Title: Brotherhood of Blades
HTS Overall Score:
Anybody who knows me knows that I have a love of Asian cinema, Hong Kong in particular. I cut my teeth off of old Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Bruce Lee movies since I was 6 years old. I’ve watched modern martial arts films like “The Raid”, Wuxia movies, old badly choreographed Shaw Brothers films, and American knockoffs like “Bloodsport 4” with just about anything in between for good measure. Well Go Usa has filled a niche in the American home video market, a niche that had resurgence in the in the early 2000 era as companies like Dragon Dynasty and Tokyo Shock etc. put out classic Asian films along with more modern ones. Well Go USA is a home grown Texas company that puts out a wide variety of Asian cinema, from the rising star of Korean movies, to the classic Kung-fu chop socky films we grew up with in the 80s, with a good measure of Japanese and even Taiwanese movies to round out the bunch. Here we have a throwback to the good old days of Tsui Hark and John Woo with an action/drama that uses plenty of wires, plenty of blades and plenty of back stabbing twists along the way.
Shen Lian (Chen Chan, made famous from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), Jin Yichuan and Lu Jianxing are brothers at arms in the royal secret police. They have fought together, bled together and survived together, forming a bond stronger than most marriages. Their devotion and loyalty are about to be tested when they are chose for a special mission to root out the last of a group of the “old guard” is to be taken hostage. Shen Liang decides to take a bribe from the treacherous Wei Zhongxian (Shih-Chieh Chin) and forever changes their destiny. Sooner or later the deception is found out, and found out by their superior officer. In a twist of fate this officer happens to be the godson of Wei Zhongxian and is involved in a plot against the emperor.
Twists and turns follow as Shen, Lu and Jin go about their business only to find out that they’re being targeted at every turn. Slashing and hacking their way through every obstacle it becomes clear that something and someone is haunting them with a death wish. Once Shen Lian has enough and confesses his crime to his brothers, there must be a decision made. Will the other two turn him over to the authorities or will they band together and fight to the death to protect their emperor, and their friendship.
“Brotherhood of Blades” blends together a nice mix of both new and old. The flashy camera work ala “Batman Begins” along with modern choreography blends really nicely together with the period piece costumes of the Wuxia genre and the standard use of wirework, made famous in the old Wuxia flicks. I really enjoyed the treacherous tale of the secret assassins of the government actually BEING on the side of the government for once. Usually a corrupt government is at the heart of these period tragedies, but instead the Emperor was in the good and it was an evil villain from the olden days that was painted as the aggressor here. The fight scenes were awesomely brutal and exquisitely flashy, giving us a LOT of time to kick back and watch the blades fly. The use of different weapon techniques among the three brothers and even among the villains made for some unique combinations of fights and Shen’s little honorary combination of the three styles for the end fight sequence was a lot of fun.
The story, as with most Wuxia stories, takes a bit of concentration on the viewer’s part, giving us some confusing scenes near the beginning of the movie. However, if you stick with it, the plot starts to come together and make much more sense towards the end. Much like most of these films, the movie ends semi tragically (Asians seem to love the bittersweet ending), and the plot meanders a bit at times, but the payout is quite satisfactory, especially if you love lots of action in your movies. It isn’t as stylistic as Tsui Hark, or as hard hitting as John Woo, but director Yang Lu does a solid job at anchoring the fight scenes with a cohesive story that should satisfy most old school action junkies in their Hong Kong cravings. Personally I felt a few sub plots could have been trimmed up, and some more back story on the villain’s motives, but the end result is more than enough to put a smile on my face for two hours.
Not Rated by the MPAA
Goody goody gumdrops, “Brotherhood of Blades” comes to the U.S. in a fantastic looking 2.40:1 AVC encoded Blu-ray disc that is so close to a 5/5 rating that I had to chew on it for a while. The color palette leans toward a picture that is saturated with teal, golden hues and greens, with smatterings of red, pink, blue and white to round out the image. These Asian period pieces are almost always fantastically wardrobed and this is no different, as the brocaded silks of the officials sparkle with beauty and the leather and cloth garb of the grim imperial assassins looking menacing and realistic with every movement. Detail is stunning throughout as you can see every stitch in the clothing, every fake snowflake falling during the final battles and the pieces of broken wood from shattered weapons littering the landscape. Black levels stay incredibly inky black and show no signs of losing shadow detail in the slightest. The only thing that made me drop the rating was a teensy bit of softness here and there, with a slightly out of focus shot here and there along with a flash of intermittent banding. It was close, REALLY close to a 5/5, but those small flaws (as small as they are) were just enough to keep it from perfection.
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA Mandarin track is no slouch either. Coming with both English and Mandarin I had to A/B the two tracks and found them surprisingly similar, with the edge going towards the native track as I like the dub felt a bit flat in the delivery of lines. Dynamic range is impressive and the action sequences really light up the soundstage. The surround channels get used quite heavily during the copious fights and they create some nice directional effects with the arrows and blades that pulls the listener into the heart of the battle. LFE is a bit softer than I would have liked, but it adds some very nice weight to the fights and fills out the low end quite nicely. Dialog is crisp and clear as a bell, centered in the front and given some soft pans that subtly shift across the front soundstage during a few scenes.
“Brotherhood of Blades” is a nice escapist Hong Kong flick with plenty of action to keep you entertained. It doesn’t try too hard to be something it’s not, and didn’t fail to entertain in the least. It’s nice to see a small resurgence of the classic Hong Kong Wuxia films and I hope there’s many more to come in the future. The technical specs on the disc are astounding, as the video and audio are drop dead gorgeous, hovering right on the verge of demo material, making this a must watch for Hong Kong lovers. My only gripe with the disc itself is the very obvious lack of features, but from what I could gather from my research there was very few made and the ones made have been difficult for Well Go USA to license. Definitely recommended as a fun watch.
Starring: Chen Chang, Shih-Chieh Chin, Zhu Dan
Directed By: Yang Lu
Written By: Yang Lu, Chen Shu
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: ENGLISH: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1, English and Mandarin DD 2.0
Studio: Well Go USA
Runtime: 112 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: February 10th 2015
Buy Brotherhood of Blades On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Watch It
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