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September 02, 2014

14 Blades

14 blades 1.jpg

Jin yi wei
Daniel Lee - 2010
Anchor Bay Entertainment BD Region A

Made between the very good Three Kingdoms and the less satisfying White Vengeance, Daniel Lee's film gets an overdue home video release. This is a film that will more likely be of interest to genre enthusiasts, but the genre isn't so much the martial arts film, but the western.

This story set at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, about 1386, has Donnie Yen as a soldier with loyalty only to the emperor, assigned to carry a seal, proof of the traitorous intentions of a prince. The basic narrative follows the template made most famous by John Ford, or having his group of characters travel to their destination, overcoming the obstacles placed by various opponents, as well as the divisions between themselves. In this case, Lee's film kicks in when Yen shows up at the door of the Justice Escort Agency, hiring the weather-beaten gang, and the chief's attractive daughter, to take him to Yanmen Pass. The western genre element is made more obvious with the setting in the western part of China - desert and mountains. It might not be Monument Valley, but it is a serviceable setting.

A good portion takes place at the town near the Yanmen Pass, and it is easily analogous to the kind of border towns seen in countless westerns. While historically not part of the Silk Road, the town is presented here as having a mix of Arab and Mongolian residents along with Chinese. It's also a stopover for outlaw gangs. Daniel Lee took some heat for casting Eurasian Maggie Q in Three Kingdoms, but he has an ongoing interest in the often ignored multicultural aspects of Chinese history.

The title refers to a boxed set of swords Yen carries with him though out the film. While they are each named, and are stated to each have a specific purpose, according to the introductory narration, nothing more is made of this detail. Most of the martial arts here is fairly routine, the wire work and computer generated effects having been so overused in the past decade. Where it is of greater interest is with the female assassin, Tuo Tuo, played by Kate Tsui. In the course of fighting, Tuo Tuo has the ability to become a spectral figure, an empty cloak floating in the air, seemingly two places at once. The final fight places her against Donnie Yen's character in an older building filled with abandoned terra-cotta warriors covered in dust, in spaces made smaller by the various gates between the rooms. There is a point in the fighting when Yen's sword gets heated. The rooms, Yen and Tsui, are mostly blue, but the point of Yen's sword is red. When Yen is able to cut off one of Tsui's garments, there is a splash of red, similar to the effect in an action painting, where it seems to spread across the screen almost at random.

Other reviews of 14 Blades have noted the cross-cultural aspects of the film with such terms as "fried noodle western" and "chow mien western". Be that as it may, Daniel Lee does a couple of nice visual bits - an overhead shot of a tiny rider on horseback racing through a canyon, and a silhouette shot of Yen and the gang along a desert pass. Lee isn't at all shy about having his characters, twice, riding straight into the sunset.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 2, 2014 07:12 AM