AKA: Fourteen Blades
Year of release: 2010
Genre: martial arts
Director: Daniel Lee
Action director: Guk Hin-Chiu
Producers: Susanna Tsang, Wang Tian-Yun, Xiang Dong
Writers: Daniel Lee, Abe Kwong
Cinematography: Tony Cheung, Sunny Tsang
Editing: Cheung Ka-Fai, Tang Man-To
Music: Henry Lai
Stars: Donnie Yen, Vicki Zhao, Wu Zun, Qi Yu-Wu, Kate Tsui, Chan Kuan-Tai, Wu Ma, Sammo Hung, Law Kar-Ying, Damian Lau, Fung Hak-On
Rated IIB for violence
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The realm of period swordplay is definitely well-worn territory in the martial arts film world and Hong Kong cinema in particular, with dozens upon dozens of releases in the genre coming out from the region over the years. While Daniel Lee's 14 Blades isn't exactly a fresh take on the usual high-flying heroic antics, it still does everything well enough to the point that fans of the genre (and of Donnie Yen) should come away from watching this fully satisfied.
Taking place during the Ming dynasty, the titular blades are the inherited weapons employed by Qinglong (Donnie Yen), the head of the Jinyiwei, an elite group of soldiers tasked with protecting the emperor at any cost, even their own lives. Qinglong is instructed by the chief eunuch, Jingzhong (Law Kar-Ying), to quell a rebellion. He soon finds out that the mission is a double-cross set up by Qing (Sammo Hung) who wants to start a revolution of his own.
The rest of the plot plays out pretty much as you might expect. Qinglong finds himself alone and on the run, managing to evade both the remaining Jinyiwei forces, as well as Qing's assassins, including his daughter, Tuo Tuo (Kate Tsui). Eventually, the numbers game becomes overwhelming, and Qinglong soon has to team up with a rag-tag group of allies comprised a band of thieves led by Judge (Wu Zun) and a team of couriers under the tutelage of Yung (Wu Ma). Of course, Qinglong also manages to find some romance along the way via the lovely Hua (Vicky Zhao).
Story-wise, this isn't exactly material for Mensa members looking to flex their brain noodle. You're going to know how everything plays out. So, the question becomes, is it an enjoyable cinematic journey to the climax? For the most part, the answer is yes. Excepting a couple of poor-looking CGI shots, 14 Blades is sharp and polished in the technical department, and is a treat to look at. It's not as epic as some other recent releases like Red Cliff, but there is a stark beauty present here that is pleasant to the eyes.
As for the acting, it's nothing award-worthy, but most of the actors do a good job and take the material seriously, which makes the events of the film more credible. Donnie Yen is well-versed in portraying stoic heroes, and he is finely paired here with Vicki Zhao, who brings a lot of emotion to what is usually a token female role. The various old-school veterans (which also includes Damian Lau and Fing Hak-On) are really only used in small supporting roles, but they serve as a nice callback to the classic kung fu films of yore. The only major sticking point in the acting department is Taiwanese pop star Wu Zun, who seems to be channeling Jack Sparrow a bit too much.
I'd wager most people reading a review on this site are most interested in the action quotient of 14 Blades, and in that aspect, it delivers. With a career that has spanned over twenty years, including productions such as Tai Chi Master, Iron Monkey, and Fist of Legend, the relatively unknown Guk Hin-Chiu is one of the more dependable action directors working in Asia, and he's done more solid work here. Donnie Yen fans expecting the "ground and pound" style of releases like Flashpoint might be disappointed, but if you dig the over-the-top style favored during the mid to late 1990's, you'll find a lot to enjoy here. As good as they might be, the fights still can't manage to overcome the somewhat generic nature of the film that surrounds them, but they do end up making 14 Blades worth checking out.
Anchor Bay's new release comes via a source print from Radius-TWC, which is the new name for The Weinstein Company. TWC does not have the best track record when it comes to their releases of Asian films, with many of them being in English dubbed only and/or heavily edited. Their version of 14 Blades is at least in the original Mandarin language and has not been cut, running at 114 minutes. Unfortunately, as one might gauge from the cover art that looks like a rushed Photoshop job, the rest of the Blu-ray isn't all that exciting. The picture looks to have been sharpened too much, with grain and edges present. The soundtrack is in DTS 5.1 and is serviceable, though the overall levels may be too high for some. Finally, there are zero extras present, with not even a trailer for the film available.
(click for full-resolution screen capture)
The Blu-ray and DVD can be ordered at Amazon.