Reader, if you have not watched the movie, please do not proceed to read this post. It isn't a review... I'd like to think of it as a general discussion of the aspects of this movie that I liked. Of course, if you are already familiar with the famous Yang family legends, I suppose there is nothing much I could spoil for you.
So, there are many versions of the story, but the gist is that the Yang family, led by patriarch General Yang Ye were a brave and loyal clan who fought wars defending the Song dynasty. The antagonist invaders were the Liao dynasty army whereas the antagonist rival was a fellow Song general, Pan Renmei. General Yang died as a result of being betrayed by Pan Renmei and after most of his seven sons died in later battles, their womenfolk took up arms and continued fighting.
In this particular version, General Yang, after being betrayed, retreated with a handful of surviving warriors to Two Wolves Mountain, to which the Liao army immediately laid siege. It was revealed that this was a deliberate set-up by the leader of the Liao army, Yelu Yuan. The obvious reason - to lure his sons in so he could kill them all.
At home, the general's wife, Madam Yang, had a premonition and proceeded to consult a sage. He told her nothing, but gave her a slip of paper upon which a prediction was written. As the brothers put together a plan to rescue their trapped father, the prediction was revealed to the eldest son -
Translated literally, it says seven sons leave, six sons return. The implication is that one of them will die in the mission. Naturally, the eldest son promised his mother that he will sacrifice himself to ensure that his father and his younger brothers may return home safely.
The audience will be led the wonder which unfortunate brother will not make it.
The seven of them, with a small group of soldiers, went forth, clashed with the Liao soldiers and broke through a battalion of two hundred men. All reached the fort at Two Wolves Mountain unharmed, to General Yang. The pained countenance of the general upon beholding his sons was noteworthy. As he had anticipated, the Liao army soon launched a full-force attack. The Yangs, though battered and wounded, managed to escape.
It was just the beginning. Yelu Yuan, bent on killing them, pursued the family with a hundred of his men.
*Serious Spoilers Alert*
The audience continued to wonder which unfortunate brother will not make it.
The first death, when it came, to be honest, caught me by surprise, for it was far less heroic that I expected. Yes, it was emotional, but it was over almost before it's begun.
The second death, when it became imminent, caught me by surprise again, for I thought it wasn't supposed to happen. But it did. The eldest Yang son died fighting tens of Liao warriors in a bid to buy more time for his brothers to escape, as he promised his mother he would. He couldn't have known that he wasn't the first to fall, nor would he be the last.
It was misinterpreted. The second part didn't mean that six will return. It meant the sixth.
The correct literal translation: seven sons leave, sixth son returns.
All, except one, will perish. The audience, now stupefied, continued in trepidation, wondering how each will meet his end. This, for me, is the most profoundly affective aspect of the entire film. Of course, in addition, I noted the rather well choreographed battle scenes and bloody aftermaths, good CGIs and the above average acting capabilities of the star-studded cast.
It probably will be mind-boggling to many, how much sacrifice was made by these men. Seven sons risked their lives to save their elderly father; the father, gravely injured, gave up his life to free his sons of the burden that was him; five brothers fighting to their deaths so that one of them could successfully bring the body of their father back home to their mother.
Mind-boggling... but that's how warriors were in ancient times - with such seemingly senseless acts of loyalty and piety.
I really enjoyed watching it. Hope you did too, Reader.