Customer Reviews: The Guillotines [Blu-ray]
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Period actioners can be a very tough vehicle to sell, especially when they're loaded with characters. Typically, the bigger the cast the longer the film has to be in order to have enough time for (a) establishing everyone's identity, (b) giving each notable the necessary screen time to establish presence, and (c) allowing each of the principles to allow their respective thematic functions to be fulfilled. One fine example of this is THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (an American retread of the Japanese 1954 original SEVEN SAMURAI): each character gets an introduction respective of the role he'll play in the entire affair, and each character is given ample opportunity to develop a personality and some impactful `conclusion' to his participation in it.

To the contrary, THE GUILLOTINES kinda/sorta tinkers in similar territory, but director Andrew Lau (whose career proves he knows better) traffics in all the wrong directorial choices.

(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you're the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I'd encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you're accepting of a few modest hints at `things to come,' then read on ...)

At the height of the Qing Dynasty, THE GUILLOTINES were a secret brotherhood of royal assassins empowered by the Emperor to do his dark deeds: crush whatever rebellion may start in its tracks. They're outfitted with swords of the same name - flexible blades of steel that launch deadly rings with the power to decapitate their victims by the pull of a trigger - and, in using them, this medieval `Injustice League' become an unstoppable force leaving only fear in their wake. However, a villager known as Wolf (played by Xiaoming Huang) will prove their greatest challenge, forcing the team to take to the countryside in pursuit alongside an evil general who seeks only to see THE GUILLOTINES vanquished to history once and for all.

Usually, this kind of cinematic magic is the stuff I find myself curiously drawn to. You've got a team of warriors once committed to a brand of justice only now beginning to question the choices they've made throughout the years. You've got an idyllic period of history wherein mankind is starting to deal with larger issues of nobility and restraint. Plus, you've got some fisticuffs and chases and swordplay to help propel the story forward. Sadly, I hate to report that THE GUILLOTINES - with a script by no less than six contributors - feeling like a mash-up of one undeserved action piece after another.

Seriously, the film felt uneven from the get go with director Lau stringing along a big opening action showdown with edits coming so fast and so furious that it was nearly impossible to see much less figure out what was happening. When a film only looks pretty in its opening scenes and no single character is given suitable opportunity to become something other than flickers of light and shadow on the screen, it becomes clear just how good looks can be deceiving.

And the rest of the film really gets no better. There is some wonderfully John Ford style cinematography to the vast countryside that looks marvelous, but it's all laid out with no reason to care about it and (worse) no prompting to care about the folks who live in it. The plot is plagued by a weird "I have a dream" speech that ends in death (hello, Mr. Foreshadowing), and the story ends up relying so heavily on flashbacks to establish purpose that I began to wonder if it all shouldn't have begun in a prequel of some sort. In good period pieces, the action sequences evolve from the plot, but THE GUILLOTINES clearly have reversed those roles, with the storytellers believing that their paper thin idea is actually thick enough to justify the action. Truth is: it isn't.

The audience never cares about the men, or at least they're not encouraged to until the 1:23:00 mark when the story is finally granted some modest emotional resonance. Too little too late for this critic.

THE GUILLOTINES (aka "Xue di zi") (2012) is produced by Media Asia Arts, Polyface Entertainment, Stellar Mega Films, and We Pictures. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled by Well Go USA. As for the technical specifications, the picture looks and sounds mostly solid, though it's replete with some curiously way-too-fast editing choices that makes me believe a vastly longer cut probably exists somewhere (a director's cut?). For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Mandarin-spoken-language release, and there's either an English-dubbing track available or English subtitles. Lastly, there's a brief `making of' feature and some cast and crew interviews - along with the theatrical trailer - for those inclined; I wasn't.

(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. There's a fair amount of flash and sizzle incorporated into THE GUILLOTINES' visual tapestry, but there isn't enough narrative thread to pull it all together, and, yes, that's a h-u-g-e disappointment. One of the chief considerations in telling any story is that there be some relatable character at the center of it - someone to root for, someone to care about - but this splashy CGI-heavy period actioner has little heart except for the last reel. The problem, then, becomes caring too little too late for all of it to do little more than end.

In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA provided me with a DVD copy of THE GUILLOTINES by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
33 comments|7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on August 16, 2013
Not sure why they are a lot of bad reviews for this movie. I just finished watching it and thought it was pretty good. Its not one of the best foreign films ive ever seen, but it was still entertaining and overall i enjoyed. THIS IS NOT A MARTIAL ARTS MOVIE. Maybe some people gave the film bad reviews because they thought it was, but i would consider it more of a drama than a kung fu flick. Overall id give the film a 3/5, definitely worth checking out for those who love foreign films, not just kung fu films.
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on November 19, 2013
I was looking for something that would be BlackBelt Theater, this movie started in that direction, and then DEVOLVED into a drama.
the trailer and begging of the movie were very mis-leading. I watched it all the way through, and it turned out to be a very good drama.
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on March 17, 2016
was not formatted for the US. and could not send it back vender never responded back, amazon game me credit for , I started ordering with the credit was un aware of the credit so I was unable to use all of it and was never credited with the unused balance just a bad deal all around.
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on March 1, 2014
The Guillotines is a pretty decent movie. The special effects were okay in the beginning of the movies. The movie started out with fast pace guillotine action and declined by Chapter 4. This story was more about out with the old and in with the new technology (Guns and Cannon use). Like with most Asian inspired movies, the 'Message' is more important then the fighting action.
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on August 8, 2013
I'm always skeptical about kung fu movies with CGI graphics because i believe that it ruins most kung fu movies, but i don't feel like it's over done in this movie. Most of the CGI graphics are during the scenes when they show how the guillotine weapons work. The acting is not bad and the original language is beautiful to hear. I bet most of the people who reviewed this movie watched it with English over dubs which completely ruins these foreign movies. I always watch kung fu movies in their original language in order to get the true feel of the emotion involved.

