Director: Lu Yang
Cast: Chang Chen, Cecelia Liu, Nie Yuan, Wang Qianyuan, Li Dongxue, Jin Shijie, Zhu Dan, Ye Qing
RunTime: 1 hr 46 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: GV
Opening Day: 16 October 2014
Synopsis: It was late Ming Dynasty, when the ceaseless party struggle brought the empire to the brink of collapse. Wei Zhongxian, the ringleader of the so called “eunuch party” lost power as the young emperor ascended the throne. He soon became the NO. 1 assassination target.
Three brothers in Jinyiwei – Lu Jianxing (Wang Qianyuan), Shen Lian (Chang Chen), Jin Yichuan (Li Dongxue) were assigned the job. Wei’s adopted son Zhao Jingzhong (Nie Yuan) was behind the plan. The three men are bounded like blood brothers. They each have their own desire, but money seems to be the key. They took the job and located the target successfully. When it’s nearly done, Wei offered to buy his way out. Shen Uinds the money irresistible and he manages to let him go.
As the three brothers indulged in the big fortune, Lu buying his official seat in the government, Shen paying debt for a prostitute (Liu Shishi) who he loves and feels indebted to, Jin covering a secret of his real identity as a thief, the fact that Wei is still alive come to surface. All parties want them dead to bury the assassination. The day comes when Zhao Jingzhong invited the three to a dinner. The three sensed the danger and fight their way out. They plan to bring their loved ones and go on a run to a peaceful place and hide their names. After a heroic battle, the elder and the younger fall, leaving Shen with memories of their humble dreams.
Despite receiving generally positive reviews, Brotherhood of Blades suffered a tremendous blow at the Mainland box-office when it opened against Jacob Cheung’s The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom. Apparently, stars do matter. Hypothetically speaking, if Huang Xiaoming, Fan Bingbing or Donnie Yen were among the cast list, this wuxia flick would have met a better success.
Produced by John Woo’s longtime producer, Terence Chang and co-written and directed by Lu Yang, Brotherhood of Blades tells the tale of three sworn brothers who works alongside each other as elite Imperial guards known as Jinyiwei in Chinese. Elder brother Lu (Wang Qianyuan) is a no-nonsense man who yearns for his long-delayed promotion. Second brother Shen Lian (Chang Chen) being the most skillful of the three has a love interest in the form of a courtesan Zhou (Cecilia Liu from TV’s Scarlet Heart) while the youngest, Yichuan (Li Dong Xue) has a dark, hidden secret only known by a fellow senior who frequently extorts him for money.
The main narrative however involves the pursuing of an escaped wanted Eunuch Wei (Jin Shijie). Wei and his clique are wanted by the current young emperor for his corruption and the three sworn brothers are assigned the thankless task by Commander Zhao (Nei Yuan) to kill him. But when Shen makes a deadly mistake of letting Wei go, a chain of unforeseeable consequences is unleashed and the latter realizes there is more to Commander Zhao’s intention to annihilate Eunuch Wei.
The characterizations of the three main characters are clearly defined by the first act and to Lu’s credit; he manages to keep both pacing and narrative flowing smoothly at the same time. There’s hardly a dull moment and even though it is an wuxia flick about brotherhood, romance and political intrigue, there is none of the dozing long pages of dialogue to bore you. Some of the twists and turn may be predictable to those who have seen too many wuxia movies in the past; but even with the main villain revealed early on, the proceedings are reasonably executed and manage to keep you on the edge of your seat for the full 107 minutes.
The action choreography is credited to Lin Sang, a stunt guy who worked on The Transporter and Red Cliff and miraculously the end effort is a great break from the current trend. It hardly showcases any cheesy visual effects (I’m looking at you, The Four), fancy weaponry that probably comes from the world of Transformers (and that’s 14 Blades) and excessive wire-fu effects (Flying Swords of Dragon Gate anyone?), what Brotherhood of Blades has to impress you is plenty of old-school swordplay and a controlled amount of bloodshed to sell you the idea of how kick-ass the characters are.
Lu’s movie is not without its flaws, I mean which movie isn’t? First thing first, Cecilia Liu’s character, Zhou is both clichéd and forgettable. A courtesan waiting for her love one to redeem her freedom? And it’s not Shen we are talking about. We have seen this a thousand times and perhaps more. There’s also a brief backstory of how Zhou first met Shen Lian, which is totally unnecessary. Taiwanese actor Jin Shijie on the other hand is excellent as the sinister Eunuch Wei but he is not granted much screentime. The saving grace is Chang Chen (last seen in The Grandmasters), the underrated actor who appears in many arty dramas as the tortured Shen and his three other co-stars Wang Qianyuan, Li Dong Xue and Nie Yuan who formed the engaging tale of brotherhood and good versus evil.
If you love non-pretentious, old-school martial-arts flick like the much accessible Reign of Assassins, then you will definitely love Brotherhood of Blades. Sometimes, a good movie is like a good book, there is no need for a fancy cover to appreciate the material.
(A genuinely well-told, old-school martial-arts movie)
Review by Linus Tee