Friday, April 03, 2015

Brotherhood of Blades, Yu Lang, 2014

Rather unexpectedly, this not all that elaborately produced mainland Martial Arts adventure feels like a throwback to the Chang Cheh films from his "Five Deadly Venoms" days. Not only because of its crude and brutal approach to action scenes (they do feel like live action comic strips - but only because of their clever use of blood fountains gushing concicely across the screen), but also and even more so because of its insistence on taking its own pulpy plot mechanics seriously. As this alone clearly doesn't make a film worthwhile these days (with mainstream cinema being literally littered in pulp and seriousness), it should be put another way: the film doesn't take its own plot seriously despite its being pulpy (Nolan et al), and it also doesn't takes its own plot seriously because of its pulpiness (Avengers et al), but it takes its own plot seriously as pulp.

The director really seems to enjoy this stuff: pitching his three main characters - assassins that form some kind of SWAT team for some invisible emperor - at first against the rest of the world and later against each other; slowly revealing their past, their secrets, their love life; therby turning them slowly into larger than life versions of themselves.

Another link to Chang Cheh: "Brotherhood of Blades" isn't embarassed of the studio set it is obviously filmed in. Yu Lang puts the strange kind of rugged artificiality, that only a studio set can offer (everything is fake and makeshift, but still tangible), to good use. Even the obvious limitations of the set play along well with the equally obvious limitations in the mindsets of all characters.

Unfortunately, the last half hour feels rather overblown. In the end, "Brotherhood of Blades" isn't a really great film, but one that strongly suggests, that contemporary chinese cinema leaves much to discover besides (or rather: between) the blockbusters and its recent festival successes.

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