Right now in the martial arts world I don’t believe there is a bigger star than Donnie Yen. From his work in Iron Monkey to his modern classic Ip Man, Yen shows he is nearly an unstoppable force in the martial arts world, and when his name is involved with a project, you should be ready for a spectacle. His fight choreography is stunning to say the least, and despite the genre of film, he’s able to keep his fight scenes grounded in reality. Now teamed with director Daniel Lee who brought us Black Mask, 14 Blades is on first glance the kind of movie martial arts fans should get excited about.
I’m not too sure about the historical accuracy of this film, but during the Ming Dynasty the Emperor created his own special security team by finding orphaned kids and training them to be his personal guards. These special guards were called Jinyiwei; basically think about the President’s Secret Service agents, only extremely skilled in martial arts. The one who would oversee the Jinyiwei would be the most skilled of the group and called Qinglong. What made this Qinglong even more threatening is this special box he would carry with him, and inside are an array of bladed instruments, the 14 blades.
During this time in the Ming Dynasty the Emperor has many enemies who are seeking to remove him from the throne, and in the process rivals are looking to see who out there remain loyal to the Emperor. Donnie Yen happens to be one of the Jinyiwei who remains loyal to the Emperor and is forced to flee the temple and in the process takes the 14 blades into his possession. Living a life on the run, assassins are in pursuit to stop General Quinlong (Yen) before he can stop the Emperor’s removal from occurring.
There is a lot of story going on at the start of this film, and for the most part I think I understood what was going on. This is one of those rare occasions where as a viewer I wish I had the option of having dubbing just to help clarify who certain characters are, but unfortunately we are stuck with only a Mandarin track.
But when it comes to this film, we’re not really watching for the history lesson but instead for the action sequences. And there are plenty of action sequences throughout. Though the film does offer plenty of action, what never seemed to quite work is the peril we are supposed to believe Yen’s character is in. He moves his way through dozens of armed guards and numerous soldiers with such ease that it’s hard to believe that he would ever “need” to flee from battle, but more troubling is that one lone female assassin would ever be a match for the lone Jinyiwei, even with her supernatural abilities.
More troubling, and I am sure female viewers would roll their eyes at the notion: when Quinlong takes a female hostage, despite having a fiancée she seems to fall instantly in love with her captor. Sure, we see this in films all the time, but in this case it seemed pointless towards the movement of the plot and just something I wouldn’t believe Quinlong would even tolerate.
What troubled me most about the film is that the film never seemed to have momentum. There is never any need for urgency for our “hero”; we don’t have anything to go on as to whether we should even care about Quinlong. Even further with the story when we meet a group of outsiders that Quinlong attempts to recruit, though these outlaws are the most interesting characters, by the time they do arrive and decide to help with Quinlong’s plan, it again seems as though he doesn’t even need them anyway.
What the film boils down to are a few fun action sequences thrown together but nothing that connects the characters to the audience. Perhaps this is nothing more than a cultural misunderstanding; maybe something was lost in the translation of this film. I just found myself waiting to be engaged by this film, but sadly even after the final credits rolled, it never happened. I believe this may explain why the film has been shelved for so long, since it is listed as being a 2010 release.
14 Blades is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 22 mbps. This transfer is a bit of a mess, if I’m being honest. There are numerous banding issues throughout the film. The film has a very digital quality to it that at times gives a very unnatural look that has this appear as though it were filmed on a very meager budget. This has very little in the way of bright color and has a very bland color scheme; nothing in the image ever pops. There are a few exterior shots, most notably in the “heist sequence” where the daytime shots allow for a more pleasing image, but overall it doesn’t look all that great.
The DTS Master Audio 5.0 Mandarin track is a mess as well. We have no other audio options to choose from and only have the option of English or Spanish subtitles. The troubles don’t stop there, unfortunately. The mix seems to be all over the place. Its Foley effects just seem too loud at times, and the action scenes are a bit overwhelming. Even if I could understand Mandarin, at times the dialog doesn’t even seem to match up with the actors, and this isn’t even a dubbed track.
There are bonus features with this title.
This is frustrating; everything at first glance had me convinced this would be yet another hit for Yen, but instead this is just a mess. For you hard-core martial arts fans, I understand you may want to check it out, but to be safe go ahead and have Ip Man or Flashpoint waiting next to your player if you get too frustrated watching this as well.
Film: 2 Video: 2 Audio: 3: Extras: 0 Over All: 2.5