The Chinese period action film Brotherhood of Blades, written and directed by Lu Yang, is a film that deserves to be highly praised. While I certainly expected there to be plenty of fight scenes to keep me thoroughly entertained, I didn’t expect to grow so fond of the film’s three leads. While it can be attributed to their performances, what makes Brotherhood of Blades work is its well-written script.
Brotherhood of Blades takes place in 1627, a time when ancient China was under the rule of the young Emperor Chongzen (Ye Xiangming). He has ordered the Imperial Assassins to capture and eliminate a group known as “The Clique”, who are supporters of the former Imperial Assassin captain and former Head of the Eunuch, Wei Zhongxian (Chin Shi-chieh). Three of the Imperial Assassins, Shen Lian (Chang Chen), Lu Jianxing (Wang Qianyuan) and Jin Yichuan (Li Dongxue), are initially tasked to end Wei’s influence but the film truly begins to unfold when these three assassins are given orders to kill Wei as well.
From the onset, Brotherhood of Blades can appear to be quite long given its focus on each of the three individual assassins. The film goes into depth with each assassin’s troubling history in the midst the ongoing plot to kill Wei and end The Clique. Shen Lian is in love with a courtesan named Zhou Miaotong (Liu Shishi) and is doing all he can to buy her freedom.
Lu Jianxing, the hard working warrior, does his best to climb the ladder and earn a promotion. And Jin Yichun, the youngest of the trio, not only has problems with his lungs but is also an ex-thief paying off a debt from his past. By allowing the story to focus on each protagonist and their lives outside of being an Imperial Assassin, Brotherhood of Blades not only flows more smoothly but also allows viewers to become more understanding of the tough choices each character makes during the movie.
For example, Shen Lian’s first life-changing decision coincides with the political agendas that play on in the background of this movie. For every action, there’s a reaction and its a sentiment that resonates strongly in the movie, causing a domino effect that not only effects the personal lives of Jianxing and Yichun but also the people around them.
In addition to its gripping trio, Brotherhood of Blades has no trouble capturing and keeping your attention with its bloody action. Sword-fights are shot at a fast space and at times are slowed down to enchant an audience with certain moves. Still, at the core of this film is the brotherly friendship between its three leads – their loyalty to each other is encouraging particularly once the fractures within their brotherhood occur within the all the backstabbing and conspiracy in the film.
It has been a while since I’ve watched a Chinese film where both the action and story are executed so evenly that once you finish the film, you feel that it was neither lacking or overreaching in either departments. Based on how much I enjoyed this film, I eagerly look forward to seeing more of Lu Yang’s future films.
Brotherhood of Blades will become available to own on DVD on March 4 thanks to Pinnacle Films and China Lion.