Promotional theme song: Deep love is as subdued as you by Zhou Shen (still on repeat in my playlist)
Aptly titled The Infernal Battlefield, the second instalment of the Brotherhood of Blades film series brings together a talented cast of actors in one of the best wuxia epics in recent years. The story formula hasn’t really changed since the first movie, but it’s worth watching for the cinematography and action choreography alone. Minor spoilers ahead.
Chang Chen reprises his role as imperial guard (secret police) Shen Lian, who again finds himself as a miserable chess piece in a deadly power struggle between Prince Xin (Liu Duanduan) and the powerful eunuchs led by Wei Zhongxian (Chin Shi-chieh). Thanks to director Lu Yang, Chang Chen looks amazing in the film, though his character falls flat, and is quickly overshadowed by supporting characters Lu Wenzhao (Zhang Yi) and Pei Lun (Lei Jiayin).
This is Zhang Yi’s first time taking up a role in a historical production, and he doesn’t disappoint. His character is one of a few survivors from a bloody battle 8 years ago, and becomes determined to transform the ways of the world. Lu Wenzhao grovels in front of the powerful and endures acts of humiliation, only to be betrayed by the very cause he believed in. Lei Jiayin has the ability to truly inhabit his character, and it’s no exception when it comes to Pei Lun, the hot-blooded and righteous guard who eventually joins Shen Lian’s gang. All the characters are connected to Prince Xin, and Liu Duanduan perfectly captures the prince’s inner struggles as he is forced to sacrifice his loyal followers on the path to the top.
The female lead (Liu Shishi) from the first movie was a true flower vase who added nothing to the plot, and though I can’t say I’m that much more impressed with Yang Mi’s acting in this installment, her character is definitely more well-written. Rather than pine for a sweetheart who will probably never come to her rescue, she decides to take matters into her own hands.
Overall, the story could’ve been a little tighter, though Brotherhood of Blades II is still a clear stand out among the recent crop of Chinese films.