Monday, July 6, 2015

Film Review: Brotherhood of Blades (2014)

Brotherhood of Blades (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...the film excels in its splendid action, individual character development, and strong acting."

A rising emperor commands three lowly Imperial Assassins to find and kill Wei Zhong Xian, a eunuch removed from power... but still clinging to his influence and riches.

Brotherhood of Blades follows Imperial Assassins Shen Lian (Chang Chen), Lu Jian Xing (Wang Qianyuan), and Jin Yi Chuan (Ethan Li). These elite officers are ordered to kill Wei. While on their mission, Shen Lian falls victim to his dreams and aspirations — dreams of leaving poverty and buying the freedom of the courtesan he seemingly adores. Without telling his brothers, Shen Lian spares Wei and accepts a large sum of money in exchange. To his utter dismay, he finds he's lured himself and his unsuspecting brothers into a conspiracy of massive proportions. The film leads to an action-packed final act and a suitable ending; considering this is a film about brotherhood, you can probably guess the last frame before the credits roll.

Brotherhood of Blades starts off a little complicated, especially for those of us that aren't so familiar with Chinese history. Fortunately, this issue irons itself out before the end of the first act. From there, it's a fairly smooth ride — you'll know who's the good guy, who's the bad guy, and who's the guy in the shadows. For a story about brotherhood, though, it's unfortunate to see it didn't really take time to develop this relationship. There are subplot pertaining to each assassin, which gives us an idea of their respective personalities and goals, but it never forms a noticeable bond between the trio — except for when they march into battle. This, in turn, lowers the stakes. You may care for an individuals safety, but the brotherhood can fall apart with minimal impact.

Aside from these issues, the story isn't half-bad. I liked the sense of danger and betrayal looming around every corner. I liked how this grand conspiracy conspired, transpired, and expired. I even thought the subplots were effective — especially the courtesan plot. The film really excels in the action department, though. If you love swordplay, you'll love the action sequences in this film. The bloody, vicious action is fluid and fast. These elite assassins fight dozens of foes at a time with an assortment of ferocious weapons. The entire final act is practically pure action — it's like having adrenaline injected directly into your veins. I was sitting there dodging the arrows as they whizzed by. (not really.)

The acting was all-around good, too. Chang Chen did very well as the leading man. Liu Shishi, although limited in screen time, was also very effective in her subplot. The film looked great, too — some great shots and vibrant visuals. The engaging camerawork is partly responsible for the fluid action scenes; there are a few great tracking shots in here. The action direction is also responsible for the exhilarating wuxia action. The blatant computer-generated blood was very disappointing, though — it is especially noticeable early on, but it seems to fade as the film progresses. Director Lu Yang crafts a strong action film with a decent narrative. For the most part, the action is captured well and Yang pulls strong performances from his cast. It could have been a little more streamlined, but the direction is fairly strong otherwise.

Overall, Brotherhood of Blades is a very good wuxia action film. It starts off a bit rough and the brotherhood is never truly developed, but the film excels in its splendid action, individual character development, and strong acting. If you're simply looking for something filled with sword-wielding action, this is for you. Even if you're looking for something with a little more meat (character), I'd say Brotherhood of Blades offers more than enough to satisfy.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some gore.

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