Director: Andrew Lau
Starring: Huang Xiaoming, Ethan Juan, Zhou Yiwei, Purba Rgyal, Tian Gao, Boran Jing
The Qing Emperor establishes an elite and secret team of assassins known as the Guillotines, named as such for their weapon of choice, a weapon system designed to remove heads from torsos. Tasked with eliminating a charismatic and revolution rousing figure named Wolf (Huang Xiaoming) the Guillotines, led by Leng (Ethan Juan) find themselves infiltrating the last known town where Wolf was seen. When one of their own is taken, the Guillotines set out on a mission to rescue their comrade in arms and finish their mission. Not all is as usual however, since outsider and palace liaison Haidu (Shawn Yue) has joined the expedition and seems to have an agenda all his own.
Acclaimed director Andrew Lau directs this surprisingly slow paced film that resurrects the classic ‘Flying Guillotine’ weapon of yesteryear. Unfortunately, the film lacks what seems to have been the main selling point of trailers and previews, and that is action. The film starts off well enough with a visually pleasing though somewhat dizzying display of the aforementioned weapons. Heads fly off bodies and unique blades and effects fill the screen. It’s a cool scene to be sure, but the film never takes this tone again.
The film progresses into more of a drama that analyses loyalty, responsibility, and duty of multiple parties and does so in a somewhat frustratingly dull manner. A handful of gritty and quick scrapes are interspersed in the first act, but all but disappear from the rest of the film. The story tries to give an idea of dueling ideologies but it never quite sets is because characters are too uninteresting. The finale is even more frustrating because it is unsatisfying and makes the progression of the story earlier in the film seemingly pointless. It’s a poorly structured story that isn’t helped by a cast that seems to think smoldering stares equals good acting. Shawn Yue probably fares better than most with his singularly minded portrayal of Haidu; he’s dark, brutal, and a real bastard, but also such a cliché that it’s hard to develop anything other than apathy towards the whole affair.
The film looks great and Lau’s affinity for terrific visuals and shots is on full display here. Huge sets and a very large number of extras populate nearly every scene and the scope is quite good. Props are varied and interesting and the weapons are cool enough despite the actual lack of use in the picture. The score is better than expected and is epic when it needs to be but loses points for a sappy ballad that springs up out of nowhere and in an inappropriate moment.
The Guillotines had my interest considering the director and the return of one of my favorite weapons of all time in film. Producing a tepid film at best, Lau disappoints with this lackluster, unexciting, and dull picture. Had the film kept the tone of the opening act, I feel this film would have at least been more interesting than the preachy and man-tear filled mess with which we ended up.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Legend of the Flying Swordsman or The Seven Swords TV series.
Special thanks to Well Go USA for providing a viewing copy!