After watching the Chinese film Brotherhood of the Blades, I was inspired to write a movie recap. Even as a Chinese, I found it a little difficult to follow the story in the beginning. To help viewers understand this movie better, I made this as detailed as possible.
Chinese names can be confusing and there are many names in this film. To clear up the confusion, I will try to add reminders here and there about who the character is. I have thought of using only surnames* all throughout the article, but some surnames sound alike. So what I did here is I used whichever sounds easier to identify. Also, some names have been completely replaced by an adjective (e.g. Pudgy Man instead of Zhang Ying) to make it easier for you. I hope you won't mind the name changes.
So here it is, the film recap of Brotherhood of the Blades.
*Unlike in the West, Chinese surnames come first before the given names. A typical Chinese name consists of a surname, which is usually one character (such as Lu), and a two-character given name (Jin Xiang). However, there are also names with only two characters (e.g. Shen Lian, with Shen being his surname).
The story starts with two guards patrolling at night. They bump into Shen Lian and his men. Upon seeing Shen's Spring Blade (I'm not talking about the Adidas shoes), which signifies his imperial position, the duo run away in fear. Shen's group proceeds to infiltrate the house where a wanted court official is hiding. The official escapes but Shen manages to catch him with Jin Yi Chuan and Lu Jian Xing's help. It is revealed that the three are sworn brothers based on how they address each other. When Jian Xing, the oldest among them, is out of earshot, Shen gives Yi Chuan a couple of taels.
The scene switches to a courtesan house and the camera focuses on a wooden block with a name written on it - Zhou Miao Tong. Miao Tong is a beautiful courtesan whom Shen Lian frequents to. He never sleeps with her and merely wants her company. He tells her that he will one day save enough money to pay off her debts and bring her out. He is apparently in love with her.
Meanwhile, Yi Chuan secretly runs to a place and meets a roughneck whom he calls Shi Xiong (senior). He hands him the taels from Shen. Ding Xiu, the roughneck, is not satisfied and threatens to reveal Yi Chuan's dark past if he doesn't give him 100 taels within three days. The two fight, but Yi Chuan is overpowered by his senior.
The next morning, Jian Xing reports to his superior Zhang Ying, a pudgy man who seems to treat him like a dirt. Jian Xing stammers about his promised promotion, which the pudgy man brushes off. He asks for more bribery to make the promotion possible.
Zhao Jing Zhong arrives and asks for Jian Xing and his brothers. In a private room, he tells them to assassinate Eunuch Wei Zhong Xian as per the emperor's request. When asked why he chooses them, he says with their looks, it's impossible for them to be members of the Clique.
The brothers arrive at the inn where Wei is staying. As Jian Xing suggests, they agree to act alone, believing that Zhang Ying is jealous and might have placed a mole among their men.
The inn is well-guarded. The three is seen by Wei's female bodyguard (Wei Ting). She commands her men to kill the assassins. As they fight their way in, Shen manages to get in alone and finds crazy-looking Wei with his manservant. Wei tells Shen that the emperor wants him dead to get his fortune because the emperor badly needs money for his armies. He gives Shen a choice - either to kill him and be killed by his loyal followers, or spare him and get his taels of gold. As they talk, the manservant tries to kill Wei, revealing that he is sent by someone to assassinate the eunuch. The servant throws his knife at Wei and the screen goes black. We don't see who gets killed.
While Jian Xing and Yi Chuan is exhausted and is barely winning, Shen emerges from the house to announce that Wei is dead and throws his tablet to the ground (the tablet is like an ID in ancient China). Wei's female bodyguard looks devastated.
The brothers go back to the city to report to Jing Zhong. The new Grand Secretary of Cabinet Han Kuang examines the body. Since the corpse is badly burnt, Han is doubtful about its identity. Jing Zhong looks more closely at the corpse and seems to realize that it's not Wei.
Yi Chuan sees a doctor and can't seem to stop staring at the daughter Zhang Yan. Zhang Yan seems to like Yi Chuan back too. Before he leaves, she runs after him and hands him a small bag containing herbal medicines for his cough.
