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14 Blades (錦衣衛)

14 Blades

Good-looking but dramatically weak Donnie Yen vehicle that falls short as a costume martial arts drama. Largely ancillary beyond Asia.


China, early Ming Dynasty. General Qinglong (Donnie Yen), head of an elite force of Imperial enforcers, the Brocade Guards, is entrusted with guarding the Emperor's Seal, sought after by vengeful Prince Qing (Sammo Hung), who lost his legs in a failed coup. Following an ambush, Qinglong takes refuge with a group of professional boyguards, the Justice Escort, led by Qiao Yong (Wu Ma), whose daughter, Qiao Hua (Vicki Zhao), falls for him. In the desert wastes of Muslim northwest China, Qinglong is pursued by Qing's two leading assassins - adopted daughter Tuotuo (Kate Tsui) and chief henchman Xuan Wu (Qi Yuwu) - and forms an alliance with local bandit Judge (Wu Chun).


Though superior in most respects, 14 Blades suffers from many of the same faults as Kevin Chu's (朱延平) recent The Treasure Hunter (刺陵), especially a script that becomes increasingly incoherent and restless editing that grows more and more distracting. Like Treasure Hunter, it also recalls Hong Kong costume martial arts movies of the late '80s and early '90s, with none of the dramatic breadth and weight of Mainland-shot historical dramas like The Warlords (投名狀) and Battle of Wits (墨攻). Daniel Lee (李仁港) has always been a variable director (Black Mask 黑俠, Moonlight Express 星月童話) but, in its lost opportunities, this one is disappointing after his enjoyably meaty Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (三國之見龍卸甲, 2008).

With some striking desert landscapes by d.p. Tony Cheung (張東亮, Eye in the Sky 跟蹤, Mulan 花木蘭) and fresh-looking Ming Dynasty-cum-Central Asia production design by Lee himself, the film consistently looks good in widescreen. But there's no real drama or conflict: Donnie Yen's (甄子丹) character is unsmiling and unlikable, Vicki Zhao (趙薇, who's meant to be falling for him) seems to be emoting in a vacuum and, as in Tsui Hark's (徐克) Seven Swords (七劍), little dramatic juice is squeezed out of the legendary titular weapons that Yen carries around in a box.

Henry Lai's (黎允文) music slips occasionally into reminders of Ennio Morricone's Dollar scores but only underlines the fact that not very much heroic is going on on-screen. The film seems perpetually restless when it should be more thoughtful. Yen, who's shown he can do thoughtful (Ip Man 葉問) when given the chance, emerges as a psychological blank page. Action scenes are largely dependant on wire-fu and CG (especially Kate Tsui's clothes-shedding technique). However, when Yen is allowed to show his skills properly (as in a courtyard fight vs. Wu Chun's 吳尊 Judge midway) 14 Blades starts to look like the film it could have been.


Sales: Arclight Films, Beverly Hills (

2010, colour, 2.35:1, 112 mins

Release: China/Singapore, 4 Feb.; Hong Kong, 11 Feb.

Presented by Shanghai Film Group (CN), Visualizer Film Production (HK), Western Movie Group (CN), Mediacorp Raintree Pictures (SG), Desen International Media (CN), in association with Beijing Shengshi Huarui Film Investment & Management, Donlord Skykee Film Investment, Shenzhen Shenguang Media, Beijing Fenghua Times Culture Communication, Beijing New Film Association & Movie Industry, Star Union International Media Group, China Broadcast International Media. Produced by Visualizer Film Production (HK). Executive producers: Ren Zhonglun, Susanna Tsang, Wang Zhenliang, Liu Zhiyuan. Producers: Wang Tianyun, Susanna Tsang.

Directed by Daniel Lee (李仁港)

Script: Daniel Lee, Abe Kwong, Mak Tin-shu, Lau Ho-leung. Original story: Daniel Lee. Photography: Tony Cheung. Editing: Cheung Ka-fai. Music: Henry Lai. Production design: Daniel Lee. Art direction: Ho Kim-hung. Costume design: Debby Wong, Petra Kwok, Eddy Mok. Sound: Ken Wong. Action: Ku Huen-chiu. Image design: Chong Chi-leung. Visual effects: Sunny Ryu (Next Visual Studio). Associate director: Chan Chi-leung.

Cast: Donnie Yen (General Qinglong), Vicki Zhao (Qiao Hua), Wu Chun (Judge), Sammo Hung (Prince Qing), Kate Tsui (Tuotuo), Qi Yuwu (Xuan Wu), Damian Lau (Zhao Shenyan), Wu Ma (Qiao Yong), Law Kar-ying (Jia Jingzheng), Chen Kwan-tai (Fa Huang), Jin Laiqun, Fung Hak-on, Xu Xiangdong, Chen Zhihui, Liu Zhuoling, Zhang Yujiao, Ding Wenbin.