Reviews


Film Review: The Guillotines

Politics and technology doom the Emperor's private army in 18th-century China.

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1378768-Guillotines_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Ambitious but muddled, The Guillotines uses a war between Emperor Qianlong's Manchu army and the Han people as the setting for a complicated story of loyalty and betrayal among elite assassins. Based very loosely on 1975 Hong Kong adventure film The Flying Guillotine, this movie doesn't have enough action to attract martial-arts fans. Its narrative isn't likely to draw anyone else either.

The basic premise is sturdy enough. The Emperor (Wen Zhang) has assembled highly trained soldiers, known as the Guillotines for their trademark device, a whirling metal disk that decapitates their enemies. Led by Leng (Ethan Juan), the fighters are ordered to defeat the Herders, Han terrorists under the command of Wolf (Huang Xiaoming).

The chase leads deep into Han territory, where the Guillotines, disguised as tea merchants, come face-to-face with the effects of the Emperor's policies. Leng, accompanied by his childhood friend Haidu (Shawn Yue), uncovers secrets about their past, learning that they were both Han orphans abducted into the Emperor's court.

As Leng closes in on Wolf, Haidu and Green Army commander Jiang (King Shih-Chieh) enact cruel reprisals against the Han. And with the arrival of the Emperor's new soldiers, armed with firearms, Leng realizes that he and the Guillotines have become targets along with the Han. Aligning the Guillotines with Wolf may be their only chance of survival.

Director Andrew Lau replaced the original Guillotines director after the production shut down over script problems. Presumably he is responsible for the movie's ponderous tone and overwrought emotions. For all its intimations of The Seven Samurai, The Guillotines is soppy to the point of hysteria.

The assassins, supposedly all hardened killers, cry a lot, and even the Emperor gets teary-eyed when Leng and Haidu hurl recriminations at each other. When one Guillotine is wounded, it takes four camera angles to get him down to the ground. None of the leads has the skill or training to perform Lee Tai-chiu's stunts, so the action is a blur of quick edits and CGI.

The performances are overbearing, apart from the grimly efficient Shawn Yue. Even the great Jimmy Wang Yu is reduced to glum speeches and stony expressions.

By Western standards this is dreary stuff, dripping with saliva and tears. Imagine a Wild Bunch where the mercenaries sulk in silence when they're not screaming at the heavens.

Even in its glory days, Hong Kong cinema had its share of clunkers—bloated, interminable costume melodramas with overblown sentiments and miniscule plots. You can add The Guillotines to that list.


Film Review: The Guillotines

Politics and technology doom the Emperor's private army in 18th-century China.

June 13, 2013

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1378768-Guillotines_Md.jpg

Ambitious but muddled, The Guillotines uses a war between Emperor Qianlong's Manchu army and the Han people as the setting for a complicated story of loyalty and betrayal among elite assassins. Based very loosely on 1975 Hong Kong adventure film The Flying Guillotine, this movie doesn't have enough action to attract martial-arts fans. Its narrative isn't likely to draw anyone else either.

The basic premise is sturdy enough. The Emperor (Wen Zhang) has assembled highly trained soldiers, known as the Guillotines for their trademark device, a whirling metal disk that decapitates their enemies. Led by Leng (Ethan Juan), the fighters are ordered to defeat the Herders, Han terrorists under the command of Wolf (Huang Xiaoming).

The chase leads deep into Han territory, where the Guillotines, disguised as tea merchants, come face-to-face with the effects of the Emperor's policies. Leng, accompanied by his childhood friend Haidu (Shawn Yue), uncovers secrets about their past, learning that they were both Han orphans abducted into the Emperor's court.

As Leng closes in on Wolf, Haidu and Green Army commander Jiang (King Shih-Chieh) enact cruel reprisals against the Han. And with the arrival of the Emperor's new soldiers, armed with firearms, Leng realizes that he and the Guillotines have become targets along with the Han. Aligning the Guillotines with Wolf may be their only chance of survival.

Director Andrew Lau replaced the original Guillotines director after the production shut down over script problems. Presumably he is responsible for the movie's ponderous tone and overwrought emotions. For all its intimations of The Seven Samurai, The Guillotines is soppy to the point of hysteria.

The assassins, supposedly all hardened killers, cry a lot, and even the Emperor gets teary-eyed when Leng and Haidu hurl recriminations at each other. When one Guillotine is wounded, it takes four camera angles to get him down to the ground. None of the leads has the skill or training to perform Lee Tai-chiu's stunts, so the action is a blur of quick edits and CGI.

The performances are overbearing, apart from the grimly efficient Shawn Yue. Even the great Jimmy Wang Yu is reduced to glum speeches and stony expressions.

By Western standards this is dreary stuff, dripping with saliva and tears. Imagine a Wild Bunch where the mercenaries sulk in silence when they're not screaming at the heavens.

Even in its glory days, Hong Kong cinema had its share of clunkers—bloated, interminable costume melodramas with overblown sentiments and miniscule plots. You can add The Guillotines to that list.

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Hunger Games - Mockingjay Pt 1
Film Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

Darker, less action-packed first half of the final installment of the popular franchise moves from arenas to rubble aplenty as Jennifer Lawrence’s super-heroine is called upon to serve her beleaguered and much-destroyed nation as propaganda instrument and leader. Fans of the books and previous two films get a less flashy palette here, but the engaging characters and strong story return to stir interest for the scheduled November 2015 finale. More »

Foxcatcher review
Film Review: Foxcatcher

Character is destiny in this masterfully controlled true-crime sports drama that will likely catapult Steve Carell into the Oscar race. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here