The guillotines of The Guillotines are of the shimmering CGI kind, and so obvious as to be cartoons. Still, this Hong Kong pic is at its best when the guillotines spin on their scooped launchers like rabid dogs waiting to be unleashed, then zoom around the place looking for a head to latch onto … and subsequently disembody.
Decapitation is its own special effect; what we don’t need is for the “camera” to crawl inside the blades to give us the now-tired, CSI-style view of the weaponry’s working parts. That’s just showing off.
However, this being a film by Andrew Lau (recently of the superior Legend of the Fist but most famously of Infernal Affairs, remade as The Departed), there is more on the mind than the core concept of a covert team of seven resistance-squashers in the Qing Dynasty; issues of race, class and education work their way into the story.
You may find yourself wishing they hadn’t, thirsting for more action than Lau sometimes is willing to give. The script is overcomplicated with characters who are difficult to keep straight. It’s as if Lau were reaching for an epic as its elements cried out for a narrower focus. The Guillotines is among that oddest of cases: where a more lowbrow approach would improve the project. —Rod Lott