*WARNING*: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. If you DO NOT want to be spoiled, please DO NOT read. You have been warned.
Wow! I didn’t even expect much of it, considering how long it was I last seen a movie. I didn’t expect to enjoy it so much from all the cast. I thought that what was even better was having a decent plot to move the story along and then leaving a lot of time for fighting scenes. Of course there were romances too but it was only briefly and only existed between one couple in here and I was glad. They focused on the right elements so the whole movie did not drag at all.
Donnie Yen was great as always in his fighting sequences. It was an interesting collaboration between him and the rest of the cast. What I thought was interesting and found quite fascinating was having seen Donnie’s interactions with Vicki, Wu Zun, and Kate. Their relationships were very different yet each played an essential part to the story. It brought out his and their characters as well. There was no lack of screen time for anyone OR at least I thought it was relevant for the story and was not overdone.
So who was Donnie Yen really in here? Donnie portrayed Qing Long (青龍 aka Green Dragon), a leader of Jin Yi Wei (錦衣衛 – Cẩm Y Vệ), who possessed 14 blades. With those 14 blades, he had the power to off anyone to protect the emperor and defend the dynasty. All in all, it seemed like the best position. However, that was not easy since he was set up by Eunuch Jia Jing Zhong (賈精忠–who gave him the orders to kill Councilor Zhao Shen Yan) and betrayed by his own fellow guards (except for Bai Hu and Zhu Que who were killed off by Xuan Wu and Tuo Tuo respectively). However, he managed to escape and seek shelter elsewhere until he was able to recover the Imperial Seal (which was snatched from him while he was in the middle of confronting the councilor).
Vicki Zhao portrayed Qiao Hua (喬花), the daughter of Qiao Yong (喬永–whom was the head of the Righteous Escort Agency aka Zheng Yi Biao Ju – 正義镖局). She encountered Qing Long when Qing Long arrived at the doorstep of their agency, offering them money for their service. This time, they had to safeguard him out of the city. It was not a problem since Qiao Yong was thinking of marrying his daughter off and was ready to set out with her within several days. After some corny jokes from Qiao Yong’s old friend–and some offering of money (of course), the group was able to pass since Qing Long was hidden inside the bride’s carriage. They found out Qing Long’s truth identity when they were ambushed in the woods. Qing Long took Qiao Hua as a hostage after fighting off all the guards and told Qiao Yong and his men to head east to divert attention from himself. They were to meet him at a village up ahead so he could return Qiao Hua to them unharmed. Along the way, Qiao Hua discovered that Qing Long was not a cruel or rough person liked it was led on at first. They exchanged some witty comments between each other at this one rest-stop and somehow explored more about each other along the way.
Wu Zun came into the picture when Qing Long and Qiao Hua arrived at the pre-planned village. He was seen spying on them from a distance at first. He was introduced as the leader of the Heavenly Eagles Clan (天鹰幫 aka Tian Ying Ban). He was actually the real World’s Number One Sabre (天下第一刀 aka Tian Xia Di Yi Dao), ‘Judge of the Desert’ (大漠判官 aka Da Mo Pan Guan), not like the impersonator of that one group who tried to rob Qiao Hua’s agency in the woods (and was also killed off by the guards awhile after). Anyway, he challenged Qing Long at the inn. It proved that they were a match for each other and Qing Long decided to join forces with them to go against the eunuchs, the guards, and Prince Qing (whom Qing Long found out had join forces with the eunuchs in an attempt to overthrow the emperor). In exchange for their help, Qing Long offered the golds that were transported by the guards. It was impossible and seemed too easy yet Qing Long convinced the Heavenly Eagles Clan that he wouldn’t go back on his words aka letting the clan have all the golds.
What was admirable about Da Mo Pan Guan was not only the fact that he kept his words to help Qing Long, but he even interfered with the battle – aiding Qing Long when Qing Long was surrounded by the guards. Qing Long took a quick glance at him before turning his cautious eyes back on Xuan Wu, asking, “Da Mo Pan Guan, don’t you just know how to rob?” He returned those words by uttering, “I love to rob, but I love fighting more.” Witty exchange. Probably their first time fighting alongside one another and it was also the last since Mr. Heavenly Eagles Clan’s Leader got killed off after saving Qiao Hua and sending her off with his last words to Qing Long.
