Monday, October 13, 2014

Triskaidekaphilia: 'The 13 Cold-Blooded Eagles' (1993)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13. 

I'm far from an expert on martial arts movies, but I feel fairly confident in saying that The 13 Cold-Blooded Eagles is not a stellar example of the genre. A remake of the 1978 Shaw Brothers movie The Avenging Eagle (which I haven't seen), Cold-Blooded is a sloppy exercise in wire-fu and overwrought storytelling, featuring the titular gang of roving fighters. They're all orphans raised by the man they call Foster Father (Shi-Kwan Yen), who claims to be sending them out to stop evildoers but is really using them for his own nefarious purposes. Motivations on both sides end up getting horribly convoluted, as some of the Eagles discover secrets about Foster Father and their own pasts, via long expository passages of dubious clarity.

To be fair, the DVD I got from Netflix had terrible, inconsistent subtitles, with numerous misspellings, typos and sentence fragments, so maybe the plot and the character arcs are clearer in the original Chinese (although I kind of doubt it). Either way, the real appeal of a movie like this is the fighting, but the action sequences are clumsy and awkward, with lackluster wire work and a poor sense of space. There's no feeling of weight or impact to the fighting, and the characters mostly use large swords that look like they're made out of plastic (and the sound effects make it seem like they're firing laser guns). Absent any reason to care about who wins or loses, impressive action is all the movie really has to offer, and it falls seriously short on that account.

As the Eagles get whittled down from 13 to one, the story ends up focusing on a lone Eagle fighting against Foster Father, but his emotional investment isn't any more compelling than that of his fallen comrades (two of whom have appeared to be the main characters at earlier points in the movie). The anticlimactic final battle leads to what looks like a great sacrifice, but based on the translation of the final line, it's not as serious as it seems to be. Either way, there's no sense of victory or defeat, just the abrupt close to a series of underwhelming fight sequences.

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