The Heroic Ones is a 1970 Martial Arts Movie by Shaw Brothers, starring David Chiang and Ti Lung (the rising stars and martial arts icons of Chinese cinema at the time) as princes of a Mongol warlord. Its one of Chinese cinema's earliest attempts to blend martial arts and Wuxia with historical epics, featuring large-scale battle sequences, loads and loads of extras and elaborate setpieces done on an epic scale.
The Tang Dynasty is waning in strength, and a Mongol Warlord who is allied with the Imperial Court have plans for his 13 adopted sons to take over his throne. Problem is, there is a rebellion which the Imperial government is incapable of suppressing, but the 13 Princes - led by Li Chun-Xiao (David Chiang) and Shih Jing-Si (Ti Lung), has volunteered themselves to squash the rebels and prove their worth to their father. However, the capabilities of the two young princes and their position as their father's favorites, despite being among the youngest, have resulted in causing a rift between the older princes who wanted the throne. Also, there are plans to assassinate the Warlord, which the princes must prevent at all costs.
David Chiang and Ti Lung, after the success of this movie (it was one of the top grossing Hong Kong films between the years of 1970 and 1972) would later appear side-by-side across several other films, such as Have Sword Will Travel, The New One Armed Swordsman, Seven Man Army, Blood Brothers, Duel Of The Iron Fist, The Deadly Duo and a large number of other martial arts epics. They're pretty much the Those Two Actors of 1970s Chinese cinema back then.
This movie includes examples of:
- Agonizing Stomach Wound: During the Villa battle scene, this is the first of many injuries received by Shih, a curved blade going through his guts. His response? Pull out the blade and throw it into the neck of the mook who stabbed him, then shove his shirt into the hole on his stomach and continue fighting.
- The Alcoholic: Basically, ALL 13 of the Mongol Princes, whom are seen partying and drinking heavily throughout the film. Sadly, this would later lead to…
- Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Shih and the Warlord, and their bodyguards getting drunk, which allows Imperial troops to sneak upon them. The troops manage to stealthily kill their twelve or so bodyguards, but Shih wakes up on time to grab his father and bail.
- Annoying Arrows: Played straight during the Villa battle. There are Imperial archers aiming at Shih, but NONE of their arrows scores a hit.
- Badass Crew: The 13 Princes, who can defeat armies of rebel soldiers without backup, as seen in the night raid early in the film.
- Battle Amongst the Flames: The Villa battle scene, where the courtyard is set on fire to impede Shih and the Warlord's retreat. Shih single-handedly takes on maybe a few dozen mooks while braving through the heat, and as expected (being Ti Lung) he uses this as an excuse to remove his shirt and fight bare-chested.
- Big Badass Battle Sequence: Two in the film. A war sequence where Xiao and Shih leads the Mongol troops to wipe out what remains of the rebels, storming the rebel camp leaving piles and piles of dead bodies in their wake, and later during the Villa scene where Xiao, in a Big Damn Heroes moment, lead an army of reinforcements to back up the vastly-outnumbered Shih.
- Blade on a Stick: Xiao and Shih both use spears - double-sided spears - as their preferred weapons. And later in the Villa battle, when the Imperial army sees that the Warlord is escaping, the army parts aside for the Twenty Bladesmen: twenty Elite Mook soldiers who use guandaos as their weapons. They manage to kill off several of Xiao's troops, but Xiao using his own double-sided spear defeats all twenty of them.
- The Cavalry: Xiao, finding out the Villa invitation was a trap, personally leads a squad of reinforcements towards the villa and battle the Imperial army. While he arrived on time to evacuate his father, unfortunately Shih by that point have received one injury too many. See two tropes below for Shih's fate.
- Conservation of Ninjutsu: Xiao and Shih, whenever fighting without being backed up by their soldiers, but can slice up low-level mooks easily. Until they start facing more powerful enemies, that is.
- Died Standing Up: Shih, after a lengthy battle sequence against an entire legion of Imperial soldiers. Xiao personally cover his brother's still-opened eyes and wrapped Shih's robes around him after the battle.
