Martial arts period drama 14 Blades’ cartoonish action scenes are so energetic that it’s hard to believe they weren’t directed by master choreographer Woo-ping Yuen (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Drunken Master).
Yuen’s influence on 14 Blades’ action director Huan-Chiu Ku — they previously collaborated on the Yuen-helmed Iron Monkey — shows in the film’s most playful fight scenes, like when Ming Dynasty General Qinglong (Ip Man star Donnie Yen) flicks chicken bones at his opponents before trouncing them. Ku’s hyperkinetic set pieces elevate the film’s generic plot: Qinglong is accused of treason and must prove his innocence while stopping Prince Qing (Sammo Hung) from overthrowing the emperor.
Watching ancillary characters like bandit king Judge of the Desert (Chun Wu) form uneasy alliances with Qinglong is never as exciting as watching them lay into one another. When he stops talking and starts brawling, Judge transforms from a plot-pushing cypher into a dirty-fighting dynamo, especially when he comes at Prince Qing’s daughter Tuotuo (beauty pageant queen Kate Tsui) with projectile daggers and a death wish.
Ku even brings out the best in Yen, a technically impressive performer who stops lighting up the screen whenever he’s not kicking ass. Yen looks uncomfortable when he’s forced to grit his teeth and stare off into the distance while wearing a Robert Smith — like fright wig and a Gene Simmons — esque goatee. But when he’s setting off booby traps, dodging whip swords, and flying through the air on wires, he’s like a gloriously demented superhero. Come for Ku’s joyful choreography, stay for Yen’s most memorable post-comeback performance.