During the late Ming Dynasty, the imperial court is plagued by corruption and the reigning emperor is incompetent. The Jinyiwei are the government's secret police, orphans trained in cruel clandestine combat since childhood to produce the strongest martial artists. The Jinyiwei are in charge of conducting missions to ensure peace and stability within the empire. They have the authority to prosecute anyone deemed an enemy of the state and they serve the emperor only. A Jinyiwei commander, Qinglong (Donnie Yen), is given a mechanical box of 14 blades to help him in his duties. Jia Jingzhong, the royal eunuch, plots rebellion with the emperor's uncle, Prince Qing (Sammo Hung), who had been exiled and his legs cut off for an unsuccessful rebellion many years previous.
Jia Jingzhong orders Qinglong, to retrieve a safe box in the possession of the imperial councilor, Zhao Shenyan, whom he accuses of planning a revolt; Qinglong is told that the box contains proof of the councilor's treason. However, Qinglong soon discovers that the box actually contains the Imperial Seal, a symbol of the emperor's authority, which Jia Jingzhong needs to legitimize Prince Qing's authority. Qinglong is betrayed by his fellow Jinyiwei and his fellow officers executed by his brother-at-arms, Xuan Wu, who pledges himself and the Jinyiwei to Eunuch Jia, Prince Qing's adoptive daughter Tou-Tou (Kate Tsui), a deadly warrior, arrives to lend her assistance on receiving news of QInglong's escape. A fugitive Qinglong, unable to leave the city limits til his wounds heal, finds his way to the failing Justice Escort Agency, an agency providing armed guards. Qinglong appears just as the agency decides to shut down due to lack of business. The owner eagerly accepts Qinglong's offer to pay him handsomely for safe passage in hopes of revitalizing his business.
By coincidence, the escort's daughter, Qiao Hua (Zhao Wei), is engaged to be married, and the escort agency hides Qinglong within her wedding carriage as a means to avoid detection by the guards so they can leave the city. As Qinglong recovers, Qiao Hua develops a fascination for him. Things become difficult as another group of Jinyiwei arrive in search of Qinglong. He kills them, but in doing so reveals to his escorts that he is Jinyiwei himself. Fearing more trouble than they bargained for, the owner offers to return Qinglong's money and asks to be left in peace; however Qinglong is determined to fulfill his duty to the emperor and takes Qiao Hua as a hostage. He commands her father to intentionally spread false information about his whereabouts to throw his pursuers off the scent and promises to return his daughter in one piece if he does. Qinglong continues to search for evidence of Prince Qing's plot while undermining the prince's activities. In the interim, Qiao Hau develops feelings for Qinglong despite misgivings about his actions and obsessive vendetta, but he maintains a cold distance to avoid attachment.
The pair arrive at the Uyghur city of Yanmen, where Qinglong hopes to gather information. He discovers that his enemies intend to sell three provinces to fund their cause. While Qinglong investigates and plots his next move, the duo encounters the Heaven's Eagles Gang, a group of bandits led by the self-proclaimed "Judge of the Desert". The leader is a strong warrior who tests himself against Qinglong via a series of challenges, proving that they are fairly evenly matched. Qinglong proposes an alliance to raid the Yanmen outpost: the gang will get their full cut of the booty while Qinglong gets to satisfy his personal objectives. Standing in Qinglong's way are Jia Jingzhong's henchmen and his former Jinyiwei fellows. Tuo-Tuo tracks down Qinglong at an inn and wounds him in a fight before he escapes. Before the raid is executed, Eunuch Jia is betrayed and killed by Xuan Wu, who intends to directly serve under Prince Qing.
Qinglong and the Heaven's Eagles Gang successfully raid the outpost and kill most of the soldiers. Qinglong overcomes Xuan Wu in combat, but the latter escapes by yielding the imperial seal. Tou-Tou kidnaps Qiao Hua and demands the seal in return for freeing her. Qiao Hua is doubtful that Qinglong will make the trade, given his cold behavior towards her and his fixation with his mission, but Qinglong gives up the seal. However, he also makes it clear that he intends to take Qiao Hua to her fiance. Duty-bound to recover the seal, Qinglong reluctantly leaves Qiao Hua, but she reunites with the Justice Escort Agency and they catch up with Qinglong, offering to assist with their superior knowledge of the roads. Separately, the Judge of the Desert realizes the importance of the seal and leaves his gang to pursuit the seal on his own.
