REVIEW: DVD Release: 14 Blades

Film: 14 Blades
Release date: 16th August 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 114 mins
Director: Daniel Lee
Starring: Donnie Yen, Wei Zhao, Damian Lau, Ma Wu, Sammo Hung, Kate Tsui
Genre: Action/Martial Arts
Studio: Icon
Format: DVD & Blu-ray
Country: Hong Kong/China

14 Blades is an epic martial arts drama set against a back drop of love, honour and betrayal. The fate of the Chinese empire rests in the hands of one man, who may have to sacrifice everything in order to defeat a rebellion.

During the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor of China’s rule is enforced by his Imperial Guards, the Jenyiwei. Taken as orphans and trained from childhood, the Jenyiwei were masters of the 14 Blades, eight blades for torture, five for killing, and the last blade for suicide when a mission failed. The Jenyiwei answered only to the Emperor himself and operated above the law.

When the Emperor is usurped by the evil eunuch Jia, fellow Jenyiwei Green Dragon and Xuanwu are assigned to steal a list identifying those still loyal to the Emperor. However, the Imperial Guards have fallen under the control of Jia, and, during the mission, Green Dragon is betrayed by Xuanwu and barely escapes with his life.

Green Dragon must now fight the assembled forces of the remaining Jenyiwei, as well as a deadly veiled assassin, and gather support from those still loyal to the Emperor in order to save the Empire…

Right from the word go it is hard not to be impressed with how 14 Blades has been put together. Writer/director Daniel Lee has crafted a gloriously, off-beat take on the historical martial arts drama, and the mythical ’14 Blades’ manifest themselves in the form of a rather splendid weapon, which is dispatched in a variety of ways as situations arise. This clever Maguffin helps give the story a rather exotic flavour, and is utilised to great effect during some outlandish set pieces; the final battle between Green Dragon and the magnificent Tuo Tuo is especially brutal fun. Tuo Tuo’s strange whip/blade weapon is also a fantastic creation, and taken along with the 14 Blades and Judge Of The Desert’s weird ‘boomerang’ sword, we are treated to some fairly memorable, and well above average set pieces. The opening titles are also gorgeous and hint at what is to come by showcasing the delicious mix of grand, large scale set ups and computer rendered action. Although the CGI isn’t completely successful all of the time, it is certainly ambitious, and, for the most part, tastefully done.

The cinematography matches the ambition of the special effects, and whether in the searing desert, or in a dust filled temple, 14 Blades is shot with a wonderful depth of colour and warmth. Carrying on with the exotic theme, the music from Henry Lai is a creative blend of styles. Classical, sweeping strings dovetail majestically with a variety of percussion instruments to cross genres and successfully bridge musical borders, as Arabic and Western elements are fused with traditional Chinese melodies.

The script takes fewer risks than the action, and there is some fairly standard plotting for this type of genre movie. There are no great twists or surprises, but this doesn’t prevent the story from moving along at a decent pace. There is a lyrical, almost poetic beauty to some of the dialogue, particularly when Qiao Hua (Wei Zhao) describes her loveless relationship as Green Dragon relates the honour of the Jenyiwei. These are two lost souls who have found each other but seem destined to remain apart. However, the dialogue is inconsistent and veers into more mundane, plodding territory at times.

For those familiar with Donnie Yen’s work in Ip Man, it’s great to see him back in full flight with a script and a role which stretches him. Despite the fact his long hair and facial growth makes Yen resemble Wes Studi in Last Of The Mohicans, Green Dragon is a great character, full of repressed emotion and untapped anger. Yen pitches his performance perfectly, and is even afforded the opportunity to cut loose with the best use of chicken bones you are ever likely to see in a movie. No matter how good Yen is, he is completely overshadowed by Wei Zhao, who follows up her fantastic performance in Mulan with another incredible turn as the sorrowful Qiao Hua. Despite being burdened by the worst of the dialogue, Zhao gives a beautifully understated performance. She is clearly a skilful actress and gives her character multiple layers; complicated and believable, it is impossible not to empathise with her aspirations for something more in her life, and this is entirely down to Zhao’s performance.

The remainder of the cast offer excellent support, and it’s especially good to see elder statesman Sammo Hung being cast against type as the bitter, vengeful Prince Quin. My only grumble is that he seems woefully underused, but the run time of 114 minutes is just about perfect.

14 Blades is a very good film. Imaginatively made and skilfully performed. Be prepared for an entertaining Eastern thrill ride with an emotional heart and fabulous performances to drive the story through. If a little more care had been made with the script, this could have been incredible, but it still comes highly recommended. SM

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