There are two Hong Kong film stars that guarantee my full attention. The first one is Donnie Yen. Goes without saying really, Donnie seems to be keeping the Hong Kong film industry alive on his own at the moment. The second one is Vicki Zhao, mainly because she’s as cute as a kitten in a dress. Which brings us to Daniel Lee’s (Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon) action extravaganza 14 Blades.
Accomplished filmmaking? Up to a point perhaps. How about substance, depth and a wide range of emotion? You’ve got to be kidding me. Would you settle for Donnie Yen kicking ass across your TV screen? You wouldn’t be reading this if you’d have it any other way. 14 Blades will never be considered high art but Daniel Lee certainly knows a little something about style over substance.
Yen plays fearless assassin Quinlong, top dog in the elite team of Jinyiwei. They are masters of the 14 Blades, eight for torture, five for killing and one for personal sacrifice. Quinlong carries them around in a mechanical box on his back, a supercharged CGI gimmick that’s fallen straight out of a Batman movie. Not what you expect from a period action epic like this, but we’ll forgive the filmmakers for now because it looks really cool when he opens it.
Quinlong is betrayed by evil eunuch Jia (Law Kar-Ying) and fellow Jinyiwei member, Xuanwu (Qi Yuwu), who spend the rest of the movie trying to kill our shirtless wonder. Quinlong escapes into the night and bumps into the ever-infectious Vicki Zhao. Vicky plays Qiao Hua, his accomplice and companion for the rest of the movie. Not that she has a choice in the matter. Quinlong kidnaps her in order to make some ridiculous point, but lets be truthful here, she probably would have gone anyway. I certainly would have. What do you mean, can you say man-crush?
You could probably rip 14 Blades apart piece by piece if you wanted to; Daniel Lee has delivered a hollow action spectacle lacking in both substance and depth. The characters we’re asked to follow are one-dimensional at best, and you’re never really given the opportunity to care about any of them. There are two reasons why we do take sides, and that brings us back to the Donnie & Vicki effect.
Surely they were given character names for a reason? Lee has provided such little background, such little insight in to what motivates them, that you’ll probably find yourself referring to them as Donnie and Vicki anyway. Having said that, Donnie is so much bigger than most of the movies he appears in, I probably find myself doing that all the time anyway. Vicki’s Qiao Hua is given less to do of course, but her puppy dog innocence shines through at every turn.
So it’s fair to say that 14 Blades shouldn’t be considered perfect cinema, but I’m not about to tear the film apart because I loved every pulse-pounding minute of it. If there’s one movie genre that can get away with style over substance its action cinema, and if there’s one actor willing to take on the heavy burden of style over substance it’s Donnie Yen. Lee fills the screen with energetic sword fights, kick ass confectionary and colourful CGI that complements rather than compensates. Donnie is his usual charismatic self, but it’s nice to see a couple of minor characters challenging him for the kick-ass crown.
Taiwan heartthrob Wu Chun makes his presence felt when it comes to onscreen swagger and Kate Tsui steals every scene she's in. Silent, dangerous and deadly, not to mention lethal with an effects laden metal whip, Lee’s done a great job of transforming the former Miss Hong Kong into cinema’s sexiest screen villain. Wrapping herself around a dazzling display of CGI trickery, Lee and Tsui ensure that their latest movie is never less than bewitching.
What it lacks in substance and depth, it makes up for in eye candy and action. Expectations are one thing but less is sometimes more. 14 Blades entertains in superficial fashion but entertains none the less, and more often than not it’s good enough for me. Action junkies, Yen fanatics and Zhao enthusiasts step inside. Not forgetting film fans with a soft (?) spot for former Miss Hong Kong’s and metal whips. That would be most of us then. AW