Being relatively unfamiliar with the Wuxia sub-genre of film, I had no idea what to expect with Daniel Lee’s 14 BLADES. However, having watched both SPL: KILLZONE and FLASHPOINT — as well as 2008’s fascinating IP MAN — I am familiar with just how much of a badass Donnie Yen is. Needless to say, I was excited to take on 14 BLADES for the purpose of this article, but also as my first step towards potentially exploring this particular flavor of filmmaking.
Qinlong is a general in a Ming Dynasty Emperor’s court. Forced to kill his older brother when they were mere boys, he has been trained in a highly sophisticated form of combat and serves as the head of the Jinyiwei, a secret service solely put in place to protect the Emperor and to be at his beck and call. By way of a simplistic and rather predictable story, Qinlong is accused of being a pivotal part within a conspiracy to dethrone said Emperor, and goes on the run to find out who is really behind this conspiracy, and how to bring it to an end.
As far as the main narrative goes, this is where it ends. The story doesn’t get any deeper and we never really learn what exactly is going on and why all of the people involved are in fact involved in the whole matter. Characters are shallow and uninspired and the way they’re introduced often feels like we’re watching a mediocre stage play rather than a movie. It genuinely seems like the film’s plot becomes irrelevant after the first 20 to 30 minutes and leaves us with nothing but trivial small talk between fight scenes for the sake of fluffing up the 113-minute run time with something other than fight scenes. For a film largely focused on said fight scenes, they really aren’t great. Sure they’re fast, but wonky editing and very poorly done CGI are a major distraction and makes these scenes look so sloppy that even Donnie Yen’s skills aren’t able to redeem them.
If you’re familiar with and appreciate Yen’s work, I am certain you have watched SPL: KILLZONE, FLASHPOINT or IP MAN by now, if not all of them. He is an exceptionally capable martial artist with an overwhelming energy and dominating screen presence, whether he’s beating someone into submission or calmly awaiting his opponents next move. In 14 BLADES, all of this is hindered by excessive wire work and CGI mixed into the action choreography. As Qinlong, he is forced to rely on the constant use of a technologically advanced mechanical wooden box containing his blades and a number of ludicrous gadgets to assist him in combat. Granted, this is part of what makes him Jinyiwei, but it makes for an uneven and bothersome atmosphere when you take a step back and ponder what exactly the director wanted this film to be.
As far as bad video transfers go, 14 BLADES unfortunately takes the cake. Throughout the entire film, the picture looks like your TV’s sharpness setting has been cranked up to 100. Everything is plagued by what seems like an odd, artificial shimmering. Not only does this make natural things like faces, clothing, buildings and outdoor scenery look weird and unnatural, it also makes the bad CGI stand out that much more. All of this seems unnecessary and I am certain the picture would be pretty good, if it wouldn’t suffer from this sharpness issue.
Much like the video transfer’s excessive sharpness, the audio track seems to suffer from excessive and uneven volume. I found myself adjusting the volume from scene to scene, for what seemed to be an acceptable volume level for one ended up being entirely too loud for the next one, and made my ears uncomfortable. What I found to be the most distracting is the fact that dialogue often sounds like it’s dubbed, and I actually ended up checking the Blu-ray’s menu to see if there was another audio track available. Seeing as there is no other track, I replayed a number of scenes several times and came to the conclusion that the film is affected by an audio to video sync issue which makes the “dubbed” feeling much more dominant and, again, adds another distraction.
There are no extras on the disc.
As a whole, 14 BLADES could have been better if the director had decided to maintain the story and to give the film’s characters more depth and enough development to make them remotely interesting. The film’s heavy use of weird, techy aparatus and all of the CGI to go along with it unfortunately makes for a sub-par experience. Add to this the fact that the video transfer and audio track are what they are — plus the lack of supplements — and you will understand why I can’t recommend this Blu-ray. If you’re a fan of the genre, or even the film, I strongly urge you to rent before you buy. If you own the film on DVD, I can’t imagine the Blu-ray would be a significant upgrade.