Jing Zhong goes alone to a secluded hut. He is blocked by some men, who let him in after seeing his tablet. Wei reveals himself to Jing Zhong, who then calls him "godfather." Jing Zhong a.k.a. Adopted Son tells him that Han suspects that the corpse is not Wei and as the leader of the secret police, it will make him look bad once the truth comes out. Wei tells him to kill Shen Lian to silence him forever.
Shen enters the courtesan house. He takes out a money bill, which apparently comes from Wei, and rehearses his dialogue to Miao Tong: "Use this money to buy your freedom and come to Suzhou with me." Although no words of love is mentioned, this is actually a love confession.
He hears people coming and overhears Miao Tong talking to a man (Yan Jun Bin) lovingly. Clearly, the two are lovers. She tells him how she wishes that it is him who will buy her freedom. The lover says he has almost saved enough and he will take her to a beautiful place soon. The two embrace as the heartbroken Shen leaves.
The three brothers are drinking at home when they notice someone (Wei Ting, the female bodyguard) spying on their roof. She runs while another person jumps from the wall and pushes bamboos at them, giving Wei Ting and himself more time to escape. The man is stabbed in the hand before he disappears in the dark. The three realize that they are in danger and can no longer stay in the capital. Shen Lian, the only one who knows that Wei is actually alive, realizes that the eunuch wants revenge. He suggests to his brothers to have them transferred to Nanjing. Seeing Shen's being afraid for the first time piques Jian Xing's curiosity and makes him wonder whether or not Wei is really dead. Jian Xing decides to stay and see how things turn out.
It turns out that the stabbed man is Jing Zhong. He reprimands Wei Ting for acting on her own. He tells her he has a plan and writes something on a piece of paper.
The next morning, Pudgy Man announces to his men that they are going to the residence of a certain Yan Pei Wei to arrest him for allegedly being a member of the Clique.
We go back to the scene of Jing Zhong telling Wei Ting, "When you kill someone, it's essential not to leave a trace."
Outside the Yan residence, the men stand before the gate. Pudgy Man lures the three brothers to go inside by saying whoever arrests Yan will get a promotion. While Shen suspects something is not right, the promise of getting a promotion is enough to lure Jian Xing. The two younger brothers follow him.
At the gate, they are met by Yan Jun Bin, the son of the elder Yan. Shen recognizes him as Miao Tong's secret lover. Jian Xing shows Jun Bin the mandate, telling him that his father needs to come with them for questioning. The younger Yan (let's call him Secret Lover) leads them in after glancing at Pudgy Man. After the gate is closed, Secret Lover signals his men to attack the three brothers. The elder Yan comes out and stops his son, telling him that attacking the imperial assassins is a rebellion. He reassures his son that he will come back soon since he is innocent, before an arrow from outside the gate shoots straight to his heart.
(Note: This is Adopted Son's doing. Yan Pei Wei is innocent, but he wants the three brothers to get killed by Yan's men, who are all known as the "Golden Swords" and are very skilled fighters.)
Fighting ensues. With only the three of them against Yan's many skilled fighters, the assassins send a signal to ask for help, which of course, is ignored by Pudgy Man. Pudgy Man commands his men to seal the gate. The three are now trapped and have to fight for their lives.
The three brothers manage to kill several of Yan's men. Secret Lover is enraged and attacks Yi Chuan. Shen comes to his rescue by cutting off Secret Lover's hand. He drops to his knees, mumbling, "What did the Yan family do wrong?"
After hearing no sounds from the inside, Pudgy Man has his men open the gate. He almost falls from his horse when he sees Jian Xing, Yi Chuan, and Shen still standing and having killed all the Golden Swords. Adopted Son, who has been watching from afar in his sedan chair, leaves. Yi Chuan sees his sedan chair.
Pudgy Man runs to his office and curses before Shen comes out and pins him to a chair. With his blade against Pudgy Man's neck, Shen tells him to send himself and his two brothers to Nanjing for safety and to give Jian Xing his much-deserved promotion. Shen hands the frightened official 300 taels to seal the deal.
Yi Chuan goes back to the doctor while Zhang Yan is pleased to see her gift tied to his belt. After the check-up, Yi Chuan smiles as he smells Zhang Yan's medicine. A hand taps his shoulder and it is Ding Xiu (the roughneck), ready to collect his taels. Shen comes to his rescue and hands him the promised money.
