Prequel to the 2014 hit wuxia movie starring Chang Chen, Yang Mi and Zhang Yi star in this action-packed Ming dynasty detective mystery.
The popular Taiwanese actor and singer Chang Chen stars as “Shen Lian”, an Imperial Captain of the Guard. Chen will be familiar to martial arts movie fans as Luo Xiahao/Dark Cloud, the bandit in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He has also had notable appearances in the epic Red Cliff movies, The Grandmaster, and The Assassin.
Chinese actress and singer Yang Mi plays “Bei Zhai”, a painter accused of maligning the powerful Imperial court eunuch Master Wei. Actor Zhang Yi is well known for his roles as soldiers in many Chinese television serials. Here he plays “Lu Wenzhao”, Shen Lian’s ruthlessly ambitious superior officer. Chinese television actress Xin Zhilei appears as “Ding Baiying”, the leader of a group of assassins.
Shen Lian is a Captain of Guards in the Imperial Southern Bureau. Acting as a type of secret police, he becomes unwittingly involved in a conspiracy while investigating the murder of a government official. Shen Lian is removed from the investigation and ordered to assassinate a dissident painter, Bei Zhai. His penchant for collecting her paintings implicate him in the plot to kill the Emperor. Shen Lian quickly deduces that the attempt on the Emperor’s life, the murder of the government official, and the order to kill Bei Zhai are part of a conspiracy, in which he will be the scapegoat.
With loyalties tested, Shen Lian has only his courage, intellect and fighting skills to unravel the conspiracy and prove his innocence.
A mix of CGI background and what looks like an actual battlefield, reveals the blood-soaked, smouldering aftermath of a major engagement. Shen Lian is one of the few survivors and demonstrates great courage to rescue two soldiers from getting beheaded. As he lays waste with his traditional broadsword, slow-motion filming accentuates the stylish choreography with just a whiff of wire assistance.
Eight years later, Shen Lian is investigating a murder. A drunken soldier speaks out of turn about the fate of the victim, putting him in line of sight of the ambitious Lu Wenzhao. The soldier makes a run for it leading to an exciting chase through the period streets of old Beijing. Even though this has an historical setting, the energy and choreography of the chase could easily transfer to the urban streets of a modern-day movie.
Shen Lian’s loyalties are put to the test when Bei Zhai’s well-being is threatened. Forced to engage Lieutenant Ling, they fight hand-to-hand as lightning flashes outside and the thunder compliments their long fist techniques.
KFK EXCLUSIVE FIGHT ACTION CLIP!
Ever since 1971’s wuxia masterpiece “A Touch of Zen”, it has almost become legally binding that a wuxia movie must feature a fight in a bamboo forest. “Brotherhood of Blades 2” is no exception and delivers a fine contribution to the tradition. In a three-on-one duel, Shen Lian fights with skill, but also engages in a battle of wits, much like a chess game.
Forced into a clandestine mission at the Imperial Archives, Shen Lian is discovered by a guard. A courtyard fight that echoes similar scenes in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Reign of Assassins” ensues. There is a great mix of authentic rope dart skills blended with a CGI meteor on a chain. I don’t know if this film was originally released in 3D, but it certainly looked like it was flying out of the screen on occasions!
Just as a western detective thriller would have a car chase and shootout, so this wuxia version has an exhilarating chase and fight on horseback through a forest.
The final fight is an extended two-versus-many brawl. The choreography maintains a high quality combination of stylish techniques that are wire-enhanced, rather than the out-and-out flying around that can sometimes be a little off-putting in wuxia films. It’s shot and edited much like a Hollywood action film, but still knows to keep the frame just wide enough for the connoisseurs to appreciate the choreography and martial arts skills on display.
Thankfully there is no need to have seen the first movie to understand what is going on here. Having said that, you do need to concentrate in order to follow the plot. This is a whodunit full of political intrigue. It’s a little like a Detective Dee movie but without the fun and fantasy. That’s not a criticism. On the contrary, if you think the Detective Dee movies are too far-fetched with too much reliance on wire work and CGI, this could be just the movie for you. It’s easy to see why it was nominated for several Chinese movie awards for action, acting and direction.
Bizarrely, the bane of many modern Hollywood action films, is the frequent, annoying, unnecessary use of shaky-cam during the dialogue scenes. In general though, this film is very cinematic to look at it, but occasionally feels like a made-for-Chinese-TV period drama, albeit one with a decent budget.
Chang Chen is superb in the lead role. I often discuss the excessive “melodrama” of Chinese productions, but it is minimal in this case, and his engaging performance held my attention in every scene. Evenly paced, with an action scene roughly every fifteen minutes, interspersed with twisting plot exposition, the two hour running time just flies by.
With an engrossing noir-detective-plot and stylish action, fans of the wuxia genre should lap this up!
- “Brotherhood of Blades 2: The Infernal Battlefield” beat the likes of “SPL 3: Paradox” (choreographed by Sammo Hung), “Wu Kong” and “The Hidden Sword”, to win the award for Best Action Choreography at the 54th Golden Horse Awards.
- Stunt Co-ordinator Sang Lin has previously worked on the original three “The Transporter” movies, “War” starring Jet Li and Jason Statham, and John Woo’s epic “Red Cliff”.
- At the age of 6, Yang Mi had a minor role as Beggar So’s daughter in 1992’s “King of Beggars”, which starred Stephen Chow as the titular character.
- “Brotherhood of Blades 2: The Infernal Battlefield” tripled its predecessor’s box-office results in mainland China leading to plans for a third film in the series.
Film Rating: 8/10
“Brotherhood of Blades 2: Infernal Battlefield” is available on DVD and VOD from February 12th courtesy of Thunderbird Releasing. Let us know your impressions on this one, and your other wuxia favourites in the comments below, join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Don’t forget to check out our other ‘fu-filled’ movie reviews too!