Director: Chang Cheh
Starring: David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kwan Tai, Fu Sheng, Chi Kwan Chun
1976 was an incredibly ambitious year for prolific director Chang Cheh. Having released the long, sprawling "Boxer Rebellion" which featured a cast of hundreds of extras, he then assembled a dream cast to end all and placed them in a WW2 backdrop for 7 Man Army.
The story takes place during the second Sino Japanese invasion and details the encroaching Japanese army's attempt at gaining a stronghold of a particular strategic spot along The Great Wall. The base is defended by seven nameless soldiers who manage to hold off the entire Japanese army for five whole days before eventually succumbing.
With a strong main story, an apparently large budget at his disposal and a Shaw kung fu cast to die for, 7 Man Army should have been a Chang Cheh masterpiece. Instead, I found it to be one of the biggest disappointments I've had watching a movie in some time. For all of the praise that is heaped upon Chang, this film did much to reveal his shortcomings as a director. His attempts at strong drama and pathos for the most part, fall flat. Not everyone will agree with my views here, but the weight of the drama is so bloated that the film ultimately collapses under it. This was true for many of his early efforts such as The Savage 5 and Blood Brothers (aka Dynasty of Blood). It's also a surprisingly slow paced affair as well, which was also a recurring problem with the worst of Chang's early output. Of course, films like this one are highlighted by their actions scenes, but even here they tend to run hot and cold. Although the WW2 backdrop made for a visually pleasing change of pace, Chang doesn't really make the best use of it. The gunplay though fairly savage, is surprisingly uninvolving. As war movies go, I've seen far more exciting skirmishes than this. It merely adds to the flatness of the whole picture.
Still, I didn't completely dislike the film. It was fun just to see this mega cast interact with each other. The natural chemistry is as strong as could be expected. Along with the headliners (David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kwan Tai, Fu Sheng, Chi kwan Chun), we have the likes of Liang Chia Jen, Li Yi Min, ever reliable Wang Lung Wei and a pre superstar (Gordon) Liu Chia Hui as a Japanese villain. For long time fans, it is a joy to watch so many favorites crammed into one picture.
Ultimately, 7 Man Army is an ambitious misfire. It should have been rousing entertainment but unfortunately, it just couldn't steer clear of it's own heavy handedness long enough to be what it could have been.
** / ****