14 Blades Blu-ray Review
Donnie Yen is one of my favorite martial artists/actors. An American immigrant from Hong Kong, Yen spent years studying martial arts before he began working in film and it shows in his work. His is the type of incredible artistry that is so perfect and technical that you cannot help but watch with wonder at the amazing things he is doing on screen. This isn’t to say that I’ve particularly enjoyed all of his films… as a matter of fact a number of his recent films have not struck my fancy. So it was with cautious optimism that I opened 14 BLADES (made in 2010 but only released in the US in August 2014) and put it into my Blu-ray player.
14 BLADES tells the story of a quasi secret service agent during the Ming dynasty, General Qinlong (Yen). During the Ming Dynasty orphans were picked up off the streets and brutally trained. Without names, without attachment, without anything to lose these men, should they survive, become the Emperor’s elite guard. The head of the guard is given the name General Qinlong and he is given a sacred box called the 14 blades. These blades are used to carry out the Emperor’s justice; a different blade for every situation.
Yen plays the current General Qinlong, given a mission that pits him at odds with his former allies when he is betrayed by the Emperor’s closest advisors. Forced into hiding until he is able to exact his revenge, Qinlong develops a relationship with the woman who helps care for him when he is injured trying to escape. Qinlong is forced to forge alliances with old foes to find his road to vengeance. While this probably sounds like a fairly generic storyline I want to be clear that the delivery is anything but ordinary. The martial arts are superb and the acting from Yen, co-stars Wei Zhao, Kate Tsui, and the rest of the supporting cast really draw in the audience.
This is no small feat, especially with a culture here in America that appears to be less tolerant of films with subtitles. It requires a film with a strong story and genuine delivery to draw many of us in and allow us to forget we are watching and reading at the same time… but if you give yourself the chance (specifically with 14 BLADES but not exclusively) I think you’ll find a movie here that is much stronger than many action films we see released all too frequently in the United States.
My only problem with the film is with the pacing of the third act. When the pressure is building to a boiling point please, please, please don’t slow things down just because you want to infuse more story. 14 BLADES picks this moment to delve into the past of Qinlong and to strengthenhis relationship with the woman who saved his life. The problem is that it brings the film to a grinding halt at exactly the wrong moment and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, even though the vast majority of 14 BLADES is just phenomenal to watch.
Martial arts films, as a specific sub-genre of action films as a whole, are a tough sell for many folks. 14 BLADES is no different – the movie is heavily focused on choreography and creating an intricate and beautiful dance between fighters. But with a movie like 14 BLADES, unlike some other films, the martial arts serve and enhance the story rather than overpowering it. Likewise the work of Donnie Yen, who you might recognize from the IP MAN moves or even BLADE 2 or SHANGHAI KNIGHTS, is some of the most intricate, beautiful, technical you will ever see.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 2.35:1) The video presentation of 14 BLADES is beautiful with highly stylized fight scenes and brilliant, immersive detail.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The audio track for 14 BLADES is equally impressive.
There are no special features on the Blu-ray of 14 BLADES, a tremendous disappointment with the wealth of artistry on display.