With that being said, i loved the story and plot of this movie. I found it to be inspirational and refreshing, especially towards the end when it all unfolds. I would recommend this movie to people who love kung fu movies and enjoy inspiring story plots.
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on June 30, 2014
I love love love love martial arts movies. This one had great special effects and martial arts. The weapons were cool and the ideology behind the plot is good. It is gory for those that don't like blood and guts.
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on December 1, 2015
This is a Martial Arts movie WITHOUT any martial "arts".
When I purchase a bluray, I always ascertain on the rewatchability of the movie. On a scale of
10, this movie scores 1 on rewatchability.
99% of the film focuses on depressing dialogue, and it meanders on and on........
Martial arts fans should steer clear of this drab boring movie.
Whatever fighting scenes there are in this film, one can see in daily life between any 2
drunken ruffians on the streets; just throwing plain wild punches and kicks at each other.
The fight scenes just comprises of people crudely punching the next person, or using swords
to slash the next person, or using rifles to shoot a person. There is NO "arts" or skill at all
displayed in the fighting scenes; just crude, simple punches or kicks shown by the actors.
I am inclined to think, for this film, there is no martial arts instructor, or if there is one, he is
a master charlatan.
Do rent or better still, view this movie free before deciding to buy; I just don't understand
some reviewers claiming this is a "good martial arts film with lots of action"; maybe these
are shills.
PLEASE, PLEASE try to view this movie for free first, before ever regretting after
purchasing it.
There should be no encouragement or incentive for such films to be made in the name
of Martial Arts to deceive the paying consumer.
Otherwise the film makers will be laughing all the way to the bank with your hard
earned movie for this shameful, fiasco of a rubbish movie.
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on August 16, 2013
I know you're not supposed to judge a book (or a movie) by its cover, but the picture on the cover of THE GUILLOTINES was enough to immediately hook me. Then, I saw the trailer, and that solidified my desire to see the film. Interestingly enough, however, the movie is not quite as action-packed as the trailer makes it out to be. This is not a bad thing, as the film is a moving, character-driven drama...but I have to confess that with the given premise, I was really hoping for more fighting.

I've read several negative reviews of this film, however I do not agree with a single one of them. I think many folks went into it thinking it was a straight up action flick, and honestly, I was one of them; but pretty early on, you can tell that's not what you're getting. Instead of insane martial arts, this film is chocked full of emotion and artistry, and it paints a vivid portrait of loyalty and duty that can sometimes clash with brotherhood.

THE GUILLOTINES is shot well and looks great onscreen. The CG effects are lower-budget, but they're of no consequence overall; most of them are used for the weapons, which are also called Guillotines. Each sword contains a razor-edged ring that can be hurled at enemies to decapitate, amputate, or simply maim them. As such, you would think there would be a lot of gore here, too...but that's simply not the case, either. The lack of carnage was one of the low points of the film for me.

But that shouldn't dissuade you from checking this film out. It is a taut dramatic piece that focuses on the characters and their individual plights. Some are dealing with loyalty to the Emperor even though he is making the wrong decisions...some are dealing with their destinies as a `prophet' to the oppressed, even though they don't feel worthy...and yet others are dealing with their loyalties to brotherhood, even though they might not feel the kinship they once did. Regardless of where their personal demons dwell, each character is out to slay them.

Don't go into THE GUILLOTINES expecting a martial-arts or action extravaganza. If you do, you'll be disappointed. Instead, watch this one for what it is: a riveting period piece that is driven by the cast. Do this, and you should enjoy yourselves. The film is available now.
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I have been a fan of quality martial arts movies for more than thirty five years. I loved movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Enter the Dragon, The Iron Monkey, Circle of Iron, House of Daggers, Hero and numerous other great martial art theme movies.

I purchased this one thinking it would be in the same class of the above mentioned classics; however, The Guillotines does not even come close to being that good. This movie is about a secret group of assassins called "The Guillotines" who the Emperor created to destroy his enemies. Once a new regime came into power the assassin group were basically thrown to the wolves and hunted down eventually killed.

Some of the martial art scenes were okay in this film, but it was sometimes difficult to keep track of all the characters and who was supposed to be the good guys and bad guys. of course, this is fairly common in some of these Asian made martial art films. This DVD has English sub-titles which I like because I can better follow the story and theme of the movie.

In conclusion, this is an okay and fair martial arts movie and if you are into Asian martial art stories you may enjoy viewing this film.

Rating: 3 Stars. Joseph J. Truncale (Author: The Samurai Soul: An old warrior's poetic tribute)
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