The Guillotines Wades Cornily Through a Veiled Treatise on Socialist Equality, and Big Explosions


Wielding decapitation-causing spinning blades that are hurled off the edges of swords and resemble a cross between Transformers weaponry (all whirling metal) and the deadly boomerang-thingy from Krull, The Guillotines prove formidable covert assassins in service to China’s Qing dynasty until, alas, they’re betrayed by the emperor while hunting for rebel leader Wolf (Xiaoming Huang). This treachery, which leaves Leng (Ethan Juan) and his Guillotine mates labeled traitors, stems from the emperor’s desire to replace his sword-fighting killers with newfangled canons and firearms, a tradition-vs.-progress dynamic that’s handled with maximum melodrama by director Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs). Full of look-at-me crane shots and slow-motion imagery of silent screams and noble deaths enveloped in swirling embers and falling ice, The Guillotines pivots on the tumultuous relationships between brothers, fathers, and sons. Lau’s clichéd mishmash of hectic action and over-the-top hysterics lionizes old-school methods of combat even as it relies on—from a shot of heroes calmly walking away from fiery explosions to a finale of raining CG fireballs—the tricks of the modern blockbuster trade. A corny saga of social and generational conflict, it’s ultimately yet another Chinese period epic that functions as a thinly veiled treatise on the nobility of socialist equality.

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