Well Go USA’s press pack for director Cheng Er’s latest film, Hidden Blade, partly states that he’s best known for keeping his audiences guessing. That he does, this time with a story set in the early 1940s with events chronicled before, and afterward, amid the Communist party’s campaign as it’s set against the backdrop of the invasion of imperial Japanese forces. The film weaves in its elements and characters from all angles, flashing forward in its efforts to set things in motion for the audience to begin following our main characters and learn more about them.
That process eventually begins to materialize a little more about a half-hour into the film where we’ve then come to acquaint ourselves with the likes of He (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), Ye (Wang Yibo), the sinister Captain Wang (Eric Wang), Tang (Da Peng) and Watanabe (Hiroyuki Mori), all members of a Japanese spy agency operating under the Wang puppet government working to flesh out the Communists. Things get much more complex at one point when back-door diplomacy reaches an imminent standstill once the bodies of a group of patrolling Japanese soldiers are discovered on a beach following a firefight with a Communist motorcade in the dark of night.
At this point, a number of smaller events have already occurred, like the changing hands of a list of Japanese agents operating in Shanghai between He, and a Communist agent named Ms. Chen (Zhou Xun), and little hints between He and Watanabe that lead the latter to quietly stare at him, almost as if to suspect something, including when told that an order of Dim Sum and a gun battle along the road caused him to be late for a meeting. About halfway into the film is when things begin to come full circle as the story focuses a little more on Ye and his travails, topped off with a few gunfights and fisticuffs, unraveling plot twists and major shockers all leading up to the top of the end credits.
Cheng’s Hidden Blade is as intricate, crackling and nimble a spy spectacle as you could expect, with pieces of the story placed consistently in areas timed almost brilliantly throughout the film’s progression. The first half is more of a slow-burn build in its development between character arcs, but Cheng never loses substance or energy in his agenda to tell a solid story, headlined by celebrated actor Leung who is now sixty and remains one of the most charismatic living faces of cinema today, and Wang, who emotes intensely as an agent working for the Japanese who we come to learn has problems of his own – such that leave you wondering just what exactly the depth was to his ongoing turmoil.
The action – which isn’t without its share of blood at times – takes on the extent of this in at least three key moments in Hidden Blade, including and not limited to the ballistic hand-to-hand scuffle between He and Ye in a heated battle of bullets and fists. Its culmination, in part, is a bloody finale that pays homage to both the film’s title with a nice little revenge tweak in its delivery, and sends a suitable nod from the film’s backing producers to their nation’s political apparatus, bookending the China Victory Trilogy that began in 2021. Jingoism aside, if darkly-lit noir thrillers with dapper players popping off and throwing hands amid unnerving mystique and suspense is your thing, Hidden Blade is as sharp as they come.
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Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.