“The Guillotines” is set during the 5th year of Emperor Qianlong's (Wen Zhang) reign. A rebel cult known as "Herders" assassinate Qing officials while Wolf (Huang Xiaoming), the leader of the cult, promises his followers eternal life. A secret group of assassins known as The Guillotines do the Emperor's bidding and plan on ridding Qing of Wolf and his Herders once and for all.
The trailer for this film looks promising, yes? An R-rated action film featuring a unique weapon that will likely end in a bloodstained showdown. As described in the film, it's a hooded device with retractable blades and a trigger. Even if it doesn't immediately latch itself around the victim's head and decapitate them, it still has the ability to dismember and completely annihilate any part of the human body. It's the concept of the flying guillotine reimagined, but don't get your hopes up. The actual guillotine isn't used much outside of the opening sequence. The weapon immediately becomes outdated once firearms are introduced.
The Guillotines begin as a group of seven: Leng (Ethan Juan), Hutu (Gao Tian), Chen Tai (Purba Rgyal), Su (Guo Peng), Buka (Zhou Yiwei), Shisan (Jing Boran), and Musen (Li Yuchun). After Wolf is captured by The Guillotines, Wolf reveals to Leng that he's been dreaming that Leng will eventually kill him. Musen, the one female Guillotine, is abducted once Wolf escapes. Haidu (Shawn Yue), an Imperial guard sent to help apprehend Wolf, has a deeper connection to Leng than is initially let on. The prophecy Wolf has foreseen begins to unfold while The Guillotines start to crumble from within.
The guillotine weapon is incredible as the special effects become extremely intricate whenever it’s required to bring the device to life yet the film struggles to make a computer generated cobra seem realistic. The film relies on slow-motion a little too much as it starts off enhancing action sequences, but is then used for trivial things like running from here to there or whipping a cape around in the air. "The Guillotines" has what should now be known as the "Baywatch" effect; there's entirely too much attempting to look cool in slow-motion.
The story unfolds at a decent pace until The Guillotines begin searching for Wolf the second time. A good chunk of the film is devoted to running around without any leads and a wild goose chase that mostly involves staring at the commoners and diagnosing those unfortunate enough to have smallpox. While there are certain spins on those two things to make them slightly more interesting, too much time is wasted coming to these conclusions.
"The Guillotines" has moments where it seems like it's a fantastic film. Certain shots leap off the screen because of the location, lighting, and rich colors utilized in the film while the imagery can be so powerful at times. Something as simple as a two second shot of seeing dark, crimson blood drip off of an ear of corn or the blade of a soldier says so much more than any action sequence ever could. The film is also incredibly tragic in its second hour. Haidu is a ruthless and heartless monster who isn't afraid to put his talents to good use.
But there's far too much of nothing going on to really appreciate anything the film has to offer. Next to more slow-motion instances, Wolf seems to do nothing but stare off into the distance as things behind, in front, and all around him explode. Why on earth would anyone just stand there when exploding balls of fire are falling out of the sky? Meanwhile Leng makes it a point to run really awkwardly, which wouldn't seem as clumsy if it wasn't in slow-motion. It's like his shoulders are trying to run faster than his legs or something. When he's not running like he's about to have a stroke, Leng cries about everything. Huang Xiaoming and Ethan Juan give some pretty tenacious performances here, but their characters feel too one-dimensional to really enjoy it.
"The Guillotines" would have been far more interesting if it actually revolved around the unique weapon that more than likely got you to watch the film anyway. Why was it made? Who made it? How do you clean it? How in the world does that thing not rust? Instead you're left with this overdramatic and fluffy piece of cinema that has a few decent moments, but is otherwise forgettable.
Special features on the Blu-ray for the film include Interviews with the cast and crew (37:43), a Making of (17:15), and the Trailer.
Sources: imdb.com, wellgousa.com, filmsmash.com, beyondhollywood.com, amazon.com