From the executive producer of some of John Woo’s classic films comes this wuxia film that is a well-made combination of drama and action, courtesy of co-writer-director Lu Yang.
When the Emperor learns of a treachery amongst former members of the Eunuch’s court, who have become a rogue group known as the Eunuch Clique, he dispatches three Imperial assassins to find each member of the group. They are the young Jin Yichuan, the elder Lu Jianxing, and the middle-aged leader Shen Lian. After successfully capturing another member of the group, they learn the whereabouts of rogue member Wei Zhongxian and are sent to stop him.
However, what they soon learn is that Wei is planning to make a deal with the assassins to ensure his survival. He offers Shen four hundred taels of gold in exchange for his “disappearance”. When Shen reluctantly accepts due to issues involving himself and his sworn brothers, he soon learns there is a price to pay for his deed. He becomes suspicious in the eyes of newly appointed minister Han Kuang while Wei’s godson, secret police leader Zhao Jingzhong has a plan to kill the trio of assassins because he had wanted his godfather to die in the first place so he can cover his tracks in terms of allegiance with the former Eunuch. Even worse, when Shen tries to help his friends, they learn of what Shen has done and a dissention happens until they learn that they are now the hunted instead of the hunters. Will they be able to keep their differences aside in time to ensure survival?
Director Lu Yang has crafted quite an interesting film that involves three sworn brothers in the Ming Dynasty who go from being the hunters to the hunted all because of greed in the eyes of their leader. Rather than make this a straightforward film, Lu and co-writer Chen Shu flesh out the characters as they deal with matters such as love and age.
Chang Chen, who is best known for films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Grandmaster, plays the leader Shen Lian, whose greed gets the best of him partly for the love of a courtesan, Zhou Miantong, played by Liu Shishi. The youngest member of the trio, Li Dongxue’s Jin, falls for his doctor’s daughter Zhang Yan, played by Ye Qing. The only one who doesn’t have a romantic interest is the elder Lu, who is more into following in his father’s footsteps to gain a promotion within the Imperial Court.
Within the first thirty minutes of the film, we see some of the issues that plague the trio of assassins. They include Jin constantly getting blackmailed by a fellow swordsman, the mean-spirited Ding Xiu, played by Zhou Yiwei, while Lu has been bribing his own superior in hopes to get the promotion only to constantly be declined. Shen soon learns that he is competing for the love of Miaotong, who falls for the son of a rich man. It is ultimately the offer Shen accepts that leads to what looks to be a way out of their situations but they come with dire consequences.
The only issue that plagues the film in terms of its storytelling is the use of certain flashbacks to set up an upcoming event seems to hinder the film rather than enhance it. The two flashback sequences both involve Shen’s relationship with Miaotong. It would have made more sense to just flesh out the scene as a whole rather than cut to another scene then show the flashback from prior scene as shown here on these two occasions.
Sang Lin, a former member of Corey Yuen’s stunt team, choreographed the action here. While there is some wirework as seen in most wuxia pian, they are actually kept to a minimum with the weapon battles and swordfights being the true highlight of the action. Despite a few cases of quick cuts and close ups during some of the sequences, they are generally edited well with even some nice overhead shots to enhance the viewer’s eye. Chang Chen and cast do quite well performing the action scenes where we see swords, spears, arrows, and maces with shields used.
Brotherhood of Blades is a pretty well done film from director Lu Yang. An elaborate tale of how greed can not only have dire consequences with outside the ranks of the imperial assassin, but within them as well. If you like the wuxia pian, then it is worth renting the film with a strong option to buy.
WFG RATING: B
A Beijing Dachu Changge Film and TV Culture Co./Central Newsreel and Documentary Film Studio/China Film Co./Combo Drive Pictures Co. production. Director: Lu Yang. Producers: Wang Donghui, Ling Hong, and Zhao Haicheng. Writers: Lu Yang and Shu Chen. Cinematography: Han Qiming. Editing: Tu Yiran and Zhu Li-Yun.
Cast: Chang Chen, Chin Shih-Chieh, Dan Zhu, Li Dongxue, Wang Qianyuan, Zhao Lixin, Nie Yuan.