Known in China as Twins Effect II (a sequel in name only to the first film, though they share leading ladies), Patrick Leung and Corey Yuen's Blade Of Kings (or as it's referred to in the trailer on this release Blade Of Roses) isn't really much more than a starring feature for Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung, the two lovely ladies who make up the pop group Twin in their native China. Borrowing elements from English legends and mixing them up with their own local folklore, the filmmakers have made a bit of a mess here but there are interesting moments and a few cool cast members to keep things interesting.
The story is set in an unnamed past where the nasty Queen (Ying Qu) rules over the land of Amazons and, due to a row with her former lover, decided that all men must be slaves for the women of the land. Things have deteriorated so much for the men in the area that they are bought and sold out in the open like cattle and referred to only as 'dumbbells.' Two of the man who populate this strange world are Charcoal Head (Jaycee Chan) and Blockhead (Wilson Chen), and as luck would have it, some circumstances arise that indicate that Charcoal Head just might be the so called Star Of Rex, a man rumored to be able to retrieve the sword Excalibur and free the land from the Queen's rule.
Enter two women - a slave trader named Young Master (Charlene Choi) and a spy who works for the Queen named Blue Bird (Gillian Chung). Young Master (who is a woman) needs to pay back a debt and is looking for the right slave to help her do just that, while Blue Bird is out to find the Star Of Rex before he makes trouble for the Queen. Eventually these two women wind up travelling together and wouldn't you know it, they stumble upon the travelling road show where Charcoal Head and Blockhead work as performers. The four eventually become a team of sorts and wind up working together to find a mythical tablet that will help them find Excalibur, but to get there they'll have to traverse the scary Ghost Forrest and deal with a rebellious and mysterious kung fu master named Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Donnie Yen) and another mysterious martial arts expert named The Lord Of Armor (Jackie Chan).
So, yeah. What we've got here is a movie that top bills Jackie Chan (who pops up in the latter half of the film for a few minutes) and Donnie Yen but which actually really focuses a lot more on Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung, both of whom are quite beautiful and plenty fun to look at but neither of whom is particularly charismatic as an actress. The film tries to play out like a mix of Raiders Of The Lost Ark style pulp adventure with martial arts mixed in, a formula that worked really well in the much harder edged Burning Paradise. Sadly, where Burning Paradise was a tense and riveting adventure full of violence and suspense, Blade Of Kings is a goofy film padded with bad comedy and loads of CGI work, quite a bit of which is of fairly awful quality and which stands out like a sore thumb. Had the fight scenes made up for this it would have been forgivable but aside from the throw-down between Donnie and Jackie, there's not much here aside from obvious wirework and computer assisted trickery. Even the Yen/Chan battle is a bit of a letdown considering how great their respective past filmographies are, as it just doesn't live up to its potential nor does it really add a whole lot to the storyline.
Jaycee Chan, here in his feature film debut, shows some promise as an actor and shows the same knack for comedy that his world famous father made his trademark, but the material almost seems beneath him even this early in his career. He does make for a likeable male lead, however, and his back and forth with co-star Wilson Chen is moderately amusing. Where the film succeeds is in its use of color and with its completely carefree attitude. It obviously throws logic to the wind and doesn't really concern itself with realism, or for that matter, consistency. This doesn't make for a particularly good movie but it does make for some fun scenes scattered here and there and it saves the film from finishing up as a complete waste of time. If you go into this one with low expectations and don't mind the fact that the film is completely and utterly vapid, you can have some mild fun with it. Those expecting any sort of serious martial arts film or anything less than completely unrealistic fight scenes and bizarre and often ineffective comedy, however, could find themselves disappointed.
Well Go USA presents Blade Of Kings on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.78.1 widescreen transfer in 1080p high definition on a 25GB Blu-ray disc. The colors pop a lot on this one, it's a very bright and bold looking film, sometimes garishly so, and the Blu-ray handles that well. Detail is strong in regards to skin tones and the costumes and sets, but the frequently poor CGI isn't done any favors in high definition, it just looks more obviously faked. Some shots look a little soft, almost filtered with a bit of haze to them, but these are few and few between and the majority of the time the picture looks quite good here.
The main audio option on this disc is a Cantonese language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, but an English dubbed DTS-HD 5.1 track is also available as are standard definition stereo tracks provided in Cantonese and English. Subtitles are available in English only. Unless you've got an aversion to subtitles, opt for the Cantonese track as the English dub sounds pretty phony. Regardless of which option you choose, however, the lossless tracks here are impressive. The film has almost constant activity throughout, making great use of the rear channels not just during the right scenes but during crowd scenes as well. The quieter moments, of which there are very few, have a bit of welcome ambient noise going on in the background while the subwoofer pumps out some impressive bass response when the movie calls for it. Generally the levels are well balanced, though there are a few spots where the performers get a little bit buried in the effects and the score but this doesn't happen often at all. Good stuff.
Aside from two trailers for the feature, a music video and promos for a few other Well Go USA properties that play before the menus load, the only extra of much substance is a twelve minute Behind The Scenes featurette that mixes up some fly on the wall footage shot on set during the production with some fluffy talking head bits. It doesn't offer much substance or much insight, but some of the fight scene choreography footage is interesting. The trailers are presented in high definition, everything else is in standard definition. As this is a Combo Pack release, inside the keepcase there's the Blu-ray disc and also a standard DVD containing the same cut of the film and the same extra features.
Blade Of Kings is bright and colorful and packed full of action but comes up lacking in the storytelling department and relies more on novelty and bad CGI effects than well crafted characters or a strong plot. A few of the fight scenes are decent and a couple of the more comedic aspects work well, but this movie is amazingly inconsistent while the top bill Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen are really only here in cameo roles that add little to the story. Well Go USA's Blu-ray looks and sounds quite good, but it slim in the supplements department. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.