Set during the late Ming Dynasty (明朝), the Imperial Court had a group of elite Imperial Guards called the Jinyi Wei (錦衣衛 literally: Brocade-clad Guards). They are the government‘s secret enforcer and had the authority to persecute anyone deemed as the enemy of the Empire. They devoted their lives and lethal prowess to ensure peace and stability to the Emperor only. Jinyi Wei conducted their tasks or missions with deadly precision. Members of the Jinyi Wei were highly skilled warriors. They were consisted of abducted street orphans and trained in clandestine combat since childhood.
The commander of the Jinyi Wei, QingLong (Donnie Yen), was the most feared and had a superb martial art skill. He carried a titular exquisite weapon bestowed by the Emperor called the 14 Blades. This weapon was actually a wooden box roughly the size of a guitar case that housed 14 different steel blades. The first 8 blades were imprinted with the symbols of Sky, Earth, Rank, Law, Wisdom, Trust, Benevolence, and Bravery. These 8 blades were used for interrogation. The remainder 6 blades were used for execution. The first blade was designed to execute those who disobeyed the Imperial Court and the Emperor. The second blade was intended to kill those who interfered with the Imperial administration. The third blade was for corrupt Court officials who abused their positions. The fourth blade was designed for those who committed treason. The fifth blade was for Jinyi Wei guard who committed wrongdoing to his Jinyi Wei brothers. And the last one was called the Golden Sword. It was intended to kill oneself when the mission had failed.
When this secret Imperial Guards were first formed, the Jinyi Wei took orders directly from the Emperor. However during this time, the Emperor was deemed incompetent and the Imperial Court was plagued with corruption. The Imperial Court was under the control of the eunuch faction including the Jinyi Wei. The eunuch faction led by Chief eunuch Jia JingZhong (Law Kar Ying) was in collaboration with an exiled noble, Prince Qing (Samo Hung, cameo), to rebel and to seize power against the Emperor. Jia JingZhong assigned the Jinyi Wei commander, QingLong, to obtain a safe box which supposedly contained a list of names identifying traitors from the Imperial Chancellor Zhao Shenyan (Damian Lau). QingLong was also given an Imperial decree to kill Zhao Shenyan.
However during this mission, QingLong soon discovered that he had been deceived, as the safe box contained the Imperial Seal which was the symbol of the Emperor’s authority. Jia JingZhong wanted to use it to empower Prince Qing’s nefarious rebellion plot. In the midst of confusion, QingLong was betrayed by his fellow Jinyi Wei, Xuan Wu (Qi Yu Wu), who managed to snatch the Imperial Seal and severely injure him. Thereupon, QingLong realized that Jia JingZhong had complete control of the Jinyi Wei. Despite QingLong’s unflinching loyalty, he was framed and became a fugitive when Jia JingZhong denounced him as a traitor. From this moment on, QingLong was hunted down by his former comrades, the Jinyi Wei.
Alive and severely wounded, QingLong sought help to escape the Capital by hiring the Justice Escort Agency where he met the acquaintance of Qiao Hua (Zhao Wei), the daughter of the security escort’s righteous leader, Jia Zhong (Wu Ma). Qiao Hua nursed the wounded Qing Long back to health. While on the run, QingLong was revealed as the former leader of the Jinyi Wei during an ambush. He took Qiao Hua captive and set out on personal vendetta to avenge the deaths of his fellow trusted guards in addition to clear his dignity. The lovelorn Qiao Hua was all too aware the ruthless reputation of the Jinyi Wei but she grew fond of QingLong for his loyalty to the Emperor and valiant effort to thwart the conspiracy.
Together, the twosome embarked on the journey to search for evidence of Prince Qing’s rebellion plot and undermining Qing’s plans. Along the way, they were joined by the Heavenly Eagles Gang, a group of bandits led by the Judge of the Desert (Wu Chun). Standing in their quest was Prince Qing’s goddaughter Tuo Tuo (Kate Tsui), a formidable female assassin as well as Jia Jingzhong’s lackeys and the Jinyi Wei.
14 Blades is a loosely remake of the classic Shaw Brother’s The Secret Service of the Imperial Court (1984). And the appearance of Donnie Yen’s character, QingLong, remotely looks familiar with the character of Xiao LeiXie (萧淚血) from Gu Long’s classic wuxia novel, Heroes Shed No Tear (Ying Xiong Wu Lei, 英雄无泪). In the novel, Xiao LeiXie was known as “The Man with the Wooden Box” because of the box of 13 special weapons he carried with him at all times. Further, the coiffure of Donnie Yen’s QingLong is also strikingly resemblance with the character of Vincent Jiao’s Zhuo DongLai (逴 东来) from CTV’s TV drama, The Tearful Sword (Lei Hen Jian, 泪痕剑) which was produced in 2006 as adaptation of Heroes Shed No Tear (Ying Xiong Wu Lei, 英雄无泪).
There are many elements of the movie that can turn 14 Blades into instant period drama classic but sadly it has little to offer for those wuxia fans who are looking for a memorable storyline. Surprisingly, the movie lacks impressive number of fights and fails to let Donnie Yen to show off his lightening fast skills. Daniel Lee should just let Donnie Yen do his things in this movie.
Although with mediocre fight scenes but the plot itself still manages to engage and the cast certainly do give a boost and lift for 14 Blades to being one of the better recent waves of big budget wuxia genre or period drama productions. Whenever the action started to lag, on the bright side there are always a whole lot of Zhao Wei in perfect framings. In recent trend, Zhao Wei has been underused and she once again proves that she is pretty much impossible to dislike in any movies. To her credit, her scenes with Donnie Yen help by adding a few light touches even with Donnie Yen’s aloofness or lack of real emotional depth. It reminds us of just how far Donnie Yen still has to go as an actor as well as how good Zhao Wei is acting with this familiar archetype. Zhao Wei has done so many of these types of genre movies that it’s probably a second nature to her by now.
The movie other notable supporting performance is turned in by pop star Wu Chun where he acts a Jack Sparrow look-alike desert pirate by the name of the Judge of the Desert. Wu Chun’s desert bandit character adds some much needed color to the movie in addition with the formidable female assassin character of Tuo Tuo played by Kate Tsui.
14 Blades may not be the ultimate wuxia genre feature but it has enough entertainment value to keep fans and non-fans intrigued. Fans of Zhao Wei and Wu Chun can have their filled of gratuitous eye candy. For those fans of Donnie Yen wanting to see him kicks some ass then they will be pretty satisfied.
Donnie Yen … QingLong
Zhao Wei … Qiao Hua
Qi Yu Wu … Xuan Wu
Wu Chun … Judge of the Desert
Kate Tsui … Tuo Tuo
Sammo Hung … Prince Qing
Damian Lau … Zhao Shenyan
Chen Guan Tai … Water Moon Monk
Wu Ma … Jiao Zhong
Law Kar Ying … Jia JingZhong
Chinese Title: 錦衣衛
Director: Daniel Lee
Screenplay: Abe Kwong and Daniel Lee
Producer: Susanna Tsang, An XiaoFen
Director of Photography: Tony Cheung Tung Leung
Action Choreographer: Ku Huen Chiu
Art Director: Cyrus Ho, Li DaPeng
Image Designer: Thomas Chong
Composer: Henry Lai
Digital Effects Artist: Jeong HanJoo
Soundtrack: Sa Ding Ding (Brocade-clad Guards)
Filming Locations: HengDian World Film Studio ZheJiang Province, YinChuan NingXia Province
Release Date: February 4, 2010
Run Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
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