Action Fest 2010: 14 BLADES Review

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Action Fest 2010: 14 BLADES Review

[Stefan's review of 14 Blades originally ran back in January and with the film now screening at Action Fest I've finally had a chance to see it myself and I've got to say I agree wholeheartedly. Overplotted and pretty clumsy in the narrative but WAY entertaining and loaded with stacks of fantastic set pieces. I'm not generally a fan of director Daniel Lee but this one was a good time from start to finish and sometimes that's enough.]

It's about time Donnie Yen made an impact yet again in the fantasy wuxia-pian genre, given the rather recent dismal films with Painted Skin (where he only had a supporting role), An Empress and the Warriors, and Tsui Hark's Seven Swords back in 2005. Most of us went ballistic with his more modern action roles ranging from SPL to Ip Man, and his 14 Blades character of Qing Long (Green Dragon, thanks to those mean looking tattoos adorned all over his upper torso) here looks quite set to become yet another memorable role similar to his morally ambiguous one in Bodyguards and Assassins.

Here, Yen's Qing Long is the General-in-chief bodyguard to, and assassin for a Ming Dynasty king, who had set up the Jin Yi Wei (the Mandarin title), or the Brocaded Robe Guards, a special army known for its dogmatic principles in fulfilling mission objectives, whose loyalty is to the king only, and are at his beck and call to do just about anything the king commands. That of course leaves room for evil eunuchs to manipulate, especially when they can get the king easily distracted with wine, song and plenty of nubile women. 

The first few minutes of the film introduces us to the background of Qing Long and his army of bodyguards and assassins, the evil that lurks within the royal family and palace from eunuchs to an exiled prince (an extremely short cameo by Sammo Hung), and of course, the fabled 14 Blades. Unfortunately, we are told of the uniqueness and names of each blade, but never see all of them in action, coupled by the fact that they look quite generic. Only Qing Long is assigned this utility box containing the swords and lugs it everywhere ala El Mariachi's guitar case, and at his will can throw up the appropriate weapon to battle adversaries, including a set of grappling hooks!

Writer-director Daniel Lee managed to create a film consisting of a successful amalgamation of wuxia-pian elements, with iconic fight action sequences set in tea houses, desert duels, forest brawls with abandoned temples and exotic cities enhanced by CG to play host to a film complete with double crosses, a prized possession that everyone is after, and had time to sneak in unrequited romance. In some ways the film plays out like a Cowboy Western with its one man sheriff and an escort agency up against various bands of outlaws in endless desert filled land, with that theme of hope that they'll make it unscathed against changing odds, save the day and to ride off into the sunset with the damsel.

The story though gave way at the midway mark, where it clearly became nothing more than a stringing together of battles and one on one duels, which thankfully were still exciting to sit through, with none of the fast cut edits or crazy closeups that will make you cringe. With the introduction of Wu Chun as Judge, the leader of a brigade of bandits who has this cool boomerang double blade, and Kate Tsui in a role where she only grunts as loud as Maria Sharapova hitting a return volley, ample time got dedicated for one to mirror QIng Long's transformation and road to redemption, while the other, well, just serves to grunt a lot, in a get up that looks inspired by Medusa, and armed with a serpent sword-like-whip, and powers of CG stealth.

But underneath the fights, the flimsy storyline and gorgeous costumes, 14 Blades turns out to have an incredibly strong romance instead, with Vicky Zhao (her umpteenth period role straight) starring as Qiao Hua, daughter of the Justice Escort agency founder (played by veteran Wu Ma), enamoured by the manliness of the legendary leader of the Jin Yi Wei, since she grew up on fairy tales and harbouring the hopes that a fabled swordsman would one day save society from its evils. In a way her Qiao Hua exhibits the Stockholm Syndrome, being held captive against her wishes, but slowly being drawn romantically to her captive, even endangering herself (in a scene to provide comic relief) by willingly becoming his aide and pawn.

It's far from being the perfect film, especially with unbelievably incoherent flashbacks and the going overboard with explosions (of the RPG type), but Donnie Yen once again shows that when it comes to the fisticuffs, he still has a lot to offer, despite the story's potential that had it go off the blocks strongly, only to fizzle out before the end in a case of severe narrative burn-out.

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Daniel LeeAbe KwongTin Shu MakHo Leung LauSiu Cheung ChanDonnie YenWei ZhaoChun WuSammo Kam-Bo HungActionHistoryThriller

More about 14 Blades

DooKJanuary 27, 2010 2:11 PM

[quote]The story though gave way at the midway mark, where it clearly became nothing more than a stringing together of battles and one on one duels, which thankfully were still exciting to sit through, with none of the fast cut edits or crazy closeups that will make you cringe.[/quote]

Sounds like a MAJOR change for Daniel Lee. Gotta see this now!

AirchinapilotJanuary 27, 2010 4:36 PM

"starring as Qiao Hua, daughter of the Justice Escort agency founder"

Justice Escort agency ... heh heh

GeneralErrorJanuary 28, 2010 1:26 PM

Your calling 7 Swords "dismal", and then go on to say SPL is great? Are you crazy? you've got it completely backwards.
7 Swords had a great villain, awesome battles, and the return of Lau Kar Leung. The first third of the movie was poor, but SPL just SUCKED.

Agent WaxJanuary 28, 2010 11:25 PM

Taste in film is completely subjective. Feel free to disagree but don't go calling other people crazy for their opinions.

7 Swords was a 5 hour film cut to half the original runtime. SPL was stylishly shot and allowed the showcase of actual fighting skills. The most important point of all is that both films belong in different genres, each with their own conventions, and should not be compared outright using the same standards. Compare wuxia to wuxia, and modern martial arts to modern martial arts.

ChevalierAguilaJanuary 28, 2010 11:26 PM

If it's in the fight department there's no way to compare Seven Swords and SPL, they are aiming at very different things.

SS had a great villain, but the rest of the movie is so-so, too much characters, too little development.

tinmannMarch 12, 2010 7:13 AM

I,m a big fan of Donnie but I'd have to say that 7 swords was not what I expected and I was more than a little disappointed. S.P.L. on the other had was had Wu Jing and Sammo hung and some insanely choreographed fights. 14 Blades left me wishing there was just one more fight scene between him and Sammo Hung but still a very good film. Donnie is back n a roll. Although it can't be compared with Ip Man it was still a very good Wuxia film. I just wish he and Sammo Hung had squared off again.

Electro666March 19, 2010 10:39 PM

To Tinmann: Don't worry! You'll get your (and our) wish soon for a Donnie VS Sammo fight again... Ip Man 2 is coming soon!!

As for 14 Blades, it's a great movie, shot like a Western.. And that Snake girl was fantastic and cool!

MikeOutWestApril 17, 2010 2:52 AM

I was a bit put off by the concept of the 14 blades at first - it seemed a really cumbersome weapon, but Donnie Yen made it work so well (it really is like the Mariachi guitar-cases in Desperado in that respect). For once I enjoyed some wire-fu, which had the energy and urgency of proper 90's efforts like Tai Chi Master and Moon Warriors, and wasn't over-used.

Todd BrownApril 17, 2010 3:10 AM

To me it kind of felt like a greatest hits of the Golden Harvest era only pumped up on steroids with everything pushed out to near superhero proportions. And it totally knew it, too, which is what made it work.

JackChenApril 20, 2010 7:13 AM

Haha.I disagree with you.

SPL is obviously better than 14 blades because of absence of action diector Sammo.IP man is a great movie in recent 10 years.I am looking forward to IP man 2.....