THE GUILLOTINES (MA)
Selected release (113 minutes)
THE Guillotines is an intriguing 3D Hong Kong martial arts drama that is a curious mixture of spectacle and introspection. It is directed by the versatile filmmaker Andrew Lau, best known for Infernal Affairs, the taut crime thriller that was remade by Martin Scorsese as The Departed.
It is launched with an intense, hectic, almost overpowering opening sequence. The movie is set during the Qing dynasty, and follows the fate of a secret group of assassins known as the Guillotines. They work under cover of night and use steel weapons that whirl viciously through the air - ideal for 3D action.
But just as important to the film, it turns out, are behind-the-scenes machinations and subplots, tales of divided loyalties and power shifts.
The Guillotines have become careless and complacent, at a time when they are being undermined at the highest level. They are now deemed expendable, even as they are part of the Manchu emperor's latest plan to subdue the Han Chinese population. The emperor's confidant, Haidu (Shawn Yue, pictured), and Guillotines leader Leng (Ethan Juan) have a strong fraternal bond that dates from childhood. When the Guillotines are sent to hunt down a charismatic rebel leader, Wolf (Huang Xiaoming), Haidu accompanies them, for reasons that only gradually become clear. No one is quite what they seem in this movie, although the revelations come with a sense of resignation rather than suspense.
The Guillotines conveys an ambivalent attitude towards most of its characters and their values, towards notions of leadership and fidelity, ideas of progress and notions of tradition. There is an overall tone of melancholy and elegy, a slow-motion approach that also marks the occasional action sequences, even those overheated, stylised opening scenes.