Picture14 Blades comes to Region Free HK Blu-ray with a video presentation that is arguably as flawed as the movie itself. Rendered in 1080p High Definition in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen, the detail is generally very good, but only at the expense of having an over-abundance of edge enhancement and haloing. Check out the horse-riding sequences against the backdrop of the setting sun, or any of the sunny outdoor scenes, they all betray the digital work done to 'improve' the picture, and it really is unbecoming of a High Def Blu-ray presentation. Grain is also occasionally noticeable, and the CG seldom blends in seamlessly. The colour scheme is fairly broad and vivid, the movie offering up a nice variety of settings, where - in turn - greens and blue can take the centre stage over the dominant browns. Black levels are reasonable but far from exceptional and overall the biggest flaw is the aforementioned edge enhancement, which really should not be so prevalent on such a new production.
SoundThe pattern continues with the aural accompaniment, which comes it two flavours: Cantonese and Mandarin, each with their own individual variations. There are three Cantonese tracks: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Dolby Digital TrueHD 7.1 and LPCM 7.1, and two Mandarin offerings: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and standard Dolby Digital 5.1. The trouble is - as I am finding more and more often on HK titles - neither of the tracks is devoid of dubbing. See, many of the mainland Chinese or Taiwanese cast members speak only Mandarin, and whilst Donnie Yen and some of the other principle cast members can speak both that and Cantonese, the language was not uniform throughout the filming, so either way you're looking at a dub. Thankfully, at least we get decent DTS-HD Master Audio tracks for whichever one you choose (it's probably best to go with the one that has Donnie speaking naturally, as he's the key player), with dialogue - dubbed or not - coming across clearly, on the face of things, largely from the centre channel, with some support from the fronts. The effects are extremely well-observed, some nice little touches bringing the surrounds and even the rears to life, and a decent ambience generated by the general atmospheric nuances that are picked up on. Of course, we get some much louder moments with - believe it or not - explosive arrows (think Rambo 2 and 3) which both light up the surrounds and even offer us a little LFE action. The score is perfectly suited to this kind of movie, quite thematic but not particularly memorable, rounding off a nice offering. It's just a shame that it is let down, once again, by being yet another Hong Kong / China / Taiwan cross-production marred with inconsistent language use and consequent compulsory dubbing. Otherwise it's a pretty good track really.
ExtrasFirst up we get a 20 minute Making-Of (with optional English subtitles) which includes Interviews with the Director and Cast. Director Daniel Lee, along with stars Donnie Yen and Vicky Zhao (along with a couple of the others) talk in interview about the story, the setting, the characters they play and the action in the movie. They discuss the historical relevance, how much of it was founded on the idea of the real Jinyi Wei (Secret Service), and their determination to get the job done, at all costs. Vicky remarks on how bloody the movie is, and all of the contributions are peppered around a mixture of too much final film footage and not enough behind the scenes snippets, with the whole thing rounded off by a brief look at the orchestra and choir behind the score. It is a nice, if extremely fluffy (it's about fifty percent film footage) extra. In addition, we get a Trailer and a Photo Gallery.
Verdict14 Blades is a decent enough addition to the wuxia flavour of movies, this time with martial arts superstar Donnie Yen, who is at a much-deserved high point in his career. Whilst perhaps not offering as substantial a movie as the superior Ip Man, or even as thrilling a movie as the cop flick SPL, 14 Blades still has a nice setup in Chinese history, a strong enough story to carry the adventure and a reasonably developed central character for Yen to play. Of course, there's also plenty of fighting too, albeit with a little too much CG interference, and overall this is a fairly welcome addition to the genre. On Blu-ray we get reasonable if flawed video which belays too much edge enhancement, a decent selection of audio tracks (all, unfortunately, marred by the fact that at least some of the cross-language cast had to be dubbed) and a couple of nice extras. This isn't one of the wuxia classics, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers, or even Hero, which Donnie Yen had a cameo in, but 14 Blades is still his entry into the sub-genre, and it is a perfectly enjoyable and entertaining one.
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