Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Brotherhood of Blades (绣春刀) (2014)

Once more, the Ming dynasty and its political intrigues are a big thing in Chinese film

On the ascension of the young Chongzhen Emperor, a once-powerful eunuch is removed from power and his faction is purged. Three sworn brothers, members of the secret police find themselves in a deadly political cross-fire when they are ordered to bring back his head, and are made several offers they cannot refuse...

While being the last native dynasty to rule China, the Ming is notorious for its frequent purges and coups and countercoups. The empire hosted not just one but three different secret police agencies (the Jingyiwei depicted in this film and the Eastern Depot and Western Depot) and three ruthless factions at each others’ throats—a notoriously corrupt eunuch faction (which came to its height under the leadership of Wei Zhongxian, a key figure in this film), a notoriously corrupt Confucianist faction under the Tunglin Academy, and the dynastic plotting of the empresses and their kinsmen.

It is easy to see the popular wuxia films of directors like King Hu in the Shaw Brothers stable as a critical commentary on the political paranoia and utter ruthlessness of palace intrigues in the communist regime and the Cultural Revolution, and not merely about the Ming dynasty.

But what of recent Ming dynasty revival in Chinese film? Brotherhood of Blades comes the closest to explaining the phenomenon and we are not surprised at its muted box office showing in China, as well as the apparent lack of advertising on home ground. The film recreates the Ming dynasty and its political culture not as a backdrop for moralistic lessons on heroism, chivalry, and righteousness in the face of political paranoia, but as a corrupt capital where just about everyone is on the take and the best one can aspire to is become rich and powerful enough to get out of town before they land themselves in a job (or scam) too big for their shoes or worse, become too successful they can’t be allowed to walk away from the table. And yes, almost every scene is set at night with bargains and threats conducted in shadows.

Lu Yang knows precisely what he’s doing and saying about the People’s Republic of China. Brotherhood of Blades takes the sworn brothers scenario from Shaw’s Blood Brothers, puts them into the Ming dynasty (as a proxy for modern China), and as a result, this is as close as you can get to a true world-weary and romantically cynical noir in wuxia clothing.

1 comment:

LP Hugo said...

I recently found out one of my reviews (from my blog Asian Film Strike) had been plagiarized by a guy named Marcello, on the website
Now, with some quick research I found out he apparently copied your review for Brotherhood of Blades as well :

If he did it with your approval, please ignore my comment and feel free to delete it. If not, I just thought you should know.
All the best