Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield brings together the same creative team that put the first film of the series, Brotherhood of Blades (FEFF 2015), on the big screen, and like the previous film, it portrays a credible version of life in the palaces and on the battlefields during the Ming dynasty, with characters and situations that do however call to mind contemporary China. Only two members of the original film show up in this follow-up: Chang Chen as Shen Lian, the main character of the film, and Jin Shijie as the eunuch Wei.
The film, set in 1627, is a prequel to the first outing, and describes the ascent to the throne of the young emperor who, in the first Brotherhood, wanted to rid himself of the powerful Wei, an historical figure who turns up in many wuxia genre stories. The story once again revolves around Shen Lian – a member of the jinyiwei, the secret military crack team – who finds himself having to overturn a plot by rebels who want to free the imperial palace of the moral rot that has set in there. The rebels call themselves Donglin, and are led by Lu Wenzhou, an official whose life Shen Lian saved eight years previously on the battle field; so one of the recurring themes in the film is the emotional pendulum between personal gratitude and the lack of honour in the palace – exemplified when Lu Wenzhao, who Shen Lian believes to be a friend and ally, replies to him: “At my age, friendship and personal integrity have almost run out.” The conflict between personal loyalty and group loyalty also surfaces for Shen Lian when he meets one of the rebels, the young female painter Bei Zhai who joined Donglin because when she was a little girl she saw her father, a poet, being tortured after having been accused of writing derogatory poems about the eunuch Wei. The obvious attraction between the two – despite being enemies on the battle field – is one of the recurring themes of the film, and seems a prelude to further developments in future films; considering the fact that the second film’s box-office takings were significantly higher than the first one, it is inevitable to think that the series will continue; at this point, it is worth noting that both Brotherhood I and II have original screenplays, rather than ones based on wuxia novels.
The other conflict, one of the fundamental elements of the film and one which brings to mind the atmosphere of contemporary thrillers, is the one between the various jinyiwei squads, and how career ambitions lead them to constantly try to outdo each other. The story begins with an investigation into the assassination of a eunuch working for Wei, started by the Northern Bureau of jinyiwei headed by Shen Lian, but immediately jeopardized by the arrival on the scene of the crime of another team that tries to take over the situation. Pei Lun, an official from the Southern Bureau, ends up investigating Shen Lian himself for the death of a jinyiwei who tried to rape Bei Zhai; he then goes on to become an ally of Shen Lian’s when they find themselves facing hostile forces bigger than the both of them who try to manipulate personal conflicts, discipline and loyalties to the imperial hierarchy in a power struggle.
Like in the first film, the appearance of a firearm comes about to underline the corruption of the system and the betrayal not only of loyalty to the empire, but also personal ones: sword fights are replaced by the use of guns, which require no skill or courage. So the sense of brotherhood implied by the title of the films is destroyed by the advent of firearms, and it could be a metaphor for how the use of increasingly sophisticated technology in contemporary society progressively erodes the individual’s control of their own destiny. We find other analogies with the present in the film, especially in the words of the young idealist, Bei Zhai, who laments the persecution of those who express anti-regime opinions, when she exclaims how she hopes one day freedom of expression will be guaranteed to all. But the film is above all a costume thriller which successfully blends well-choreographed action scenes, intelligent dialogue and a good sprinkling of romance and suggestive atmospheres.
Lu Yang (1979, Beijing), an engineering graduate, he then went on to graduate in film directing from the Beijing Film Academy (2008), studying under Tian Zhuangzhuang. He began his career by scripting short films and TV series for Phoenix Television. His first feature film, My Spectacular Theatre (2010), about a cinema for the blind, was well received on the festival circuit, while his second film, a road-movie called A Motor Home Adventure (2012), didn’t manage to get big screen distribution.
His next two films, the ones so far making up the Brotherhood of Blades series, have been huge critical and public successes.
2012 – My Spectacular Theatre
2012 – A Motor Home Adventure
2014 – Brotherhood of Blades
2017 – Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield