14 Blades 錦衣衛 and True Legend 蘇乞兒 started showing simultaneously in Hong Kong yesterday and I managed to see both films today. So which one is a better martial arts film? First a brief summary of the key selling points of the 2 movies.
14 Blades – stars Donnie Yen, currently the hottest Chinese action star, with action designed by Sammo Hung. Set in Ming Dynasty China, 14 Blades features action revolving around weapons especially the titular 14 blades that belongs to Yen’s character. The fights comes across as more fantastical. Other notable kung fu stars to make an appearance include Chen Kuan Tei (who has a nice fight with Yen) while Wu Ma and Sammo Hung have smaller roles and surprisingly both see little action. Production values are top notch.
True Legend – stars Vincent Zhao, a veteran action star who has not been in such a high profile film for a long time. Action choreography by Yuen Woo Ping is the primary sell here – fights are more “realistic” hand to hand, claw and fist styled duels. The story centers on Beggar So, the legendary inventor of the drunken fist style; former stars who have played the character include Chow Yun Fat (in a popular TVB drama) and Stephan Chow in an action packed comedy version of the story. Here, Zhao plays it straight. The fights don’t disappoint and Andy On is particularly impressive – I sincerely hope that this will be his breakthrough hit as he has been playing strong support in these types of pictures for some time. True Legends also purports to be the first kung fu film to incorporate 3D action – the results are disappointing. The 3D experience is not immersive, adds nothing to the fights and in fact makes it more muddled. Coming after James Cameron’s eye-popping Avatar, the 3D fails on all levels. (Twitch has a good review)
So which is the better film? I was looking forward more to 14 Blades than True Legend, as I sort of knew what I would get with another Yuen Woo Ping movie. 14 Blades never manages to surprise though, and while the fights are solid, they aren’t as breathtaking as Yen’s contemporary actioners like SPL or Flash Point. True Legend, despite the flaws of the 3D scenes and being exposed to months of trailers and teasers, was much more of a rush to watch. Both are good, but I think I would rate True Legend more enjoyable, especially if you watch it in 2D.