HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: 14 Blades
HTS Overall Score:68
“14 Blades” was actually released in 2010 overseas, but the Weinstein’s decided not to release the film in the US, for some reason, until now. I actually remember getting a bootleg DVD just so I could see the movie (despite some horrible subtitles) because I loved Donnie Yen so much. Donnie is one of the last great martial artists in popular Hong Kong cinema and probably one of the fastest martial artists working in the industry today. “14 Blades” didn’t leave a wild impression on me back in 2010, and after re-watching it today, I have to agree with my opinion 4 years ago. It’s a fun little movie, but one that relies a bit too much one wires and dimly lit fight scenes rather than a fully coherent plot. The title point of the movie is something you’re probably wondering about. Why is the film called 14 blades? This comes from the fact that the Qinglong carries 14 blades on his person in a sort of backpack chest. 8 of the blades are used for interrogation, 5 for execution of different crimes and the final blade is reserved for the owner to use on himself if mission failure is imminent. These blades come in handy for they represent Qinglong’s honor as well as his ability to deal death swiftly and surely.
A Chinese Emperor at the late end of the Ming Dynasty has created his own elite team of secret police, called the Jinyiwei, comprised of orphaned children, raised to become incredible martial artists and bred to carry out the orders of the emperor. The leader of these warriors is given the title of Qinglong, making him the badest of the bad. This time the Qinglong (Donnie Yen) is probably the last loyal servant to the emperor. While the Emperor is off having fun, the court has been taken over by the evil Eunuch (I’d be a grumpy man too if I was made a eunuch) and the Jinyiwei are now operating black ops missions under his control. Qinglong finds this out on a routine mission and realizes that his entire organization is corrupt and traitors to the Emperor. It seems that they have stolen the Imperial seal, which alone can be used to sign any document into law without question. In the hands of a villain, this sort of power can cause irreparable harm to the empire.
Now hunted by his own men, Qinglong enlists the aid of a band of bodyguards, who make their living transporting people and items from one part of the empire to another. When his cover is blown, he takes Qiao Hua (Wei Zhao), the daughter of the band of bodyguards, hostage to use as leverage so he can operate sight unseen without anyone knowing. Tracking down the rest of the Jinyiwei, Qinglong has to find out just what they’re going to do with the stolen seal, and get it back if he can. Ask and you shall receive, as he finds out that the Eunuch is going to sell the seal to Prince Qing (Sammo Hung), the Emperor’s banished uncle, so that the Prince can get back into the capital city once more and start a revolutionary war. Now, with the help of a band of outlaws, Qinglong has to take the seal by force and get his own honor back from the betrayal he experienced at the hands of his fellow Jinyiwei.
“14 Blades” is a bit of a mixed bag. It tries a bit too hard to blend too many genres into one. We have your standard period piece action fare, filled with lots of wire work and high flying martial arts; we’ve got a romance brewing as Qinglong and Qiao Hua start to develop feelings for each other; and we’ve got a classic Chinese tragedy as we all know that Donnie isn’t going to make it back from his suicide mission of honor. The action pieces were a lot of fun, but hampered a little bit by Daniel Lee’s insistence on using copious amounts of wire work for them. Some is good in a Hong Kong period piece, but the amount passed from good to almost detrimental as the film went on, especially during the fight scene with the assassin Tuo Tuo and the leader of the bandits. There was some good martial arts, but the wire work detracted attention from the skill to the spectacle. It also didn’t help that most of the fight scenes were in dimly lit arenas that made it a bit hard to see what was going on at times.
On the plus side, the movie does have a decent character level, and the romance that develops between Qinglong and Qiao Hua actually works. It DOES have a little bit of the good old fashioned tough guy kidnaps girl, girl falls in love with captor, but the nuances to the relationship are quite good, especially as you see Qinglong shift from the anti-hero who can kill without remorse, to be willing to make sacrifices for the girl; a bit of his humanity coming back, so to speak. Still, despite the unevenness of the film, it’s a fun little action flick, and Donnie Yen is incredibly with his martial arts prowess. Maybe not one you’re going to rush out and buy on release date, but certainly worth checking out.
Rated R for violence and bloody images
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=25177[/img]The image for “14 Blades” is a bit disappointing considering how most modern Asian films look. The 2.35:1 AVC encoded transfer is a bit bland and carries a distinct lack of color saturation and pop. The color grading tends lean toward that ash blue/grey that is so prevalent in modern Hong Kong Cinema, but there is still a decent amount of colors that come through, especially the purple brocades of the royal cloth and the greens of the native countryside. The image, while showing some great looking scenes, will switch back and forth in quality. One scene will look nice and clean, with some very decent detail, and then others will switch back to being slightly out of focus and detail that just doesn’t look a whole lot better than the DVD. While there hasn’t been any major DNR present, as there is a nice layer of grain, there is some pretty bad aliasing and some nasty haloing in the image. I’m guessing they’re using the original 2010 master, and even then it wasn’t the greatest master from when I watched the Hong Kong DVD. Black levels are actually quite nice and show little to complain about, and that’s a blessing since a majority of the fight scenes happen during the night and amidst the shadows. The image is definitely better than the DVD as I A/B’d them, but the master has a lot of issues that pull the image down pretty badly.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=25185[/img]Now, the Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is a whole nother ballgame. The track is aggressive and filled with lots of power (and amusingly enough with so many tracks mastered with lower volume levels now days, this one is actually encoded rather hot). The action sequences shows some fantastic directionality and heavy usage of the surrounds as you hear the blows and clash of steel blades from all directions. Once the action starts those surrounds don’t stop till they drop, as they fill the room with a pretty immersive sensation. LFE is pulsating and powerful, adding a huge wallop to the blows and a heavy down beat for the score. Every clash of the blades, every fist hitting flesh echoes with raw power and you feel as if you yourself was the recipient of those meaty punches and kicks. Dialogue is clean and locked to the center as you would expect, and I have nothing to complain about there. Very solid track.
“14 Blades” isn’t the best Donnie Yen movie, but that’s like saying vanilla isn’t the best flavor of ice cream, it’s still ice cream and most ice cream will beat zucchini any day of the week. There’s some fun action sequences and once you get into the story some of the early confusion clears up dramatically. The video is a bit disappointing and the lack of any extras besides some trailers leave me not wanting to recommend a blind purchase, but I have no qualms about recommending a watch for sure. Donnie Yen is one of the last great martial artists in Hong Kong Cinema and I always a joy to watch perform.
Starring: Donnie Yen, Wei Zhao, Chun Wu
Directed by: Daniel Lee
Written by: Daniel Lee, Abe Kwong
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 AVC
Audio: Mandarin: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Studio: Starz/Anchor Bay
Blu-ray Release Date: September 2nd, 2014
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