The Guillotines (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
August 8, 2013 by Dennis Amith
“The Guillotines” is an action-packed that is filled with tragedy, sadness but also hope. One of the more impressive films that combines CG and action, but also a film that looks impressive thanks to its set and costume design. If you are familiar with Andrew Lau’s action films, “The Guillotines” is an exciting action film worth watching.
TITLE: The Guillotines
FILM RELEASE: 2012
DURATION: 113 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 16:9 Widescreen, Mandarin and English DTS-HD MA 7.1, Subtitles: English
COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment
Release Date: August 13, 2013
Written by Aubrey Lam, Joyce Chan, Jojo Hui Yuet-chun
Co-written by Peter Tsi, Junli Guo and Philip Lui
Produced by Peter Chan, Jojo Hui Yuet-Chun, Andrew Lau
Executive Produced by Peter Chan, Guoqing Gu, Qin Hong, Peter Lam, Teng-Kuei Yang, Yang Zhi-Guo, Li Zhou
Co-Producer: Simon Chen, Mei Hong, Peter Poon
Music by Kwong Wing Chan
Cinematography by Edmond Fung
Edited by Azrael Chung
Production design by Kenneth Mak
Art direction by Sai-Wan Lau
Costume Design by Dora Ng
Xiaoming Huang as Wolf
Shawn Yue as Haidu
Ethan Juan as Leng
Purba Rgyal as Chentai
Tian Gao as Hutu
Yi Wei Zhou as Buka
Boran Jing as Shisan
Peng Guo as Su
Yuchun Li as Musen
Yu Wang as Gong-E
Vivien Lai as Bai Lan
Yue Feng (Yue Song) is a young thug with exceptional street fighting abilities. He will stop at nothing to defeat all challengers – until, in an tragic accident, he kills a fellow competitor and is sent to prison. Eight years later, Yue Feng emerges a changed man. He no longer fights, and is looking for a new life of peace and fulfillment. But it’s brutal on the streets, and redemption doesn’t come easy. His brotherhood is destroyed, family members murdered, and a loved one humiliated – a deadly chain reaction that leaves him no choice but to unleash his power in the name of justice. KING OF THE STREETS, China’s first street-fighting movie, pits real-life martial artist Yue Song against more than 10 of the world’s top contenders in MMA, Jiu-jitsu, Jeet Kune Do, Sanda, and Muay Thai boxing.
Filmmaker Andrew Lau is one of the recognizable in Hong Kong cinema. From the “Infernal Affairs” films, “Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen” and “Beautiful Life”, Lau along with producer Peter Chan (the director of films such as “Dragon”, “The Warlords”, “Comrades: Almost a Love Story”) joined forces for a film that was inspired by the 1976 Shaw Bros. film “Master of the Flying Guillotine”.
The film would star Huang Xiaoming (“Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster”, “The Banquet”), Ethan Juan (“Love”, “Monga”), Shawn Yu (“Infernal Affairs” films, “Initial D”, “Dragon Tiger Gate”), pop star Li Yuchun (“Flying Swords of Dragon Gate”, “Bodyguards and Assassins”), Jing Boran (“Love in Space”, “Hot Summer Days”, “The Bullet Vanishes”), Wen Zhang (“The Sorcerer and the White Snake”, “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons”) and more.
The film will be released in the U.S. via Well Go USA Entertainment in August 2013 on Blu-ray and DVD.
Before I review this film, there are two things I need to mention a brief history on the context of what is featured in the film. In “The Guillotines”, the film is set during a time where China was under a Manchu-ruled Qing Dynasty. During this era, despite the many minority groups that exist in China today, Manchu’s are indigenous people of Manchuria and were the third largest ethnic group in China. The Han Chinese are an ethnic group native to China and prior to a Manchu-ruled kingdom, these two fought. In fact, the Chinese saw Mongols and Jurchens a.k.a. Manchus as barbarians and centuries of fighting occurred between the people.
