Ouch. Let us get this out of the way first. Lousy script, bad acting, senseless violence and a “been there done that” storyline, make this a really forgettable movie. When the trailers were released, it seemed that The Guillotines will be packed with action with the titular weapon. And with Andrew Lau at helm, what could go wrong? The fact that Andrew wants this to be more of a drama about brothers rather than a guilty pleasure is disappointing. he first half is a confused mix because there are too many characters introduced and it isn’t clear who the main characters are, or what the movie is about. The flying guillotine weapon itself is ridiculous and unbelievable, as is Wolf’s supernatural premonition of his death. Yuck, what a bad taste this film left in my mouth.
During the Manchurian-ruled Qing Dynasty, Emperor Yong Zheng established a secret assassination squad known as the Guillotines to eliminate all who opposed him. Once heavily favored by the Emperor, the Guillotines are deemed expendable once Emperor Qian Long ascends to the throne and adopts Western ideas and technology. To consolidate his power under a new regime, the Emperor continues to use the Guillotines to persecute the conquered Han Chinese in a reign of terror and oppression. Once heavily favored by Emperor Yongzheng, the Guillotines were deemed expendable after the ascent of Emperor Qianlong to the throne. In the midst of betrayal, bloody violence, and torture, the Guillotines fight for their own survival. The Guillotines definitely had a troubled journey to the silver screen: originally planned as a remake of 1976 film Master Of The Flying Guillotine, it morphed into its own beast, went through multiple directors and suffered a last-minute production shut-down before Infernal Affairs director Andrew Lau finally stepped into the breach.
Their next mission is to eliminate Wolf and his Shepherd gang. During the operation, the squad manages to trap Wolf. Just as they are about to execute him, the squad commander orders that he be captured alive. He secretly plans to use Wolf as a pawn in his bid for power. Wolfs gang of rebels ambushes the Guillotines in their moment of hesitation. Wolf escapes, taking Mu hostage. With reports that Wolf has fled to the outer frontiers, the squad tracks him to a remote village outpost. On the other hand, the Emperor has sent his most trusted agent Du for the same mission and most importantly, to end the era of the Guillotines by replacing cold weapons with firearms. If only they make one false move, they will become the hunted. Facing annihilation, Leng and his Guillotines must outfight and outwit enemies from both sides.
Apart from the VFX showcase opening, the action is gritty rather than flashy. And when the story finally gets down to basics, as Yue’s character climbs into impressive Manchu armour and leads the army against the yokel rebels, the versatile Lau easily switches gears to provide some good-old-fashioned spectacle. Sure, yeah, it’s flashy, but under the hood, it is a dud. With Life of Pi still fresh in viewers’ minds, filmmakers are going to have to seriously up their games if indeed 3D is going to be come a standard of any kind, even for just genre films. Avoid at all costs.