Kate Tsui appeared at various points of the movie and was known as the adopted-daughter of Prince Qing. Her named was Tuo Tuo (脱脱) and she was one powerful fighter all right. She had major scenes with both Donnie and Wu Zun. The fact that she was responsible for both guys’ death was even more chilling. It was hard to swallow but somehow that was some of the most powerful scenes. Tuo Tuo was not only skillful but she was so chillingly scary. She was one of the most powerful fighters in here yet in a way she was very pitiful because she was only her adopted-father’s tool. She was only a killing machine. She ended up paying a price for all her dirty works. It was mentioned that Prince Qing had shed tears upon hearing about Tuo Tuo’s death but was it true? Not impossible but what was the point after she was dead? Or was it because he trusted her so he bestowed upon her shoulders of such duties? Something to think about really.
What was really cool about the whole thing was the amount of gadgets each character possessed and/or specialized in. Vicki did not get to use as much since she did not have many fighting scenes though Qiao Hua’s bravery and intelligence made up for it. Among the other three characters, Donnie’s Qing Long beat the other two by miles since he had 14 blades to begin with. There was also the whole idea with his wire that he manipulated to move from one location to others or hang loosely high above. He also had some of the other weapons inside the blade box, which was equally useful and not to be taken lightly by anyone – friends or enemies.
Wu Zun came in second with Da Mo Pan Guan’s razor sharp saber, lethal flying double saber, and hidden little arrows strapped on his leg. There was also golden coins that he used as weapon, flicking it in the air–saving Qiao Hua that one time from her near death experience. Then the last one could be said as part of his clan’s weapon, which was the special bow and explosive arrows they shoot out to inflict damage from a distance. And did anyone realize how his image sort of looks like Jack Sparrow? (Okay, that was just me since it was a big difference between being a pirate and some person famous for roaming the sands.)
Kate’s Tuo Tuo came in third with only two gadgets–her long flexible rope and the sharp stick she used to strike at her enemies. Because she was extremely skillful, the lack of gadgets did not decrease her powerful stances either.
The other cast were as great though they only appeared at various points. Damian Lau was Councilor Zhao Shen Yan so he only appeared at the beginning and the little of the ending part because he was imprisoned for the majority of the movie. Still, that was a relief that he was alive and was able to reunite with his family. Law Kar Ying was portraying Eunuch Jia Jing Zhong–who taught Xuan Wu about the importance of success and only others were able to see that part of the achievement, not all the means that one used to reach that point; and was ironically killed by Xuan Wu for that same philosophy. Sammo Hung was Prince Qing – who was seen giving orders to Tuo Tuo at the beginning and then was seen near the end with the voice-over of Qiao Hua telling the audience that he committed suicide before his execution date. It was interesting to see Wu Ma as Vicki’s father in here also – though brief but convincing. The production team should not be forgotten either because without them, it was not possible.
The plot aka the story itself was another typical corrupted officials, eunuchs, incapable kings, heroes among thieves with the mixture of subtle romance, friendship, and companionship. Yet what made up for the rest of the story was the fighting sequences. It was enjoyable that it made way for lots and lots of fighting scenes yet the story still made sense. They did not linger long to drag out the feelings between Qing Long and Qiao Hua nor were they stressing too much of the ‘knowing the hero, respecting the hero’ concept between Qing Long and Da Mo Pan Guan.
It was there through the stories told or brief words exchanged. It was not dragged out or overly dramatic about the themes mentioned. The humor was subtle, really subtle so I was glad of that. You know it was there, but it was not dragged out OR to the point where you roll your eyes and mutter, “Lame.” It was in there at certain points to ease the moment or showed to some extent that they were not in danger–yet. All in all, the fighting scenes were well done. That was the hallmark of the movie and they had succeeded.
Acting? This was like 90% fighting between the main cast so I won’t say much but I thought they did their part to make it happen and that was what mattered. I thought it was a great opportunity for various cast members to learn from some of the veterans and/or the ones before them. Wu Zun got his wish to work with Donnie Yen and that was great. Not sure about Kate but I’m sure she learned and interacted with all the cast members well enough to make it work. She had fun with her action scenes–it seemed, but probably a lot of hard work for everyone involved, including herself. One thing I notice was practically everyone had to maintain their cool looks throughout. It was hard not to, considering how the story was. Everything was so intense. So that was an easy part? OR was that a challenge to try and not laugh?
Recommended or not? I thought it was worth it for action movie fans. But it depends on your standard. I am no expert, so I can’t speak out of professionalism. But I thought it was one of the best out there.
*All images were scanned and/or captured by DTLCT