In the context of “The Guillotines”, the film takes place during the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor and his son, the Qianlong Emperor. the height of the Qing Dynasty’s power.
In the film, during the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor, a secret assassination squad known as “The Guillotines” was created in order to protect the Yongzheng Emperor from opposition. Feared by many, when the Qianlong Emperor ascends to the throne, he uses the Guillotines to persecute the conquered Han Chinese.
But one man continues to be a sore spot for the emperor. His name is Tianlang (Wolf), who is the leader of the Shepherd gang. The Emperor sends five warriors to stop him. The leader Leng and his top-ranked squad members Musen, Houjia Shisan, Chen Tai, Hutu and Buka.
The emperor manages to capture Wolf and annihilate his group with their weapons which are a sword which can hold onto a guillotine, which when thrown at a person, it will either decapitate them or trap their head area and its inner blades will decapitate them.
While imprisoned, Leng goes to see Wolf and Wolf tells him that he has dreamed about Leng before and that he was to die by Leng’s hands but not that day, nor does he die by execution. While Wolf is being escorted for public execution, his group manages to free him and as the Guillotines fight back, Wolf manages to catch one of their members, the female warrior Musen.
The Guillotines are sent on a mission to retrieve Musen and kill Wolf, but most importantly, Leng must do all he can to protect her. The Qianglong Emperor also sends his agent Haidu to watch over the Guillotines, but what the Guillotine squad is unaware of, is that the Qianlong Emperor has adopted Western ideas and technology and sees firearms and cannons as better weapons than people who wield guillotines. So, in order to replace cold weapons with firearms, he makes a rule that if the Guillotines make a false move, they become a stain that must be eliminated.
“The Guillotines” is presented in 1080p High Definition (16:9 widescreen). The film is visually stunning as Edmond Fung is able to capture not only the fight choreography but just the breathtaking scenes of a mountainside and nature within the surroundings of an area There is quite a bit of CG used for the weaponry in order to capture the guillotine flying around or creating sparks while it’s spinning on a sword. I personally didn’t notice any artifacts nor banding and as for the colors, it tends to switch from warm to cool during various portions of the film. But there is plenty of detail when it comes to closeups or closeups on the weapons. Very good use of special effects!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The Guillotines” is presented in Mandarin and English 7.1 and also a stereo soundtrack. The lossless soundtrack is immersive. Front/center channels are crystal clear but the use of lossless audio through the surround channels were impressive during the more action-driven sequences. From the guillotine being thrown, the sound of metal hitting metal as Wolf evades and blocks each guillotine, rifles and cannons being shot and hearing bullets hitting their victims to cannonballs exploding on buildings.
But it’s an active lossless soundtrack that I think that martial arts fans will no doubt love hearing in Mandarin and English 7.1. While I really enjoyed the film in its original Mandarin presentation, I did also test out the English dub and I was impressed that the dub was not too bad. Usually, I’m not at all into English dubs because they are horribly acted, but “The Guillotines” dub work was good.
Subtitles are in English.
“The Guillotines” comes with the following special features:
- Interviews – (37:43) Featuring interviews with director Andrew Lau, costume designer Dora Ng and talents Shawn Yue, Boran Jing and Li Yuchun.
- Making Of – (17:15) Featuring a behind-the-scenes making of “The Guillotines”.
- Theatrical Trailer – (1:58) Theatrical trailer for “The Guillotines”.
“The Guillotines” comes with a slipcover.
When it comes to martial arts films, there are those who want deep storylines to go with the action. There are those who want a lot of action and if anything, popcorn action without the deep storyline is enough.
In the past few years, we are starting to see a combination of action with a lot of CG and special effects. Back in the early 200o’s, the implementation of such scenes were good but not great. But with more and more HK martial arts film finding a way to combine action and CG elements and the action scenes looking more realistic than fake, 2012-2013 has been a very good year with martial arts action films.
