Brotherhood Of Blades


Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

Brotherhood Of Blades
"Everything here is just a rehash of other films."

It isn’t a great sign if the best thing about your period Chinese drama is a fairly minor character who raises an eyebrow because his acting is straight from the Tom Hardy school of wild eye and angled head gestures. Still, Yiwei Zhou is a lot of fun to watch with his obscenely sized sword and relationship to one of the three mains. They both had the same master y’see, and that’s why he extorts money and later agrees to chop him in half for the main villain.

I can’t tell you who the main villain is either, and that’s not through lack of trying. The plot of Brotherhood Of Blades is as follows: three Imperial Assassins, headed by Shen Lian (Chen Chang) are tasked with killing the Eunuch after weeding out the last of the Eunuch’s Clique, men in positions of power that threaten to usurp the child emperor. Things are complicated because of the thick, knotted mass of contrasting motives, but none of them are very engaging. Of the trio, only Shen sees the Eunuch, and delivers his burnt body to the Han Kuang, the head of the secret police. But is it actually the real body, or is this just a ruse so that Shen can help his friends achieve their goals?

Copy picture

It only gets more complicated from there. Lots of the twists are doubled back on, or re-contextualised as increasingly absurd moustache-twirling efforts. The fact that the three main protagonists have ill thought out motivations also works against the action. With the scheming and double crossing that swirls around them, it could be consider a bold scripting decision to have them uninterested for the greater political tumult, but it’s not played up into anything interesting. It is also telling of the lack of character that there is never a real sense of camaraderie between the so-called Brotherhood. They are presented as acquaintances that are friendly by necessity, which makes it even harder to root for their success.

Worse still is the fighting. Bar a few moments, such as a one versus four fight in a corridor that has some snappy moves, the choreography is lacklustre and uninspired. It’s clearly going for a more realistic grounding than some, but it doesn’t quite manage it and instead feels limp and lacking in any real impact. Having characters that are just ‘soldiers’ fails too, as the variety of styles and weapons in similar films is often the main draw, but everything here is just a rehash of other films.

The shadow of Crouching Tiger clearly looms over many Chinese period pieces, and it’s not hyperbolic to call it the main cultural touchpoint for this kind of cinema for a western audience. Without more clearly defined characters and motives, or more innovative fighting, Brotherhood fails to separate itself from the crowd, and at its worse it actively dismantles the ideas that could have helped it make a stab at being a memorable film.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2015
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Three assassins take on the Ming dynasty's evil secret police.

Director: Yang Lu

Writer: Yang Lu, Chen Shu, Chen Shu

Starring: Chen Chang, Shih-Chieh Chin, Zhu Dan, Dong-xue Li, Yuan Nie, Liu Shi Shi, Qianyuan Wang, Qing Ye, Lixin Zhao, Yi Wei Zhou, Yiwei Zhou, Dan Zhu

Year: 2014

Runtime: 111 minutes

Country: China


EIFF 2015

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