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14 Blades
14 Blades

(left to right) Vicki Zhao, Donnie Yen, Wu Chun, Kate Tsui and Qi Yuwu in 14 Blades.
Chinese: 錦衣衛  
  Year: 2009  
  Director: Daniel Lee Yan-Kong  
  Producer: Susanna Tsang Pui-San
  Writer: Daniel Lee Yan-Kong, Abe Kwong Man-Wai
  Action: Ku Huen-Chiu
  Cast: Donnie Yen Ji-Dan, Vicki Zhao Wei, Wu Chun, Qi Yuwu, Kate Tsui Tsz-Shan, Law Kar-Ying, Wu Ma, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Fung Hak-On, Damian Lau Chung-Yun, Chen Kuan-Tai, Chen Zhihui, Xu Xiangdong
The Skinny: Donnie Yen kicks ass but 14 Blades doesn't. Director Daniel Lee goes for style over substance, delivering an overlong film loaded with uninteresting drama and dialogue. Passably entertaining if you're in it only for the action, but a disappointment if you're not. Pick your side.
by Kozo:
Donnie Yen kicks acres of ass, but he can't make Daniel Lee into a better filmmaker. Back when he made Moonlight Express or A Fighter's Blues, Lee looked like a competent commercial director who sometimes employed style over substance. However, in recent years his style cup runneth over, with Dragon Squad and Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon featuring flashy filmmaking but inadequate if nonexistent characters and emotions. 14 Blades follows suit, providing stylish action and amped-up art direction but not the emotions or characters that it should. That's not to say that a Shaw Brothers-influenced Ming Dynasty-era actioner like 14 Blades should aspire to Red Cliff-level accomplishment. However, the 14 Blades is surely trying to mean something, and that's where it fails.

Yen plays Qinglong, the head of the Jinyiwei, the Emperor's feared cadre of super-awesome assassins. The Jinyiwei are masters of the 14 Blades, a set of kickass weapons stored in a box that the Jinyiwei ferry around on their backs. Eight of the blades are meant for torture, five for killing, and the last reserved for an honorable suicide if the Jinyiwei member can't complete his mission. During the film, the audience gets an eyeful of each of these blades, not to mention the boxís neat-o grappling features Ė two hooks that shoot out from the box and allow the user to climb the walls like Batman. During these sequences, the camera zooms into the box using nifty CGI to show the wheels spinning and gears grinding inside. Itís all very cool and stylish, but also as necessary as Donnie Yen carrying weapons. After all, who needs weapons when you're Donnie Yen?

That digression aside, 14 Blades lacks convincing drama despite possessing obvious stakes. In the early going, the filmmakers tout the Jinyiwei brotherhood as a big deal, but they fail to back that up, choosing to develop the story in a robotic and uninteresting fashion. Qinglong is established as a badass but is quickly betrayed by evil eunuch Jia (Law Kar-Ying) and fellow Jinyiwei member Xuanwu (Singapore actor Qi Yuwu). Xuanwu helps kill a couple of righteous Jinyiwei members before leading the rest in a hunt for Qinglong - all supposedly shocking developments because Qinglong is Xuanwu's adopted brother. However, Xuanwu's betrayal is never emotionally convincing because the filmmakers never develop it. Ultimately, the two must face off but audience involvement or actual tension simply don't happen. Xuanwu becomes just another obstacle - one of many - for super badass Qinglong to overcome.

The film has a love story too. Vicki Zhao plays Qiao Hua, a member of a group that helps Qinglong escape from the now-corrupt Jinyiwei. Qiao Hua learns to love Qinglong, but after he kidnaps her and tells her father (Wu Ma) to spread misinformation on his whereabouts or heíll leave her corpse in an inn somewhere. Fear not - Qinglong would never kill Qiao Hua because heís super righteous, and really plans to steal back the Imperial Seal from Eunuch Jia, thereby restoring power to the Emperor and being the hero that heís supposed to be. Qiao Hua ends up as his travelling companion, and recites long existential monologues about memory and truth in jiang hu. Or something. Actually, itís hard to process what Vicki Zhao's speeches mean because she's usually droning on and on while Donnie Yen bathes or stares into space like heís thinking about his next meal. Daniel Lee tries to mix emotion and action with 14 Blades, but he doesn't do a good job of it.

However, the action may be enough for the fans, as Donnie Yen has charisma to spare when smacking people around. One highlight is a fight between Yen and Shaw Brothers star Chen Kuan-Tai that employs various entertaining martial arts styles. When Yen takes on Kate Tsui, who plays evil female assassin Tou Tou, it becomes a weapons battle, with Qinglongís box 'o blades versus Tou Touís flexible metal whips. The exaggerated weaponry is fun, and helps compensate for the filmmakers trying to sell the audience on a climactic duel between Donnie Yen and Kate Tsui. In previous films Yen would take on Collin Chou or Sammo Hung for the end battle, but here heís going for a beatdown on a former Miss Hong Kong. Still, Tsui is a sexy villainess, and itís nice to see a film that isn't reduced to Donnie Yen simply owning some poor sucker in his final moments of asskicking. Thanks to the CGI, Tsui manages to hold her own.

The competent action sequences are the selling point here, because without them 14 Blades is overlong and a chore to get through. The drama is extremely routine, the special effects dodgy, and Yen's performance swings between only two emotions: angry and possibly bored. Vicki Zhao earnestly attempts to bring some emotion, but Daniel Lee hangs her out to dry, such that her long monologues and ardent expressions start to annoy. Fangirls can be happy about Taiwan heartthrob Wu Chun, whose Jack Sparrow get-up and bare navel should get those pulses racing. However, in the end, heís just another commercial selling point in a film filled with them. As a product created for China box office and international sales, 14 Blades has its positives, and can kill time for anyone who's in it only for the action or Donnie Yen. But is it a good movie? No, not really, and ultimately proves as memorable as the mildly entertaining Empress and the Warriors. Luckily, Donnie Yen has Ip Man 2 coming up soon, which will probably provide the emotional context to go along with its likely spectacular action. 14 Blades has action, but doesnít deliver on story or emotion, making it just a passable commercial film. If even that. (Kozo 2010)


DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin and Cantonese Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

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