Magnificent 72


This 1980 film from Taiwan is based on a true historical incident that the Chinese refer to as "Huang Hua Gang 72 Lie Shi". It is a story about a courageous attack by a group of Nationalists on a Manchu fortification at the beginning of the 20th century. This is the story of Lin Jue Min (played by Zhou Shao Dong) and his role in the attack. Before the attack he writes a letter to his wife that has become mandatory reading in high schools in Mainland China (thanks to Xinyi for this information).
Though this film clearly has a much higher budget and a glossier look than the majority of Brigitte Lin’s Taiwanese output – and it covers much more interesting subject matter from a historical point of view – it has one large failing for viewers who come to this film primarily to see Brigitte Lin. Her role as the wife of Lin Jue Min is necessarily secondary and Brigitte is given little more than a “flower vase” role here.
Of course, I am not talking about your ordinary living room variety flower vase. This one is breathtakingly exquisite – something from another world and another time – ethereal and warm – a vase that men would willingly give their lives to possess for just a moment. I would almost venture to say that Brigitte looks lovelier and more radiant in this film than in just about anything I have seen her in.
There are a few close ups of her beseeching eyes and quivering lips that make you feel woozy.  Her transfixing beauty is enhanced by a series of fabulous period traditional Chinese dresses that frames her perfect face to wonderful effect. But Brigitte has little to do but look stunningly adorable or cry from time to time. She has some effective dramatic scenes – one in particular that is wonderfully melodramatic – but the focus of the film is on her husband. Still, Brigitte does have enough screen time to change outfits many times!
The story takes place in the first decade of the twentieth century and though the Manchus are still ruling China, rumblings of republicanism and reform are sweeping the country. Lin Jue Min returns home from his military training abroad filled with these new ideals and teaches Brigitte and their son the English words “freedom “ and “democracy”. All seems fairly lovely in their little home – Brigitte spends her days taking care of their house and son – and practicing sword wushu in the mornings. Her little wushu exercise – though lasting only for a minute or two - was the high point of the film for me – Brigitte looks quite flexible and graceful in her movements.
A storm is approaching though – and duty calls the husband to action. A group of Nationalists are secretly planning an attack on a Manchu fortification. These fighters are the Magnificent 72 and they face overwhelming odds. The attack is fierce and very bloody - and must go on for twenty minutes of the running time of the film. Back home Brigitte waits for word of her husband’s fate and to tell him that a second child is on the way.

Before the opening credits, there is a short scene with another Taiwanese legendary actress – Hsu Feng – in which she defends her home from the Manchus – but she never reappears for the remainder of the film. In fairness, I have to state that the video I watched had no sub-titles and this no doubt effected my appreciation of the film.

My rating for this film: 5.0