Blade of Kings (2004) – By Duane L. Martin

In ancient China, a cruel, man hating empress with magical powers (Qu Ying) rules over a land where men are subservient to women and sold as slaves. So deep was his love for her, that her high priest, Chiu Ngai (Daniel Wu) turned himself into a eunuch so he could remain by her side. There’s a problem however. A prophecy states that a boy shall rise to become emperor, and restore the reign of men over the land. The empress, fearing that the prophecy may actually come to pass, sends her chief enforcer, Red Vulture, out to kill any child who fulfills the terms of the prophecy. When Red Vulture returns from her mission however, and it’s discovered that she’s conspired with male barbarians to complete her mission, she’s removed from her position as high enforcer, and that position is given to Blue Bird (Gillian Chung).

Another girl known as 13th Young Master (Charlene Choi), had entered town earlier in the day with her first group of slaves to sell. Unfortunately, a man called Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Donnie Yen) swoops in and frees her slaves along with many others. Once the dust settles, she’s led to believe that Blue Bird has stolen some of her slaves in the chaos and the two fight it out. What they didn’t know then, was that soon they’d be working together. Blue Bird was sent on a mission to find a stolen stone tablet of the prophecy that would lead her to The Star of Rex, who was the boy prophecised to recover the Excalibur sword and end the reign of the empress. Once the boy and the sword were found, she was to kill him. Red Vulture however, has her own plans. Now that she’s free of the empresses rule, she will do whatever it takes to find the sword of the prophecy so she can become empress herself.

The tablet had been stolen at the behest of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, by a young man named Tao (Edisen Chen). Upon returning to his performing troupe, he passed the tablet to one of his fellow performers to hold while he went on and did his act. During the performance however, the empresses troops swoop in and shut it all down, because the play they’re performing is about the tragic love between the empress and her high priest and how it all played out. In the confusion, Blue Bird, who was there to find the tablet, and 13th Young Master, who was there to find a man for one of the empresses guards so as to pay off a debt to her, eventually team up with performer brothers Charcoal Head (Jaycee Chan) and Blockhead (Chen Po-lin) to hunt down the treasure. Along the way however, they encounter many obstacles and dangers, and find something they never expected to find… – love. Now with the girls on their side and forced to fulfil a prophecy they had no knowlege of, the four must team up with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the boys’ foster father and leader of their performing troupe, Master Blackwood (Tony Leung), must try to find the sword and fulfil the prophecy before its too late.

Unlike the other release from Well Go USA I reviewed this month, War of Arrows, this film is less serious and more for casual entertainment. The sorcery adds a rather large fantasy element to it, and the story is filled with amusing characters, lots of wire fighting and CGI. The story itself seemed a little strange to me with regards to how men were captured and sold as slaves, and yet the ones who weren’t slaves were more or less free to run around and do whatever. The attitudes of Blue Bird and 13th Young Master toward Charcoal Head and Blockhead didn’t exactly seem all that consistent in this regard either. It was sort of a love / hate thing and there was some trickery going on rather than this feeling of dominance and control that you’d expect in a society like this. Again though, the film is meant to be fun and entertaining, so things like that don’t matter in a film of this nature, wereas with a film like War of the Arrows, it would have ruined the film, because it was a different film that was more serious and was trying for as much realism as possible. Basically, if you’ve seen Jackie Chan movies in the past, you know the kind of light fun there is to be found in this one.

That said though, I was very disappointed with all the wire fighting and CGI that were used in the action scenes of this film. I’ll say right now that while Jackie Chan does make an appearance in this film for one fight scene, aside from the amazing fight work that he does (which was hit with some cheap CGI here and there as well), most of the rest of it was really just fake. When Jackie does it, it’s on a whole different level, and you can see that in his fight with Donnie Yen in this film. Both are excellent fighters and can really put together a great fight scene without the use of CGI boosts and wires, even if it did feel like it was just thrown in there so Jackie Chan could have a cameo fight scene in the film. I much prefer to see those kinds of fights than people flying around unrealistically on wires. Still, I guess wire fighting is a style that some people find appealing, so for those people, you won’t be disappointed.

The acting in the film was good throughout, and the main characters, at least the good ones, were all very likeable and fun to watch on the screen. Charlene Choi is just super cute and has a smile that could melt the hardest heart, and Gillian Chung is beautiful as well. Both did a great job with their fight scenes and their interactions with the guys, played by Jaycee Chan and Chen Po-lin were fun and often amusing. Speaking of Jaycee Chan, I got a bit of a shock. On the cover, it struck me that he looked like Jackie Chan, only younger and with a longer face. It turns out he’s Jacke Chan’s son. I had no idea Jackie Chan even had a son! I’ve been a fan of Jackie Chan for more years than I can count and I have a huge collection of his movies movies of his dating back to his very first, but in all these years, I was never aware that he’d had a son. Well, here he is. He doesn’t have any real fighting scenes like the one his father appears in, but he’s a likeable actor who’s fun to watch.

The film itself looks great. It’s colorful, and the cinematography, set design and costuming are all exactly what you’d expect to see in a film of this sort. I’ve seen a LOT of Chinese films in my time, as well as films from South Korea, India, Israel, Great Britain and Japan. In general terms, each country sort of has its own feel and look to the films that are produced there. War of the Arrows was typical of the amazing films that have been coming from South Korea, just as this film is a very typical style for these types of films that are coming out of Hong Kong, which means very little if you’re not familiar with that style, but there you go.

All in all, this film is fun, it’s entertaining and the characters are people you’ll like and pull for. There are some well done fight scenes that will appeal to most everyone, and sorcery for those of you who are fans of fantasy. So basically, there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy. The few issues I mentioned with the story weren’t enough to hurt the film in any serious way, and oddly enough, were part of what made the character interactions more fun. This isn’t a serious martial arts movie, nor is it pure fantasy, drame, comedy or romantic comedy. It blends elements of all of these genres together into a single film that in the end is simply just light, entertaining and fun.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page on the Well Go USA website here.

The film is available from Amazon in a blu-ray + DVD combo pack here, and on DVD here.