With Andrew Lau’s “The Guillotines”, I have been a fan of Lau’s films since working on “As Tears Go By” as a cinematographer to my first film discovering his directorial work with “Young and Dangerous” back in ’96.
And if anything, Lau has shown me how he can be a talented filmmaker with “Infernal Affairs”, “Sausalito” to action films such as “The Duel”, “A Man Called Hero”, “The Legend of Speed” and “The Storm Riders”.
If there is one filmmaker that I respected for his action films, Andrew Lau has been one of my favorite Hong Kong directors.
So, here we are in 2013 and I’m reviewing his 2012 film “The Guillotines”. While, I’m not a person who loves to see a lot of CG with martial arts films, the use of the guillotine in this manner was quite intriguing. But as there was a lot of fire, sparks and flying guillotines, fortunately the setting and atmosphere went well with the film.
While set during the Qing Dynasty, the production design courtesy of Kenneth Mak (“Fearless”, “Ip Man” films) was very well-done with how elaborate the sets were in trying to capture various villages, the way these sets look and are so beautiful or so beaten up, I was impressed. And equally fantastic is the costume design work of Dora Ng. Dora is one of the most sought out costume designers in Hong Kong cinema.
My first film discovering Nora Ng’s work was in “Comrades: Almost a Love Story:” but what she was able to bring to “Purple Storm”, “Tokyo Raiders”, “Skyline Cruisers”, “Storm Warriors” to name a few, she’s a very creative individual and for “The Guillotines”, it’s one of her most impressive work yet.
So, with giving a nod to set and costume design, let’s talk about the story.
“The Guillotines” is an action-packed film that features tragedy, betrayal but also hope. A hope for a Golden Age where Manchurians and the Han people can live in peace.
But in a time where people are not treated as equals, how can their be peace? How can their be equality?
The film begins as a cat and mouse game as the assassination squad known as The Guillotines pursue a man named Wolf and his Shepherd group. The Guillotines are uneducated and was raised at a young age to be killers. They see themselves as brothers (Musen is actually a female) and believe they are fighting for their Emperor. They have nothing else but their pride of being well-trained killers.
Wolf on the other hand is an interesting portrayal. Not only is he a trained fighter but from his appearance to how he is treated by the poor villagers almost as a messiah being called “Great Father” and the fact that he has prophesied his own death as way to create piece, it’s an interesting plotline to see in a Hong Kong martial arts film.
Sure, there is no mention of Christianity but the fact that the character cares and cries for the innocent people, to being seen as a leader and inspiration for those who have no home. It’s rather interesting, because I have never seen anything like it in a martial arts film nor a Hong Kong/Chinese film in general.
The film does offer a pretty solid young cast with the well-known Shawn Yue as the secretive Haidu. Young Ethan Juan (Jing-Tian Ruan) is known for his work in TV dramas and China pop star Yuchun Li has a more emotional dramatic role as the female Guillotine warrior, Musen.
For an Andrew Lau film, the film did meet my expectations when it came to action and the overall look of the film was impressive. While I felt his past action films were much more entertaining storywise, I will say that the creativity when it came to the use of weaponry was well-done for this film. But as mentioned earlier, it all comes down to the viewer and what they prefer in an action-film. I prefer deep stories to go along with the action, so I like the balance.
While the film does promote hope for peace, in order to obtain a peace, many have to die and this is a film that is not for the weak-hearted. People die in the most horrendous of ways and you will also see many people beheaded.
As for the Blu-ray release, “The Guillotines” does look amazing on Blu-ray, its lossless soundtrack is quite active and immersive. And you get a few special features included as well.
Overall, “The Guillotines” is an action-packed that is filled with tragedy, sadness but also hope. One of the more impressive films that combines CG and action, but also a film that looks impressive thanks to its set and costume design. If you are familiar with Andrew Lau’s action films, “The Guillotines” is an exciting action film worth watching.
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