14 Blades (2010)
By: Devon B. on June 10, 2012  | 
DVD
Icon | Region B | 2.35:1, 1080p | Chinese DTS HD 5.1 | 112 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Daniel Lee
Starring: Donnie Yen, Wei Zhao, Chun Wu, Kate Tsui, Sammo Hung, Yuwu Qi
Screenplay: Daniel Lee
Country: Hong Kong
External Links
IMDB Rotten YouTube
I have been a fan of Chinese action cinema for many years now. Aside from The Killer which had four different English friendly variations, when I first got into these movies I had to source the films through a label that was aimed specifically at the Chinese speaking market. Most of the videos would be dual subtitled, so there would be the Chinese subtitle and below that a smaller English translation. I watched a lot of movies like this, where if the release was cropped for home video the subs would often just be cut off, and if it was a widescreen release the subs might all be there, but because they were actually part of the film print they shrank in size accordingly. I spent many hours sitting mere millimetres from my screen desperately trying to make out the subtitles. Even at the best of times these subs were hard to read, a faint white that bled into any background that wasn't dark. When DVD came along, I immediately started importing Chinese DVDs so I could finally read the subtitles comfortably. Being able to easily track what was going on was like seeing some movies for the first time even if I'd already watched them dozens of times before. Now, at the next format down the line, I'm back to squinting and sitting close because someone at Icon has decided to take fans of Asian cinema on an unnecessary trip down memory lane. It's one thing to have forced subtitles that occasionally cause some picture flaws like on Blades of Blood, but when I was watching the Icon release of Red Cliff I started in my normal seat and eventually gave up, rearranged the furniture, and found myself once again sitting right in front of the screen to be able to make out the subtitles. I did my time with this! I don't want to go back! I've paid my dues! My TV is 8 times larger than the one I used to have; there's no way I should be forced to sit so close again! So I was less than pleased when I popped in Icon's release of 14 Blades and found the subs were imbedded and itty bitty. They weren't quite as bad as Red Cliff's (I was at least able to keep the seating arrangement as normal), but they weren't that much better. As far as I'm concerned, this is a deal breaker, and means I cannot in good conscience recommend this release.

The Blu-ray may leave a lot to be desired, but I don't want to put people off 14 Blades itself, as I really enjoyed it. Donnie Yen and his wig star as a member of the Ming Dynasty's equivalent to the secret police. When one of the emperor's eunuchs plots to overthrow the emperor, Yen rebels and finds himself fighting almost anyone that comes on screen. While striving to put things right, he also develops a romantic interest with the woman from Shaolin Soccer. Sammo Hung has a cameo, but as he is literally legless, he doesn't get up to any Hoo-Ha.

14 Blades is a wuxia movie with a playful feel to it. The tone reminded me of Chinse Ghost Story, though there weren't really any ghosts and there was no real flying. The film does have a mixture of gadgets that feel a bit out of place in a film set during the Ming Dynasty, but then a movie where people are beaten up with chicken bones probably isn't striving for historical accuracy. The only other movie I've seen by this director was Black Mask, which was also very gadgety, so I'd guess the director likes this style. The fight choreography can be quite good and visually interesting, but sometimes the style of the film, like an abundance of slow motion, gets in the way of the fights. It's not a martial arts masterpiece, but rather a fun action/adventure yarn that occasionally allows for some nifty fight choreography.

Despite the super annoyance with the Blu-ray, I had a fun time with 14 Blades, so if you're a fan of Asian action, a decent release would be worth seeking out.
Video
The transfer is a bit uneven, but I'm not sure if that's the fault of the disc or the source material. Some flaws are definitely part of the disc, like some macroblocking and artifacts around the imbedded subs, but others like colour oversaturation and banding may well be part of the print itself. The movie often looks great, with sharp clarity and natural colours, but this isn't demo material, or at least not entirely consistent demo material.
Audio
There's a 5.1 DTS HD master audio track or a 2.0 track. Wow, 2.0! I'm thinking the space used for this unnecessary mix could've been used for some proper subtitles! The 2.0 is okay for a 2.0 mix but it's no comparison to the sword-slicing, fist-fighting, arrow-bomb-exploding 5.1 mix.
Extra Features
The trailer for RED plays on start up. The disc also includes 14 Blades' trailer and a making of that interviews the principles.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The Blu-ray begins with an all too familiar warning that pirating films is burning the Australian film industry. Clearly the industry doesn't want the fans to "burn" it, but is really happy to burn us with unacceptable releases. I will never blind buy an Icon martial arts release again after having two films virtually ruined by shoddy presentation. For shame, Icon, for shame.

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