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72 Heroes - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Ying Xiong Die Xue

China 2011

Genre:
History, Drama

Director:
Derek Chiu

Cast:
Tse Kwan-ho
Zhao Bingrui
Wang Jiancheng
Elanne Kong
Irene Wan
Liu Kai-chi
Eric Tsang
Alan Tam


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72 Heroes

72 Heroes - Film Screenshot 1

aka 72 Martyrs

Story: It's the year 1911 and after several uprisings of the Tongmenghui against the Qing government Pan Dawei (Tse Kwan-ho) arrives in Guangzhou with a few weapons to support his comrades. Gao Jianfu (Liu Kai-chi) is the leader of the local Tongmenghui and at a banquet of trader Fang Hongzhi (Wang Jiancheng) his group tries to assassinate Qing minister Li Zhun (Eric Tsang). The assassination attempt fails, but the next day the trader's daughter, Huiru (Elanne Kong), visits Gao Jianfu with an alleged ally. Huiru is also secretly a member of the revolutionists and the man she introduces is Luo Zhonghan (Zhao Bingrui), who has just come from Malaysia by order of Sun Yat-sen to support the Tongmenghui. However, Gao Jianfu didn't get any notice from Sun Yat-sen and thus doesn't trust Luo right away. Luo proposes to raise some money for the Tongmenghui in order to prove his loyalty. To achieve this he befriends the trader through the man's close friend, Jiang Meixi (Irene Wan). He asks him to donate some money for an orphanage, but the money actually aids in the revolutionists' fight against the Qing empire.

72 Heroes - Film Screenshot 2 72 Heroes - Film Screenshot 3
72 Heroes - Film Screenshot 4

Review: Even though "72 Heroes" may not be a bad movie per se, the obtrusive pro-Chinese attitude of the film creates a certain amount of aversion to it. This aversion is in no way connected to the Middle Kingdom itself, but simply can't be ignored because any kind of noncritical way of looking at historical events is always problematic. At first, this may not be a major factor in the movie, but from the second half onwards it just turns events unbearably patriotic. Apart from that it will be a bit difficult for those not familiar with Chinese history to imbed the film's events in a greater context. Accordingly, especially the ending turns out to be hardly satisfying. Yet, because of the subject of "72 Heroes" this probably was a problem to be expected in the first place. Still, the end poduct is disappointing.

Alice in Earnestland - Film Screenshot 5

The story kicks off with the introduction of the different parties. At that time the movie presents itself in a relatively classic way and things revolve around the gaining of trust, political power struggles (also among the different gangs) and there is even a bit of romance interspersed. So what the movie isn't - and that should come as a surpise - is an epic action film with a star-studded cast and inevitable martyrdom captured in slow-motion. Ok, latter one we actually get, but we don't get to see any of it! Yes, "72 Heroes" is a film about the sacrifices made by a group of revolutionists in order to take down the cruel Qing empire, and yet we don't get to see any of their deaths directly on screen! On the one hand this is very laudable since it avoids an even greater extent of patriotism, but on the other hand this leads to us having to sit through a finale that is extremely anticlimactic.

Alice in Earnestland - Film Screenshot 6

However, even from the film's second half onwards it starts to show that there is undeniably a glorification of events to be found here. This particularly concerns the romanticization which runs through the meeting of the assassins, during which a very special guest appears as well, of course. Their love for their home country makes the men say goodbye to their lives and run towards their deaths for the just cause. Looking at it from today's angle the bomb attacks of these "heroes" have to be examined from a more critical point of view. Irrespective of the fact that the movie fails to do so, the focus on the events that lead to the uprising, instead of making the uprising itself the main aspect of the film, is also problematic. Because as it is the pacing simply can't convince. Storywise, this approach my be innovative, but this didn't necessarily need to exclude suspenseful moments.

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For a movie that apparently puts its characters into the foreground we get to know asonishingly little about them. Their motivation isn't always that clear, which becomes especially apparent in a murder being the result of a misunderstanding. At other points there is the attempt of creating a complex chess game of deceit, with the result that it becomes completely confusing what is actually happening. Anyhow, you will still be able to keep track of the most important things. But what about the several individuals who fight for their home country? We get to see a lot of fresh faces, but also Liu Kai-Chi ("The Beast Stalker") and Elanne Kwong ("Fairy Tale Killer") in some supporting roles. The most interesting individual is portrayed by Tse Kwan-ho ("Chinese Paladin"), though. But as with everyone else it would have been great had there been put a little bit more substance in him.

Alice in Earnestland - Film Screenshot 8 Alice in Earnestland - Film Screenshot 9

Alice in Earnestland - Film Screenshot 10

The historical backdrop should have been outlined better and the numerous characters should have been elaborated more. Why else would you put certain individuals into the limelight? Apparently for the mandatory drama as well, but the drama actually can't go near to us at all. The ending is simply frustrating. Especially since it is obvious how things will turn out in the end, there should have been put more effort into the creation of a showdown than to merely give us an anticlimactic ending with some lengthy scenes of tear-shedding. Not only in cinematic terms, and particularly concerning its slow pacing, "72 Heroes" struggles with some problems, but also with its everything but objective take on the events and its heroic tone. Better to read a history book. Because calling the protagonists heroes or martyrs simply doesn't suffice for giving an appropriate picture of the uprising at that time.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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