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September 2010

14 Blades

cast: Donnie Yen, Wei Zhao, Kate Tsui, Wu Chun, and Qi Yuwu

director: Daniel Lee

109 minutes (15) 2010
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Icon DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
review by Max Cairnduff

14 Blades

I love a good wuxia movie. To be honest, I'm pretty happy even with an average wuxia movie. The spectacle, the fights and choreography, the melodrama, and all that good stuff... On all these fronts 14 Blades (aka: Gam yee wai) delivers. It's a shame I haven't the faintest idea what's going on but, whatever it is, it sure is pretty.

14 Blades is set during the Ming dynasty period. Qinglong (Donnie Yen) is leader of the Jinyi Wei, an elite imperial guard unit recruited solely from orphans so that they'll owe loyalty only to the emperor. For reasons that remain unclear to me, Qinglong is sent on a mission to take a box from a senior councillor. He realises the box contains an imperial seal, something that cannot be allowed to fall into the wrong hands, but is betrayed and ends up on the run swearing to retrieve the seal.

He soon meets up with the Justice Escort Agency. I'm not really sure who they are. They seem to provide a bodyguard service but that may be wrong. They're about to shut up shop, having now grown old and slow, but Qinglong convinces them to do one last job and so meets the daughter of their leader, the beautiful Qiao Hua (Wei Zhao).

I won't tell you the whole plot. Actually, I couldn't tell you the whole plot. As best I can tell though various bad people want to do something bad. They are opposed by a mixture of good people, and bad people who turn out to have honour, and so are actually good people after all. They all fight a lot.

The bad people include the rebellious Prince Qing (Sammo Hung in an always welcome cameo), eunuchs (you really never can trust those guys in these films), Prince Qing's daughter Tsu Tsu who acts as his assassin, and Xuan Wu who I think was a traitorous brother officer to Qinglong but I could be wrong on that too.

As for the title, Qinglong carries a box containing the 14 blades. It's not clear which blade is which (it's explained at the beginning, but I couldn't tell them apart after that) but the box contains a clockwork crossbow, grappling hooks, a sword and various other handy implements. Quite why it needs to be in the film, well, you're probably getting the picture by now. The film has other unlikely yet cool weaponry, including a boomerang style twin-bladed knife, and a sword whip which Tsu Tsu uses to deadly effect.

14 Blades, for all I had no idea generally what was going on (and I didn't even get the impression it was a complex plot, just not terribly well explained) is quite a lot of fun. Donnie Yen makes a great lead. He's convincing in the action scenes and persuasive in the quieter ones as the initial antagonism between Qinglong and Qiao Hua turns to a deeper affection. Wei Zhao is marvellous as Qiao Hua, giving her humour, courage and showing a fine emotional range. She's definitely an actress to watch (and not only because she's extremely beautiful). It's no surprise to me to learn that she's one of the most popular actresses in China today.

Kate Tsui is fine as Tuo Tuo, Prince Qing's daughter-assassin. She's a woman so fast she can jump out of her outer layers of clothing in combat, leaving them floating in the air to distract opponents, and then be back in them before they hit the ground. The main issue with her performance is simply that she doesn't get to do much with the role. Most of her scenes are fights, but the scenes where she does get to do something beyond that work well.

Taiwanese pop star Wu Chun pops up as a bandit with a heart of gold who appears to have no reason to be in the film other than to wedge in a few extra fight scenes (which, to be fair, is more than adequate reason really). The villainous Xuan Wu is played by Qi Yuwu who makes a fine bad guy. Qi Yuwu gives his character the constant air of being slightly out of his depth and perhaps more a pawn than a player, which I found refreshing.

The wirework is well done and generally not too dependent on CGI. There are some wonderful set piece combats, and some fine imagery of Ming era China. It's very much a film for widescreen and high definition, if you can manage that. So it's a fun film. It has unlikely weaponry, great sets; some fine fight scenes, and a whole lot of action. There's a nice line in romance between Qinglong and Qiao Hua, and of course the occasional bit of comedy. The plot, such as it is, is only there to give people a reason to fight each other and give the occasional smouldering glance, but as long as you're fine with that you could do a lot worse. That said, if you do like a decent plot with your wuxia, you can probably knock the review score down at least a point.

I saw a preview version of 14 Blades which came without extras.



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