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February 05, 2015

Brotherhood of Blades

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Xiu Chun Dao
Lu Yang - 2014
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Brotherhood of Blades is one of those films I wished I liked better. It's not that it is a bad film. The main problem for me is that there was not enough to make the film substantially distinguished from other Chinese period films.

The story takes place in the early 17th Century, with the eight year reign of the influential eunuch, Wei, ended by the Emperor. There is a purge of Wei's supporters carried out by a special team of assassins. Three of these members have a sworn brotherhood, and are chosen by the head of the secret service to find and kill Wei. What happens is that past secrets catch up on the major characters, with ill-fated results for all. Within the first few scenes, the vulnerable aspects of the characters are introduced.

The biggest problem is that Lu Yang's depiction of action mistakes excessive quick cuts makes a scene more exciting. The organization of each shot is logical, flowing with each successive shot. Yet every bit of movement is broken up into so many smaller parts that it loses the sense of physical exertion that would be taking place were the action filmed in longer takes. What we have are a collection of shots lasting no more than a few frames, rather than even whole seconds of screen time. One of the strengths of past Chinese language action films was to let the camera roll long enough to provide a full portrayal of where the characters were in relation to each other, the space they were in, and their respective movements.

One of the more interesting characters, given short shrift, is Wei's female bodyguard, Ting. Introduced when the three "brothers" first trap Eunuch Wei, Ting is seen again when traps are set on the trio. There seems to be a scene missing as Ting's reappearance is abrupt, possibly the result of the modest budget for the production. Nonetheless, Ting does provide contrast to the two more traditional female characters, a courtesan who has her own reasons for not wanting a seemingly chivalrous buyout of her contract, and the cute daughter of a doctor.

The literal Chinese title is "Embroidered Spring Blade", referring to the design of the swords used by the assassins. A modest hit in China, Brotherhood of Blades managed to get five Golden Horse nominations, including star Chang Chen for Best Actor, and Chin Shih Chieh, who played Eunuch Wei, for Best Supporting Actor. The sole win was for Best Costume Design.

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Posted by peter at February 5, 2015 06:49 AM