Review: The Guillotines / Cert: TBC / Director: Andrew Lau / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Ethan Juan, Purba Rgyal / Release Date: TBC
The title may befit a punk rock band or anarchic straight-to-DVD horror film, but The Guillotines is, in actuality, anything but. A Chinese wuxia (martial arts adventure) film steeped in history and politics, it’s about as not-punk as one can get.
There’s a definite audience for The Guillotines, which looks incredible and is very well written, but there’s perhaps even more who will be turned off by the whole thing. Even the story is difficult to describe, without getting into paragraphs full of context and drama. In brief (which is something this lengthy movie could never be accused of being), the eponymous Guillotines are a team of elite assassins operating in Qing Dynasty China, acting as their emperor’s headsmen. The once favoured assassins are deemed expendable as advances in technology threaten to make them – and their beautiful toys – redundant.
Chief reason to see The Guillotines is for its depiction of the team’s weapons – a curved blade with a detachable head on a string used to, well, detach heads. The film’s fight scenes are well done, being grand, balletic and gory in equal measure (as you’d expect from a film with such a title, there’s a good deal of beheading action). Directed by Infernal Affairs choreographer and director Andrew Lau, it certainly looks the part, with an attention to detail that extends to its writing, costumes and politics. Reminiscent of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Four, it’s as beautiful as it is violent.
With so much going for it, it’s a shame that The Guillotines is defiantly hard to get into. There are no allowances made for those not so clued-up on their Chinese history, nor those who’ve just tuned in to see heads getting separated from their bodies. It’s very impressive, but that doesn’t always translate to a good viewing experience. Beyond the pretty visuals, fancy footwork and nifty knives, it’s all very much an acquired taste that some will simply have no time for.
Fans of wuxia and the historically accurate (give or take the odd steampunk beheading sword) should find much to enjoy with The Guillotines, which offers a little more than your standard beat em’ up flick. Alas, everyone else is likely to be by turns bored, perplexed and irritated by this overly serious genre piece. It has a good heart, but far too sensible a head on its shoulders.