BROTHERHOOD OF BLADES II: THE INFERNAL BATTLEFIELD (2017) review

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Lu Yang’s Brotherhood of Blades was one of 2014’s best surprises, a tightly-scripted, hard-hitting little wu xia pian made on a relatively small budget, and whose muted box-office was compensated by an almost unanimously positive critical response, and a following that has grown in the three years since its release. Now, director Lu Yang is back with a bigger budget, for a prequel – which will be followed by a sequel, following the Infernal Affairs trilogy template – focusing on Chang Chen’s character (with Wang Qianyuan and Ethan Li noticeably absent), and which he again-co-wrote with Chen Shu, while none other than Ning Hao stepped in as a producer.

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BROTHERHOOD OF BLADES (2014) review

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In the year 1627, the Ming dynasty is in its final years as emperor Chongzhen takes over the throne, and in the process expels powerful Chief Eunuch Wei (Chin Shih Chieh) from his position of power. But a large number of court officials are still secretly in the service of the Eunuch, forming the so-called “Clique” that the emperor decides to dismantle. His prime resource in doing that is the “Jinyiwei”, his imperial assassins who are tasked with arresting, getting a confession out of, and/or killing, all presumed members of the Clique. Three Jinyiwei are chosen for the critical mission of finding and killing the Eunuch himself: Shen Lian (Chang Chen), who is in unrequited love with a courtesan (Cecilia Liu) and is saving up to buy her freedom, Lu Jianxing (Wang Qianyuan) who is desperate to meet his father’s standards by getting a promotion and is ready to bribe his way to it, and Jin Yichuan (Ethan Li), who is being blackmailed by a former friend (Zhou Yiwei) who threatens to reveal their criminal past and the fact he stoile a man’s identity to become a Jinyiwei. The fact that their new superior (Nie Yuan) is a pawn of the Eunuch further complicates the matters and soon an intricate web of lies unravels with tragic consequences.

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BLOOD BROTHERS (2007) review

Alexi Tan’s Blood Brothers has been called a remake of John Woo’s Bullet in the Head, but it is really more of a “partquel” if you will, in that it only reworks a segment of the original, and even then, it reworks it pretty loosely. The plot points that remain are mainly the three friends (here, Daniel Wu, Liu Ye and Tony Yang) leaving their hometown to try their luck in the world (here, in Shanghai), and getting violently estranged by fate, one of them going bad and working for the mob. Carried over from John Woo’s film are also the beautiful singer (here, Shu Qi) and the mysterious killer (here, Chang Chen). The similarities stop there, as Alexi Tan’s film goes in a different direction entirely with this set of characters. So the three friends (actually two brothers and a friend) come to Shanghai where they get work in a fancy nightclub held by a charismatic but cruel mob boss (Sun Honglei). Things go bad when one of the friends (Liu Ye) starts going to seed and showing a proclivity for killing, and another (Daniel Wu) falls in love with the mob boss’ trophy girlfriend (Shu Qi), who is herself having an affair with one of his enforcers (Chang Chen).

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