When I asked to review Blade of Kings, I had not yet noticed that this is in fact a new Western release of a 2004 Hong Kong teen fantasy starring The Twins. I am only happy that this movie is now reaching a wider audience, because in my view it is a complete sweetheart of a movie. If you have never heard of the Hong Kong girl-pop duo The Twins, let me briefly introduce them. They consist of Gillian Chung and Charlene Choi, who are not related, do not look like each other, and are not born in the same year (Gillian is from ‘81; Charlene from ‘82), but who are nonetheless – more or less – the Hong Kong answer to the Olsen twins, and then some. In 2002 they crossed over from pop music to movies, all of a sudden appearing in a flurry of titles, many of which aimed at their legions of teenaged fans.
Back in 2004 or ‘05 I first saw them in The Twins Effect (2003), which was an action romp where they fought some well-realised European vampires. I loved it at the time, even though it disappointed me when I rewatched it more recently. But 2004 saw the coming of The Twins Effect 2 – now somewhat belatedly launched in the UK as Blade of Kings – which is a sequel to the first movie only by way of the fact that it stars ms. Chung and ms. Choi. The first movie is set in a modern day urban environment; the “sequel” takes place in a medieval fantasy world where amazon women have enslaved the men. A queen who is apparently more than a century old, but young-looking by magical means, now rules all. Both movies are action comedies, but Blade of Kings is distinctly sillier, gaudier and funnier – it is in many ways a teenage dream come true. Our twins play two powerful martial arts masters who neither know nor respect each other; Gillian Chung is Blue Bird, a frosty, highly-placed servant/warlord to the queen, and Charlene Choi is the self-serving “13th Young Master”; a slave-trading but financially troubled member of the nobility. Men in general are either enslaved or at the absolute bottom level of society, and Donnie Yen plays “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”; a dark-cloaked martial arts master trying to marshal a male rebellion.
During all this, some lowly treasure hunters find a plaque leading to the legendary sword Excalibur (!), which must be claimed by the last true descendant of some old king. The descendant turns out to be a guy who’s a member of a travelling actor troupe; his name is “Charcoal Head”, and he is played by Jackie Chan’s son, Jaycee Chan, in his first starring role (he is the third main character). Jaycee Chan is obviously inexperienced, but as this movie is anything but serious, that’s not a problem (I have to mention, though, that Jaycee performed admirably and impressively in the 2007 movie The Drummer, by then having accrued the chops of a proper actor). Jaycee, perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t do martial arts at all, but Gillian and Charlene have some training (Gillian a lot more than Charlene). So we basically start with a grand fight between Blue Bird and 13th Young Master, in which Gillian acquits herself exceedingly well with some utterly amazing (though CGI and wire aided) moves. In fact, several of the most impressive and memorable fights and set-pieces in this movie happen inside the first fifteen or twenty minutes, which is how it often is for Asian action comedies (a particularly salient other example being White Dragon, also from 2004).
But back to the plot. The unruly adventure consists of Charcoal Head and his actor friend, Blockhead, looking for the Excalibur sword, with 13th Young Master in tow because she wants to be the consort of the future king, and Blue Bird giving chase because the sword, if found, would overthrow the queen. Charcoal Head instantly falls in love with Blue Bird, who is a haughty warrior with no time for romance, least of all with some slacker actor. But lots of action ensues, including a pretty cool fight between Donnie Yen and Jackie Chan (who just has this cameo fight in order to support his son’s first movie – but it’s still a good scene), and things naturally work out well for the four young adventurers.
The movie – a joint Hong Kong/mainland China production – is filmed in the mountainous Chinese province of Yunnan. The film crew built a make-shift city among the breath-taking, cavernous rock terrain for much of the action to take place in, and the scenery is indeed amazing and out-of-this-world.
Finally, I should emphasise that it is a very silly and gaudily comic book-inspired movie that doesn’t take itself seriously at all, except to be seriously funny in an often juvenile way. It is not a movie for everybody. But with the proper adolescent attitude, and with a certain background knowledge of the actors, it is great, great fun. In some ways, it is ludicrous to give this deeply childish movie 8 stars out of 10. And yet I do, because after having seen it at least three times, it still feels to me like a delicious, on-rushing breeze of colour and comedy, starring actors who are obviously having a lot of fun and fully understanding how silly it all is. It’s enjoyable amusement for anyone who’s in the mood for a little unpresumptuous zaniness of a distinctly Asian flavour.
Blade of Kings was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on August 27. The new disc has both a Cantonese audio track and the option of English dubbing. There is also a Making Of… feature, and the screen picture is nice and sharp.
Director: Corey Yuen and Patrick Leung
Cast: Gillian Chung, Charlene Choi, Donnie Yen, Daniel Wu, Edison Chen, Bingbing Fan, Bo-lin Chen, Jackie Chan and others.
Runtime: 106 min.
Country: Hong Kong / China