Rating: 2 out of 5
Let there be no doubt about it, 14 Blades is an appropriate title for what has turned out to be a sliced-and-diced mess.
Going into this period drama filled with political intrigue, the producers should have been clear about one thing: the star of the show is Hong Kong action icon Donnie Yen, and everyone wants to watch him flash his powerful martial-arts moves.
Just surround him with a half-decent story and let him do his thing. Fans will come in droves.
They may yet come in droves, but this co-production that involves Singapore’s MediaCorp Raintree Pictures sadly fails to deliver on its promise.
The 14 blades in question are the weaponry possessed by the elite imperial guard loyal to theEmperor known as the Jinyiwei.
Orphans who are trained from an early age to be deadly killers, these guardsmen are led by the most skilled and feared among them, Qinglong (Yen).
One of the biggest mistakes is the casting of actor Qi Yu Wu, known for his work in Singapore on TV and in film, as a villain in the piece. His lack of acting range, to put it mildly, renders his character impotent.
The other big problem here is the forced love story between Yen, who has the chops for comedic and leading-man roles, and Chinese actress Vicki Zhao.
Their relationship is clumsily handled. They are thrown together by circumstances; Qinglong is double-crossed and injured while on a mission, Zhao is Qiaohua, the daughter of a righteous mercenary (Wu Ma).
Maybe it is an early manifestation of Stockholm’s Syndrome, but Qiaohua rather incredibly decides to fall in love with the aloof and brutish Qinglong – this after he takes her captive and subsequently uses her as bait in his plan to retrieve an important imperial seal.
The fighting scenes also leave a lot to be desired. The egregious use of fast cuts and slow-motion seem to point to technical deficiencies during the shoot. It is dizzying stuff, and not in the good way.
From start to finish, the editing of the film is consistently haphazard – scenes butt into one another with little subtlety or flow, and the experience is jarring.
Similar deficiencies plague the script. The different factions in the plot, including a desert-dwelling enemy-turned-ally of Qinglong’s, who is dressed like a pirate, arrive and depart the screen with little rhyme or reason.
There is plenty I can ridicule here, including the female assassin out to get the seal over Qinglong’s dead body, who has a striking eyeshadow unibrow and a penchant for disrobing (her name is Tuotuo, which sounds like ‘strip, strip’ in Mandarin) while despatching her victims.
But ultimately, the film suffers because it is overlong, has surprisingly mediocre fight scenes and forces a love story where one is not apparent.
Why didn’t the producers just let Yen do his thing? It is a kung-fu-fighting mystery.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
"Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in!"
-- Michael Corleone, The Godfather Part III