4 September 2014 | MartinHafer
Too much wire fu--too little in the way of plot.
Whether you enjoy "14 Blades" will most likely depend on what you think of the extensive use of so-called 'wire fu' throughout the film. This term was coined some time ago to describe the martial arts you see in some Chinese films where the stunts can only be achieved using hidden wires and harnesses to make characters magically fly as they fight. This was popularized in the film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" but was actually used well before this in some of the Shaw Brothers films of the 1970s (such as "Sister Street Fighter"). I don't mind these crazy techniques if they are used very sparingly. When it doesn't dominate the film and when the actors aren't doing things so insanely impossible that I have trouble enjoying the movie, it can be effective. Instead, I prefer martial arts films where the action is both plausible AND insanely realistic--such as in films like "Ip Man", "In the Blood" and the old Sonny Chiba Street Fighter films. To me, wire fu can become a gimmick-- especially when used too often. And, in "14 Blades" it simply is overused and as a result, the story itself is rather weak.
When the film begins, you learn that in the Ming Dynasty, the Emperors created the Jinyiwei. The Jinyiwei was initially a small group of men who were like a combination of spies and assassins. They were independent of the rest of the government and had the authority to overrule judges and dispatch supposed enemies of the Emperor with their bladed weapons. While this sounds far-fetched, I did some research and found that this really was a secret organization which was created in 14th century China! So, I applaud the film for basing the plot, in part, on real historical facts and characters.
One of these Jinyiwei, General Qinlong (Donnie Yen) is the hero, of sorts, in this film. He is betrayed by disloyal folks within the Emperor's court and spends the entire film being pursued by an outlaw Prince and his band of baddies. Throughout the film, it's one battle after another after another, as the Prince's troops try to kill Qinlong and steal the royal seal. And, the baddest of these baddies is Tuo Tuo, the Prince's adopted daughter. She has all sorts of magical fighting powers, can punch through trees, tosses enormous statues about as if they were made of styrofoam and can appear and disappear, fly and do practically anything. How could Qinlong possibly defeat this magical killing machine?!
To me, if Tuo Tuo had been eliminated from the film completely, "14 Blades" would have been a much better film. She simply was too impossible to believe and her stunts were insanely impossible--yet many of the fight scenes without her were exciting and high-energy. The wizards in The Lord of the Rings films had less powers than she did and to me this was just a distraction. This combining of real historical events (the Jinyimei) with ridiculous over-the-top characters didn't work for me and I wish the director, Daniel Lee, had focused less on these stunts and more on the story and realistic fighting. Not a bad film, it lacks the depth and believable characters I look for in a great martial arts movie.