Brotherhood of Blades

China, 2014
Running Time: 106 minutes
Format: Digital Projection
Language: In Mandarin with English subtitles
Director: Lu Yang
Cast: Chang Chen, Cecilia Liu, Wang Qianyuan, Ethan Li, Nie Yuan
Showtimes: Saturday, July 11, 5:45pm Beatrice Theatre

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A one-in-a -million wu xia movie with all the reach, and none of the extravagance, of the biggest epics, Brotherhood of Blades leaves behind the genre’s flying swordsmen, weightless fantasy wirework, and dull speeches about brotherhood to deliver magnificent period action, drama, and characters that are swayed by cold cash and slain by cold steel rather than honor and the hard line of duty. Rich in historical detail, brutal in its depiction of violence, this dark blockbuster demands to be seen on the big screen.

It’s 1627: the Ming Dynasty is dying. The new emperor has exiled the almighty Chief Eunuch, who controls not just the secret police but a shadow society consisting of pretty much all the court officials. Three Imperial assassins are tasked with a late-night murder party to get rid of the Eunuch and his loyalists, but money corrupts… soon, one of them gets handed a bribe big enough to allow Wei to escape. Schemes within schemes follow, as gold flows like a poison and bodies fall like autumn leaves.

The swordplay in this film is all earth-bound, leg-breaking, elbow-to-the-chin, blade-to-the-guts action as 70lb steel cleavers chew through soft flesh and long, swooping Steadicam shots follow fighters through chaotic battles. The imperial assassins include Chang Chen (one of Taiwan’s great actors, best known for his work with Ang Lee, Wong Kar-wai, and Edward Yang) and actor Zhou Yi-wei is on hand as a honey badger of a blackmailer who just doesn’t give a damn. As old-school as Gunga Din or The Four Feathers, this is the wu xia movie with the dust blasted off and the rust scraped from its edge. It cuts to the bone. It slices through brains. It delivers.

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