Based loosely on a Shaw Brothers classic, this Andrew Lau-directed period piece features some pretty good performances that make this a watchable effort.
For centuries, the Emperor has employed a secret band of warriors skilled in a secret weapon known as the flying guillotine, a disc that is thrown and when attached to its victim, unleashes blades that cause the victim to be decapitated. Under the leadership of Emperor Qianlong, the latest group of the Guillotines are to capture the rebel warrior known simply as Wolf.
However, when Wolf not only escapes, the rebel leader has also kidnapped female Guillotine member Musen. The rest of the team are to find both Wolf and Musen, with the assistance of Haidu, the number one general of the Emperor himself. Haidu and Guilltone field commander Nala are childhood friends who have slowly dissented into rivals over their difference in loyalty. Things are slowly about to change in the empire as Qianlong has decided to get rid of the Guilltones due to his discovery of the firearm.
This film has been in development for quite a while before its release in late 2012. Originally conceived as a remake of the Shaw Brothers classic The Flying Guillotines, this film is actually a new take on the legend of a covert team of men hired by the Emperor to unleash the titular weapon. However, where the Shaw Brothers classic involved a disc attached to a chain, the weapon has been reinvented for this film. Now, the discs are attached to the armor of the team members and they unveil the guillotine using a hooked sword. The new reinvention is clearly done via CGI, but it looks quite believable for the most part.
The cast of young actors really give it their all in the film. Lead actor Ethan Ruan, who plays the field commander torn between loyalty to his team and loyalty to the Emperor, has looks similar to former Shaw Brothers star Lung Tien-Hsiang. He may seem robotic at first sight, but with the film’s progression, he clearly showcases his dramatic talent, notably in a scene where he reveals a dark secret to his fellow team.
Shawn Yue, whom many consider a future action star when he appeared in the 2007 thriller Invisible Target, brings pure evil to the role of Haidu, whose loyalty to the Emperor results in the forgetfulness of his childhood days and will do whatever it takes to ascend to being one of the top men of the throne under the Emperor. Huang Xiao-Ming does well as the rebel warrior Wolf. He acts as a prophet of sorts and while he constantly tells Ruan’s Nala that he will be the one to kill him, the Emperor’s decision to bring firearms to the army, brings these rivals together despite being totally outnumbered.
Lee Tat-Chiu handled the action sequences, which comprise of a terrific opening sequence in which we see the Guillotines in action against Wolf and his men, then some weapons fights scattered throughout the film and all culminating in a firearms vs. non-arms finale. As mentioned, the new guillotine looks quite interesting and the weapons fights are what you would expect in a period piece, but fun nevertheless.
The Guillotines is a fun film that takes the Shaw Brothers classic and gives it a new spin. The young cast do their best and while many may watch it once and forget it, it is still a decent film from Andrew Lau.
WFG RATING: B-
Well Go USA presents a Stellar Megamedia Group Ltd./We Pictures/Polyface Entertainment Media Group production. Director: Andrew Lau. Producers: Peter Chan, Jojo Hui, and Andrew Lau. Writers: Aubrey Lam, Joyce Chan, Jojo Hui, Peter Tsi, Guo Junli, and Philip Lui. Cinematography: Edmond Fung. Editing: Azrael Chung.
Cast: Shawn Yue, Li Yu-Chun, Huang Xiaoming, Ethan Ruan, Boran Jing, Purba Rygal, Zhou Yiwei, Jimmy Wang Yu, Wen Zheng, Vivien Li, Gao Tian, Chin Shih-Chieh.