Director: Andrew Lau
Screenplay: Oi Wah Lam, Joyce Chan
Producers: Peter Chan
Starring: Xiaoming Huag, Ethan Juan, Purba Rgyal, Yuchun Li
Duration: 112 mins
My New Year Resolution is to do at least one review every fortnight – So here goes..
I recall watching The Shaw Brothers “The Flying Guillotines” from oh so long ago, and it made such an impression that when the opportunity came to review this 2012 remake / reboot / refresh of the film, I jumped all over it. The trailer, poster and general buzz around this new version only fueled my excitement to see what 21st Century special effects could do to make the film really pop. Boy was I in for a a rude awakening.
First of all the movie started out promisingly enough with a scene at the school of the deadly guillotine wielding assassins, complete with a large pile of decapitated skulls in the center of the hall. Awesome. It also features a couple of action scenes with said guillotines in full effect, decapitating enemies of the emperor in a show of skilled wizardry at the hands of the assassins. So far so good, but then things took a decidedly wrong turn as the film descends into what felt very much like a political, historical propaganda fest. It effectively becomes a preachy, self righteous polemic against the historical seduction of Imperial China by Western technologies and influence away from traditional innovations and weaponry.
The assassins become fugitives when their new emperor decides to shut down the school and wipe their existence from history after they failed to kill one of the emperor’s targets, a particularly nasty rebel named Wolf, who escaped and took one of the assassins hostage. Master assassin, Leng, the main protagonist of the story is torn between loyalty to his master, the Emperor, and the call of rebellion alongside Wolf against gun wielding Imperial storm troopers, erm, Imperial soldiers. The rest of the film is taken up with their quest to find Wolf, and save their comrade., whilst repelling the soldiers with guillotine versus guns and bombs. Only one outcome was certain, but they made a big deal of putting up resistance and preaching to the country folk.
As you can probably tell, I was less than overwhelmed with the film, and despite it’s relatively big budget, excellent special effects, cinematography (plus decent actors and fight choreography), it still left a lot to be desired in terms of exploiting the amazing concept of a flying guillotine. The original film had lots of atmosphere, tension and visceral impact from the use of the titular weapon, but this incarnation hardly utilised their Sci-fi esque version of the fearsome weapon in quite the same way. That in my opinion was a fatal error which made the film less than it could have been in the hands of a more imaginative film maker.