Actors: Chang Chen, Cecilia Liu, Qing Ye, Nie Yuan
Director: Lu Yang
Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Dolby, NTSC, THX, Widescreen
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Well Go USA
Release Date: February 10, 2015
Run Time: 111 minutes
There may be a good film somewhere in Brotherhood of Blades, but I would need to watch it again to be able to be able to understand where it is. The narrative contains too many characters and is told in a convoluted manner, so that little makes sense until the very end, at which point it will take a perfect memory to recall who each character is and where their loyalties in the narrative lie. The action is fantastic, making the last third of the film a compelling watch, though the relevance of these sequences would have been increased with a clearer storyline.
The film takes place in 1627 with the arrival of a new emperor and a series of conspiracies and secret organizations. The emperor sends the Secret Police of the Imperial Guard on a mission to eliminate the eunuch clique and assassinate their leader, Wei Zhong Xian (Shih-Chieh Chin), including pawns Shen Lian (Chang Chen), Jin Yichuan (Ethan Li), and Lu Jianxing (Wang Qianyuan). These three friends soon discover that they are being used as pawns, and become entangled in a complex web of conspiracies and double-crosses, all while each of the men also have their own complicated storyline.
Shen Lian is in love with an imperial brothel girl named Miaotong (Liu Shishi), though it is plutonic and somewhat one-sided despite her profession. While Shen Lian is busy saving money to buy the girl’s freedom, Yichuan must pass his money along to a thief blackmailing him to keep a secret about his true identity. His love interest is the innocent daughter of the local doctor. Meanwhile, Jianxing is the only one with a narrative involved in the politics rather than romance. In attempting to offer the appropriate bribes to achieve a promotion, Jianxing instead finds that he has been selected to be set up in the mission against the eunuchs.
The action is fantastic without delving into the unbelievable, leading up to a series of bloody climactic show-offs. It all builds to a very compelling final 30-minutes, though the emotional impact may have been greater with few characters and more time to understand those with most significance to the plot. The film does a lot in 112-minutes, but it may also be a bit more than any average audience member will be able to keep track of in the span of two hours. The Blu-ray bonus features include a new English-language track, for those unable to read subtitles (which are admittedly flawed), as well as the film’s trailer.
Entertainment Value: 6.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6.5/10
Historical Significance: 5/10
Special Features: 2.5/10