- Duel to the Death: The final showdown between the surviving Mongol Princes for position in their father’s army, after the deaths of Xiao and Shih.
- Frontline General: Xiao and Shih, who leads the charge against enemy troops in the film's battle scenes.
- Fur and Loathing: The Warlord and all 13 of the Princes wears a variety of fur garments in the film. Given the Mongolian setting, that's expected.
- Giant Mook: Xiao's first fight early in the film, is against a rebel champion, a giant of a man which absolutely towers over the prince and have killed 4 Imperial sergeants. Unimpressed, Xiao simply defeats and strangles his opponent in a Single-Stroke Battle.
- Gratuitous Ninja: During the Villa escape, Shih and the Warlord gets ambushed by a band of Elite Mook soldiers, which are dressed in ninja outfits, complete with ninja's tabi boots, and wielding kusarigamas. In Tang Dynasty China.
- Half the Man He Used to Be: Xiao's fate, from being -pulled apart by four horses. He lose his arms, legs, and the last we saw of him is his upper body with limbs and much of his lower half missing.
- Heroes Prefer Swords: Inverted; while most of the 13 Mongol Princes use swords as their weapons, the two which are the main characters, Li Chun-Xiao and Shih Jing-Si prefers using spears.
- Heroic BSoD: The Warlord father of the princes ends up being stunned and completely speechless after learning of Shih's death.
- In a Single Bound: In Xiao's introduction scene, he is shown leaping from ground level to the top parapets of the Mongol fortress, and then from up there to the ground on the other side. In fact, given the Wuxia influences, in many fight scenes Xiao and Shih can be seen effortlessly leaping up to high ledges or walls to ambush enemy troops.
- Knows the Ropes: Xiao in his first fight, where he uses a rope to take down a Giant Mook challenging him. Some international DVD covers even features Xiao during this particular scene.
- Lured into a Trap: The Villa invitation for the Warlord and his son, Shih. Its a ploy to have him captured, dead or alive.
- Made of Iron: Shih, hands-down. He receives multiple cuts and gashes and get hacked by blades maybe a dozen times before finally, finally succumbing to his injuries.
- Odd Name Out: Shih is the only member of the 13 Princes whose surname isn't "Li". Justified though, he's adopted from another family and is honoured to keep his original family name.
- One-Man Army: Xiao and Shih are capable of taking names without backup from their Redshirt soldiers or brothers. Shih takes this up to eleven in the Villa Battle scene, where he fights off wave after wave of Imperial soldiers, killing nearly a hundred faceless extras in a 15-minute action scene.
- Redshirt: The Mongol troops supporting Xiao and Shih which shows up in the two large-scale battle scenes in the movie. They're roughly as expendable as faceless rebel or imperial mooks, but they prove useful to the two main heroes every now and then.
- Schmuck Bait: Xiao is told (after his brother Shih’s death) by his elder brothers that his father, the Lord, would like to have a word with him, specifically to promote him for the rescue. But before meeting his father, he would need to forfeit his weapon, and agree to have himself tied down with his limbs and both his legs roped to four pillars in the corner of a tent. Grabbing the Idiot Ball, Xiao agrees… which allows both his elder brothers to get the drop on him and have him killed while in a vulnerable position.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The movie is somewhat based on the Mongol-China war for power, but with some degree of Historical Badass Upgrade for the 13 Princes, especially Xiao and Shih.
- Walking Shirtless Scene: Shih in the second half of the movie. In-universe, its because he's fighting an army through a burning courtyard and removes his shirt to prevent the heat from distracting him, but we're pretty sure Ti Lung in the 70s is contractually required to remove his shirt at least twice per movie.
- Young and in Charge: Li Chun-xiao, who receives the most amount of attention from his father and respect from his army, despite being the youngest of the princes. Keep in mind that David Chiang was 23 when he made this film.
- Youngest Child Wins: Li Chun-Xiao, the youngest of the princes, gains the most of favours from his Warlord father, and is explicitly praised by his old man for being the best warrior right before his brothers. Naturally, this only causes his elder brothers to plot against him and try to plan his demise.