The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed a ‘2’ in the original Chinese title of the film (the full title of which is Chin Kei Bin 2 - Fa Tou Tai Kam) - this is because Blade of Kings (also known as Twins Effect 2) is technically a sequel to an earlier film Twins Effect (retitled in the US as Vampire Effect). Never fear though, the action of this film is in no way connected to that of the first, but merely stars the same eponymous ‘Twins’ - at the time a hugely popular Cantopop duo. Whereas Twins Effect was a modern day tale of these two girls defeating the vampire hordes and saving the day, Blade of Kings is a fantasy tinged period film about two girls defeating an evil queen and saving the day (again).
In an alternate version of feudal China where matriarchy is the name of the game and all men have become enslaved, having to wear collars and bells round their necks (they are known as ‘dumbbells’), an evil Queen rules all the land with an iron heart. As usual though there is a prophecy - a hero will rise, the Queen will fall and equality between the sexes will be restored. With this in mind, a rebel by the name of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Donnie Yen) hatches a plan to steal an artifact from the palace that will assist in this quest, but unfortunately it ends up in the wrong hands - those of two particularly dopey dumbbells. They in turn end up pursued by two women, one of whom is a slave trader who thinks one of dumbbells is the boy her chieftain asked her to find, and the other an emissary of the Queen charged with retaking the stone and nixing the prophecy. Though men are playthings to be enjoyed and cast off, our two heroines of course end up falling for them in spite of themselves.
In some ways Blade of Kings is quite an interesting release. It’s the sort of populist, mainstream cinema that would never normally be released outside of its home country - not least because the majority of its selling points are completely irrelevant anywhere else. Although it’s being marketed more on the involvement of Donnie Yen and Jackie Chan, neither of these actors have a very large role to play in the proceedings. Chan, in fact, only appears in one scene which seems to have no direct bearing on the plot of the rest of the film and exists solely to provide the opportunity of having a (disappointing) martial arts sequence with Donny and Jackie going up against each other. The film was really a vehicle for the then popular Cantopop group Twins, who obviously soak up most of the screen time despite the involvement of bigger stars like Edison Chen (relegated to comic relief) and the two up and coming male actors Winston Chen and (son of Jackie Chan) Jaycee Fong. It might seem a strange decision then to release a film that’s essentially a puff promo piece for a band with few fans on our shores that’s already eight years old, which means the slightly disingenuous claim that the film ‘stars’ Yen and Chan is its only real appeal.
Having said that though, the film is not a total loss - its brightly coloured goofiness is much more entertaining than you’d think it would be and it is strangely fun to watch in an odd sort of way. The fight scenes are quite interesting but are over-processed with a lot of obvious CGI and clumsy wirework. The movie does become somewhat over-reliant on that CGI towards the end, which is not exactly well done even by the standards of eight years ago, although to be honest it doesn’t matter all that much as it gives the film a sort of retro charm. Aside from some of the (extremely mild) innuendo, a slave being called ‘hardy hard’ and sold with a wink for instance, the tone is much more along the lines of children’s tea time than mainstream cinema for adults.
There’s no point pretending there’s any kind of intellectual component to Blade of Kings (though someone could probably make a good paper out of the attitudes to gender presented in the film). The story is ridiculous, the acting is poor and even the fight scenes aren’t really very exciting. Yet somehow Blade of Kings manages to get away with it and mildly entertain despite itself. If you can lower your expectations then Blade of Kings is a fun little period martial arts film, but if you’re after more than silliness and retro charm you’d best look elsewhere.