Directed (and co-written) by Yang Lu, 2014's Brotherhood Of Blades is set in the Ming Dynasty and is one of many recent Chinese period martial arts dramas to make its way to these North American shores over the last few years. A lot of these pictures are fairly interchangeable, though they do typically boast beautiful production values and impressive martial arts set pieces. Those qualities apply to Brotherhood Of Blades too, but despite its own share of predictability and genre clichés, this is a pretty entertaining way to kill an hour and fifty-two minutes.
The core of the story revolves around a group of expert warriors known as the Jinyiwei, a government sponsored enforcers who are pretty much given carte blanche to take out whoever they need to in the name of the greater good. The three men who make up the team are the elder Shen Lian (Chang Chen), his loyal companion Jianxing (Wang Qianyuan) and a younger new arrival on the team named Jin Yichuan (Ethan Li). Their mission? To locate and then subsequently eliminate Wei (Chin Shi Chieh), a eunuch who may just be crazy enough to try and assassinate the newly appointed emperor.
They finish their task and head back towards home where they find that their superior is suspicious about the circumstances surrounding their mission. From here, the ties that bind between the three principal players being to fray, the pasts of various characters come back to haunt them, and love proves to be a most complicated endeavor indeed.
A pretty effective mix of drama and flat out martial arts action, Brotherhood Of Blades proves to be a pretty entertaining period film. The production values are consistently lush and impressive, be it the costumes worn by pretty much every single character in the production or the ornate sets on which all of this unfolds. Everything looks great here, those behind the camera have crafted a film that is both colorful and somehow at the same time appropriately dark. These solid production values extend to the fight scenes as well, all of which are quite nicely shot and fairly intricate in nature. We get a lot of focus on the use of weapons here, and those who handle the fight sequences in front of the camera all turn in top notch work in this movie.
Additionally, the script here is quite strong. Yes, it does deal in some of the clichés that are no affiliated with the recent rash of Chinese period epics like this and maybe a little bit less of that would have gone a long way towards making this one stand out from the herd. However, the story offers a very fair sense of balance, offering up pretty equal amounts of action and intrigue along with some impressive character development along the way. This allows the key cast members to deliver some great work and to craft their respective characters in their own unique ways. In movies like this it is way too easy and way too common for the good guys (and the bad guys too, for that matter) to all wind up as fairly interchangeable. Not so in Brotherhood Of Blades, the main characters all get distinctive personality traits and memorable quirks. You'll have no trouble remember who is who, what they each stand for and what their respective motivations are in all of this once it all gets… complicated.
The movie winds up a pretty enjoyable watch. It's slick, fast paced and exciting but dramatic enough work as more than just a simple action film. A lot of us may feel burnt out on this type of movie by now, but Brotherhood Of Blades proves that in the hands of a capable cast and crew there's life in it yet. This is very much worth seeing.The Blu-ray:
Brotherhood Of Blades debuts on Blu-ray framed at 2.35.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Shot digitally the image is completely free of dirt or debris and it's as crisp and clean as you could really ask for. Black levels are rock solid and very deep but thankfully avoid any major crush or compression artifact problems while color reproduction looks pretty accurate here, there are moments where the colors really pop in fact. Detail is strong throughout the picture and there's good texture and depth in pretty much every frame of the image.Sound:
Audio options are offered in Cantonese and English in DTS-HD 5.1 and DTS-HD 2.0 flavors with optional subtitles provided in English only. The 5.1 Cantonese mix is the way to go as obviously the actors are dubbed on the English track, but both options provide a lot of great surround usage and a pretty enveloping listening experience. Rear channel activity is pretty constant and quite plentiful while the movie's excellent use of ambient background sounds and boisterous sound effects in the more active scenes really comes through and add a lot to the experience. As you'd expect, there are no issues with any hiss or distortion and the levels are nicely balanced, providing crisp dialogue and strong bass response.Extras:
Extras? We get a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Well Go USA properties, animated menus and chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
Brotherhood Of Blades is a really made period mix of martial arts, drama and intrigue. The cast members all turn in fine work and the art direction and fight choreography are consistently impressive. The story has a few pacing issues and it doesn't always feel like the most original picture ever made but the good certainly outweighs the bad here. Well Go USA's Blu-ray is light on extras but it sure does look and sound good. Recommended.