Review for Beach of the War Gods
I was so happy when Eureka Entertainment sent me the check disc for One Armed Boxer unsolicited, as at the time, check discs were few and far between, and I was all in the mood to see something new, experience an aspect of cinema that I was unfamiliar with. Even now, I still haven’t seen too many seventies martial arts movies. But One Armed Boxer starring Jimmy Wang Yu turned out to be not my cup of tea. And now Eureka Entertainment have done it again. They’ve sent me a 70s martial arts movie starring Jimmy Wang Yu. This time, the thrill is absent. At least it’s based on a true story, but when it’s a true story with wuxia, high flying kung fu fighting, I’m not leaping to take this as historic gospel.
It’s 1556, China is weakened by institutional corruption, and Japanese pirates rush to take advantage of this weakness, by attacking the shores and invading. When itinerant swordsman Xiao Feng visits a small village close to the Beach of the War Gods, he finds a population in panic, dreading the imminent arrival of the Japanese. They don’t have to wait long, as a scouting party appears, demanding tribute, threatening death, and ready to make examples of anyone who would stand up to them. But Xiao Feng intervenes, and promptly deals with invaders single-handedly, although their leader escapes.
However, now he’s made the village a target for retribution. He’s ready to take responsibility though, and offers to raise an army of like minded warriors to defend the village and defeat the Japanese. Finding volunteers in the surrounding region isn’t too hard, but time’s running out to prepare the village defences, and train the volunteers.
Beach of the War Gods gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer from a 2k restoration, with the option of PCM 2.0 Mono Mandarin and English, with optional English subtitles. The image has certainly cleaned up a treat, with strong consistent colours, good contrast, rich detail, and no signs of age or print damage in a 50 year old film. The audio is adequate, the dialogue clear, with no drop-outs, although there are a couple of moments where the volume does seem to lower a bit unexpectedly. The music is an odd beast, wavering between Spaghetti western influences and something more traditional, and it doesn’t quite fit for me. The quality of the audio is of its time; clear enough, but prone to harshness and those odd strident frequencies. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos.
The disc boots to a static menu page where you get your audio/subtitle options and an extras listing.
Audio commentary with Frank Djeng
Tony Rayns on Beach of the War Gods (29:40)
Beached: Mike & Arne Talk Jimmy Wang Yu (27:40)
Jimmy Wang Yu Archival Interview  (41:14)
Original Theatrical Trailer (4:06)
The first run release of the film will come with a limited edition o-card slipcover and a 24-page collector’s booklet with writing on the film from Tony Rayns and James Oliver.
This cements my assertion that I am not a Jimmy Wang Yu fan. I found very little to appreciate about Beach of the War Gods, despite the fact that it might have the longest action sequence set to celluloid. The final fight begins about an hour into the film, and goes on almost to the end credits. Beach of the War Gods is Jimmy Wang Yu’s take on Seven Samurai and in some respects The Magnificent Seven remake as well. It isn’t a patch on either film. It lacks the social commentary and depth of Seven Samurai, and it has none of the wit and style of The Magnificent Seven.
This film is all surface, and not very well written surface at that. A small Chinese village is terrorised by Japanese pirates, but the inhabitants don’t have the motivation to do anything about it; they can’t even decide to flee the violence. Instead, a passing swordsman actually single-handedly saves them from a bunch of Japanese warriors, and even volunteers to recruit an army to defend the village, so honourable and upstanding that he’s not even keen on being paid.
He goes out for a wander, and finds a blacksmith selling amazing swords, a spear-man and a shield wielder who put aside their mutual animosity to join him and fight the Japanese, and a knife-man who initially refused to fight without recompense, but then changes his mind and joins up anyway. Luckily, the spear-man and the shield fighter have their own personal militias, so they wind up with enough in the way of numbers to fight the Japanese. At this point, they start fortifying the village, and training up the fighters, and you realise that the people they joined up to protect have vanished from the movie, and they don’t even return at the end to celebrate any victory.
Then half an hour of battle ensues, and you realise that they have just a couple of fight noises in the foley library, and the rhythmic “clang clang clang” of swords is enough to put you to sleep. If you manage to keep your eyes open, then the “true story” disclaimer is offset by the wuxia antics, which back in the early seventies was less wire-fu than it was trampoline-fu. And for me, Jimmy Wang Yu is less leading man material than he is sidekick material. He plays it completely straight, and there is a monotone to his screen presence that fails to inspire me. Thankfully for the film, there are some interesting supporting characters, particularly the blacksmith and the knifeman, but there is still not enough colour for my liking.
Beach of the War Gods takes the Seven Samurai story, and plays it completely straight, with a story so thin that it’s anorexic. The Japanese are the irredeemable single-note villains. The villagers are so ephemeral that they vanish from the movie half-way through and no one cares, and the heroes are so virtuous and right that their sacrifice instantly qualifies them for sainthood. This is less a movie than it is a propaganda piece. The irony is that it’s a story about mainland China, made by Hong Kong, in Taiwan. I don’t know who the propaganda is for. Still you do get to see a different and vintage Golden Harvest logo.
Beach of the War Gods is not for me, but if it is for you, then Eureka Films presentation of the film is up to their usual high standards, while the extra features, for me at least are more interesting than the film itself.
Beach of the War Gods can be had direct from Eureka, from Terracotta, and from mainstream retailers.