and super kung fu. All the performers do well in their roles. Ti Lung performs well as the 11th prince as does Chin Han in his role as the eldest son. Han turns in a surprisingly poignant performance. This is apparently a complete version of the film and it contains one of the bloodiest, most visceral murders that I can recall seeing in any Shaw Brothers film of that era. It took this viewer completely by surprise and I loved it. Clearly, Chang Cheh should have a place of honor in the history of global cinema.

Reviewer Score: 10