Director Yang Lu brings viewers a beautiful blend of action and tension with Brotherhood Of Blades, a film disappointingly let down by one crucial component, that I’ll detail soon.
The plot concerns a trio of Imperial assassins who end up in over their heads when they are tasked to kill the escaped leader of a dangerous, loyal clique of warriors. What follows is a tale of deception, disobedience, and growing distrust. And there’s also still room for moments of love.
It may start off by appearing to bombard you with information, but don’t fear. It quickly gets easier to follow the main characters, and keep up with the twists and turns as our heroes realise the extent of their predicament and plan accordingly.
Chen Chang, Dong-Xue Li and Qianyuan Wang are very good as the three leads, each one having a very different personality while also sharing a solid core of morals (even if such thoughts are relatively new to some of them). They are, as you may have already guessed, The Three Musketeers in all but name. Everyone else onscreen also does decent work, but the film keeps our three heroes front and centre, and rightly so.
The script, by Yang Lu and Chen Shu, is a bit dense at times, especially in the opening act, but I grew to appreciate that density when I realised how much depth was being added to each character in pretty much every scene. There are plenty moments that feel almost directly lifted from other Chinese movies of this kind, but they fit here perfectly. And you also get fun bursts of action.
It is, however, the action that causes problems, really dragging the film down from potentially great to just okay. While the third act does a bit of work to compensate for earlier failings, it must be said that almost every fight scene here could have been greatly improved. Camerawork could have been more fluid, the editing could have been handled better, every set-piece just cries out to be depicted more gracefully.
Those who like this kind of movie (the historical drama with plenty of martial arts mixed in) will find enough to enjoy here, but it’s a close call. And I can think of at least a dozen similar movies that I’d recommend ahead of this one. Mind you, I’ll still consider buying this when it hits shiny disc. But that might just say more about my movie-buying addiction than the film itself.
DIRECTOR: YANG LU
WRITER: YANG LU, CHEN SHU
STARS: CHEN CHANG, SHIH-CHIEH CHIN, ZHU DAN, QIANYUAN WANG, DONG-XUE LI, SHI SHI LIU, YUAN NIE
RUNTIME: 111 MINS APPROX
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