Intercepting Tou-Tou, Xuan Wu and Prince Qing's men at the ancient ruined Sky Wolves City, Qinglong first fakes an attack to draw Tuo-Tuo into chasing a disguised Qiao Hua. Subsequently, Xuan Wu and Prince Qing's men were split up and lured into an ambush set by the Justice Agency, where they are tricked into firing upon each other and decimated with falling boulders before being attacked by Qinglong and the escort's men, who win the battle. Xuan Wu plays on Qinglong's guilt and mercy to escape execution, but then attempts to kill Qinglong when his back was turned, forcing his hand. Tou-Tou eventually catches up with Qiao Hua but the Judge of the Desert intervenes. Realizing he is no match for Tuo-Tuo, the Judge sacrifices himself in combat to enable Qiao Hua to escape. Qinglong gives the seal to Qiao Hua and instructs her to bring it to the authorities to alert them of Prince Qing's conspiracy. Qiao Hua tells Qinglong she has declined her wedding proposal, suggesting she wants to be with Qinglong, but he believes he's likely to die; he tells her they will meet again if she rings a bell bracelet he had previously given her initially after abducting her. The two embrace and Qinglong asks Qiao Hua to wait for him after he faces Tou-Tou. Qinglong then duels Tou-Tou to the death in an abandoned temple. The two are evenly matched. Eventually, Qinglong grabs hold of Tou-Tou and then uses his box of 14 blades to kill both Tou-Tou and himself.
In the aftermath, Prince Qing's rebellion fails. He mourns for Tou-Tou's death and later commits suicide before being brought to trial. Qiao Hua's father passes away and she inherits the Justice Escort Agency. With the money they earned, the business is able to thrive again. During her travels, she frequently detours along the desert roads to remember her adventures with Qinglong and on one such foray, while looking across the desert with her telescope and ringing her bell, she tearfully sees a man who appears much like Qinglong in the distance.Donnie Yen as Qinglong "青龍" or Azure Dragon. The four senior officers of the Jinyiwei are given the names of the Four Symbols in the Chinese constellations.
Zhao Wei as Qiao Hua
Sammo Hung as Prince Qing (special appearance)
Wu Chun as Judge of the Desert
Kate Tsui as Tuo-Tuo
Qi Yuwu as Xuanwu "玄武" or Black Tortoise
Damian Lau as Zhao Shenyan (guest appearance)
Wu Ma as Qiao Yong
Law Kar-ying as Jia Jingzhong
Chen Kuan-tai as Fawang
Chen Zhihui as Baihu "白虎" or White Tiger
Fung Hak-on as advisor
Xu Xiangdong as Xiahou
Liu Zhuoling as servant
Zhang Yujiao as Zhao Shouzheng
Ding Wenbin as Jifeng
Jin Laiqun as Zhuque "朱雀" or Vermilion Bird
14 Blades was scheduled to start filming on 14 May 2009 in Ningxia, China. Donnie Yen stated that he took the role of a villain in the film as he "wanted to tackle the role of a villain who discovers his humanity."
14 Blades premiered in China and Singapore on 4 February 2010 and in Hong Kong on 11 February. The film premiered at the seventh place in the Hong Kong box office, grossing US$317,975 in its first week. It grossed a total of US$984,711 at the Hong Kong box office. The film was successful in Singapore where it was first in the box office on its second week, grossing a total of US$1,126,692 on its theatrical run. The film grossed a total of US$3,676,875 worldwide.
14 Blades was nominated for Best Action Choreography and Best Sound Design at the 29th Hong Kong Film Awards. The China Post praised Donnie Yen's acting ability and stated that the film was generally entertaining but criticised the action scenes, saying "you never actually clearly see even one of the 14 blades. Unlike a really decent martial arts film, in which the battle scenes are well choreographed and you see the majority of the action, this film's fight scenes were only dynamic."
Many reviewers also criticised the film's heavy use of technology, also indicating Kate Tsui's clothes-shedding technique. Film Business Asia gave the film a six out of ten, stating that 14 Blades has a "script that becomes increasingly incoherent and restless editing that grows more and more distracting" and that the action scenes were "largely dependant on wire-fu and CG...when [Donnie] Yen is allowed to show his skills properly...14 Blades starts to look like the film it could have been."
Variety called 14 Blades an "above-average martial-arts actioner that reinforces Donnie Yen's "Man with No Name" ambience.", "Despite the circumstances, Qiao Hua falls in love with her captor, a development made believable by Zhao's warm and affecting perf. [sic] Yen's Eastwood-like poise is used to good effect here, and the romantic tension keeps the narrative effectively taut between the battle sequences."
The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the film "would have ended a mediocre film if not for the inventively designed and utilized weaponry (especially the titular 14 blades with different functions)" and had mixed reaction to the acting in the film, asserting that Donnie Yen's "stiff and steely demeanor actually works to his role's favor. The love interest with Qiao Hua is lame, especially with Zhao sleepwalking through another typecast role as playful, tomboyish heroine."17th Beijing College Student Film Festival
Won: Favorite Actress (Zhao Wei)
4th China (Ningbo) Famers Film Festival
Won: Favorite Actress (Zhao Wei)
29th Hong Kong Film Awards
Nominated: Best Action Choreography (Guk Hin-chiu)
Nominated: Best Sound Design (Ken Wong and Phyllis Cheng)
19th Shanghai Film Critics Awards
Won: Best Actress (Zhao Wei) also for Mulan (2009)
Won : Films of Merit