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The Guillotines - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Xue di zi

China 2012


Andrew Lau

Ethan Ruan
Huang Xiaoming
Shawn Yue
Li Yuchun
Jing Boran
Wen Zhang
Jimmy Wang Yu
King Shih-Chieh

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The Guillotines

Story: The Guillotines are a secret organisation of assassins, who are under command of the emperor and get rid of unpleasant enemies of the Qing empire. They are ordered to capture the leader of a group of Han Chinese, who is about to instigate a rebellion. The leader with the name Wolf (Huang Xiaoming) sees himself as a prophet and wants that Han Chinese and Manchurians, latter ones are reigning the country, are treated equally. The Guillotines, led by Leng (Ethan Ruan), are successful, but soon after being captured Wolf is freed by his people and he even kidnaps one member of the assassins, Musen (Li Yuchun). The hunt for Wolf starts anew, but this time the emperor assigns the high-ranking official Haidu (Shawn Yue) to the assassins. The Guillotines aren't happy about the new man, but no one of them knows that Leng and Haidu are acquainted with one another since their childhood days and are even sworn blood brothers. The search for Wolf is constantly accompanied by problems that arise, especially since Wolf, thanks to his charisma, makes Leng question whether it is really right what he does or not...

Review: Man, where to start... There is so much wrong with "The Guillotines" that you could easily write numerous pages about it. Obviously the movie is a reinterpretation of the Shaw Brothers classic "The Flying Guillotine". Those who think that they get a wuxia or kung fu film here are mistaken, though. Nonetheless, the beginning gives us a small foretaste of things we are waiting to see for the whole rest of the movie in vain. The genuine weapon put in action. That's fine, so we don't get any fights, but instead a good story? Far from it. It's not just that the plot works on a B-movie level it always treads water too and makes us yawn in boredom. What kind of movie was director Andrew Lau aiming at delivering here anyway?

The Guillotines - Film Screenshot 11

Yes, Andrew Lau, that guy who co-directed "Infernal Affairs" and on his own at least managed to pull off "The Storm Riders". "The Guillotines" is worth considering for him to change profession. There is some silver lining to be found in the movie, however. For example the fact that it has an extremely gritty touch, but the art of storytelling Lau surely doesn't understand. Wait, the story is actually the work of the scriptwriters? Well, but who is supposed to be held responsible? After all there isn't enough space in this review to mention the writers by name. There have been six (!) people tinkering with the story. Accordingly, the constant jumps in the plot seem absolutely understandable.

The Guillotines - Film Screenshot 12

It deserves some praise that we don't know for quite some time who is actually the good and who the bad guy. The borders are blurred, the only problem is that we don't know who to relate to and thus there is a certain distance between us and the events. Adding to that are the characters all being elaborated pretty badly. No one demands that every killer has to have his own personality, but correspondingly you shouldn't try to sell the audience that he has to be emotionally affected when someone passes away. This is also difficult since the assassins behave extremely stupid at times. At first they make a perfectly trained team, the terrors of any wanted criminal, but from the middle of the movie onwards they for example start to run into a furious mob and get into dire straits and even worse. Really?!

What about the lead actors? Is there at least something positive to note when it comes to them? There is only Huang Xiaoming ("The Sniper", "The Return of the Condor Heroes [2006]") who deserves a few words of praise. As the self-sacrificing prophet he has something inscrutable and charismatic about him most of the time, which is appealing. You even have a vague idea of a profound character. Ethan Ruan ("Monga") on the other hand is too wooden and Shawn Yue ("Love in a Puff") is simply the villain. Yue can be a neat actor in the right role, but it surely isn't this one.
The story is frequently shifting, is going nowhere, only to shift somewhere else again. This can't arouse any interest and that's tragic since the ending turns out to be most likely the best element of the movie. Then again you could also argue that it wants to be more profound than appropriate.

The Guillotines - Film Screenshot 13

The pictures are nice to look at, the soundtrack by Chan Kwong Wing gives the film an epic scale at times and particularly some landscape shots and explosions are proof that this is a big budget flick which sadly still can't escape its B-movie charm. Even the special effects aren't bad most of the time, although it isn't comprehensible why the weapons are shown only in the beginning and after that almost not at all! There also aren't any kung fu fights, apart from the clash at the beginning, and because of this "The Guillotines" completely misses its audience. The big explosions during the anticlimactic showdown can't change that either. Lau's movie simply lacks structure and drags on a lot, so that even the comparatively short 112 minutes seem to be twice as long. As the movie completely disappoints on several levels at once, the rating is especially merciless this time. You should avoid this movie in any case.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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