14 Blades Blu-ray & DVD

Monday, 16 August 2010 15:33

“14 Blades” is a lavish, award-winning, martial arts adventure movie along the lines of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “House of Flying Daggers”. Set at the dawn of the Ming Dynasty (around the 14th Century), this epic yarn follows Qinglong (Donnie Yen – “Ip Man”, “Kill Zone”), once commander of the Emperor’s elite guards, now a hunted rebel seeking to restore dignity to his ruler and himself.

Armed with an amazingly compact and versatile, not to mention deadly box of 14 blades (imagine Batman’s utility belt but in spring-loaded box form), Qinglong must call on his immense kung fu and weapon-wielding abilities, and build new alliances to help him return the Imperial Seal to its rightful owners, defeating those who have betrayed him and are seeking to usurp the Emperor. 

14 Blades comes to DVDYen has proved time and again that he is not just a devastatingly good silver-screen martial artist; he is also an accomplished actor equally at home in modern-day gangster flicks as he is in period actioners like this. Indeed, the entire cast does a solid, compelling job in a film that treads a fine line between historical accuracy and fantasy. The fights generally feature some wirework, and as with Qinglong’s box of tricks, one suspects there’s been some poetic licensing in terms of the weapon technology involved. One fight scene takes place in a room full of mechanical doors, levers and pulleys that shift cobweb-strewn statues around like a Chinese reimagining of the devious “Saw” movie traps. Needless to say, the kung fu is exciting and well orchestrated by “Kill Bill” choreographer Ku Huen Chiu.

The elite guard unit he used to head up but then confronts is known as the Jinyiwei, a bunch of orphans shaped into a highly trained fighting and police force. Despite their abilities and feared status, the Jinyiwei had a very short life expectancy because of the dangerous nature of their missions.

As a result, Qinglong spends the entire film looking sombre and resolute, prepared for and unafraid of death lurking around every corner. Making lasting friendships is the last thing on his mind, and the core of the movie centres on the strains of a flourishing relationship with a lady he is forced to kidnap. Her name is Qiao Hua (Wei Zhao – “Red Cliff”, “Shaolin Soccer”); as she comes to respect her captor’s honourable intentions and stoicism, so he starts taking risks to keep her alive, even if it means endangering his primary mission objectives.

Daniel Lee’s film certainly looks splendid, with glorious, flowing costumes, authentic sets and careful use of CGI to bring to life shots of bustling, ancient cities. The lighting helps to make everything look and feel very solid and genuine, and the soundtrack sweeps us along as the protagonists’ journey progresses.

There are plenty of colourful characters to complement the rich world the film-makers have created, such as gangs of cheeky pirate-like bandits, plucky freedom fighters, power-hungry generals, glamorous ladies and of course the steely Jinyiwei warriors. Aside from Qinglong and Qiao Hua, the other standout roles are the Judge of the Desert (played with adorable, blokey relish by Chun Wu) and Tuo Tuo (Kate Tsui), Qinglong’s chief adversary, a nemesis with incredible grace and agility as well as a razor-sharp chain that can whip through solid rock or straighten like a rapier.

My only criticism of the movie is that despite the high production values and rich characters it still feels a little glacial. Perhaps Yen’s character could have softened a little more, and more time could have been spent on characters interacting with dialog rather than blades, crossbows and guns! Despite this reservation, the film does come highly recommended for fans of large-scale oriental adventure romps.

The awards and nominations won by this film include: Nominated for two Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Action Choreography (for Ku Huen Chiu), the winner of the prestigious Shanghai Film Critics Award for Best Actress (Wei Zhao), and the winner of the Best Fight Scene award at this year’s inaugural Action Fest.

The DVD version reviewed had a decent making-of documentary comprising clips, interviews and behind the scenes footage, and a trailer. Presumably the Blu-ray version has similar bonus content.

14 Blades (2010) is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Icon Home Entertainment. The running time of the main feature is 115 minutes approx, certificate ‘15’ and the movie retails for £17.99 on both formats, or less from www.culttvstore.com.

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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