The three brothers are invited to a party thrown by Han, the official who doubts the corpse's identity. Han calls out to Jian Xing and tells him to sit with him. He then announces his promotion, which Jian Xing gleefully accepts. Then he embarrasses him by talking loudly about how Jian Xing bribes his way to his promotion. Pudgy Man smirks as Shen throws a glance at him. The puzzled Jian Xing knows nothing about the bribery and looks back at Shen. Adopted Son, who is also at the party, tells Jian Xing not to leave for Nanjing as people like him is needed by the Imperial Court. Apparently, this is a trap to make them stay and have Adopted Son murder them. The performance starts and Yi Chuan spots Ding Xiu the roughneck, who disguises himself as one of the flute players. Han announces that an autopsy on Wei will be made in three days, after which he will declare that the Clique has already fallen.
Roughneck and Yi Chuan meet privately. Believing that the three brothers have made a fortune, Roughneck also wants to get his share. Adopted Son arrives and eyes Roughneck curiously before attacking him. It's a tie and Adopted Son complements Roughneck's fighting skill. Yi Chuan sees his wound which the former quickly hides.
Jian Xing confronts Shen about his newfound fortune. Shen drops to his knees before he tells them the truth: Wei is still alive. The two realize that all their troubles are caused by Wei. Yi Chuan believes that Adopted Son has ties with Wei and tells them about the wound.
Back in Wei's hiding place, Adopted Son asks his godfather to lend him some of his guards. He promises to kill the three Imperial Assassins before the autopsy is performed. Wei tells him to leave the capital with him, and we see Adopted Son not happy with the invitation. Although Wei thinks that the odds are against Adopted Son's favor, he lets him gamble.
The three decide to leave the capital and live a peaceful life in Nanjing. They are to leave separately on the next day before nightfall.
Adopted Son proceeds to his murder plan. He goes to Roughneck and hires him to assassinate Yi Chuan.
Yi Chuan goes to Zhang Yan to see her one last time. The girl is upset about his leaving. She runs after him but is then interrupted by Roughneck who is posing as a patient.
Miao Tong (the courtesan) comes to see Shen. He tells Miao Tong that he is buying her freedom and invites her to go with him. She says she comes to ask for a big favor - to help Secret Lover get out of jail. She promises that if he gets him out, she will go with Shen. She hands him a letter for Secret Lover.
Secret Lover is being tortured by the imperial guards when Shen arrives. He bribes them and tells them to leave. He quickly removes the chains from the heavily injured Secret Lover as he introduced himself as Miao Tong's friend. He takes out the letter but Secret Lover asks him to read it for him since he is already blind. The letter tells him to stay strong and that she will wait for him to bring her to a beautiful place, as he promised earlier.
Back at the three brother's home, Yi Chuan, with Miao Tong, is waiting for Shen when a boy delivers a threatening message from Roughneck.
Han prepares to go to the hospital for the autopsy. Shen hurries and tells himself that there is still time.
Yi Chuan runs to the doctor's home. Meanwhile, Jian Xing, clad in his new uniform, tells his men to go someplace with him. Adopted Son orders Wei Ting (the female bodyguard) to make her move. Shen goes to the courtesan house to pay off Miao Tong's debt.
Yi Chuan arrives at the doctor's home and finds him dead. Roughneck comes out with the unconscious Zhang Yan in his arms. He throws her at Yi Chuan. Roughneck provokes him by suggesting that he has raped Zhang Yan.
Back at the courtesan house, Shen comes to pick up Miao Tong, but she sees that Secret Lover is not with him. Welling up with tears, she asks for her lover. We go back to the prison scene where the half-dead Secret Lover asks Shen to kill him. Miao Tong is devastated. She tells Shen that she still remembers him, the imperial assassin who arrested his father when she was 12 and the reason why she is a courtesan. She tells him she is scared of him and doesn't like him at all. She says she doesn't know whether to hate him or to be grateful to him. Then, she asks, "Are you still taking me with you?" As if on cue, several arrows are coming their way. Shen pulls Miao Tong to safety and attacks the ambushers.
At the hospital, a man reports to Han that the bones are too young to be Wei's. He smirks as he looks at the bones.
Jian Xing has killed Wei's men while Wei Ting is heavily injured. Pudgy Man and his men arrive and kill Wei Ting before arresting Jian Xing.
Shen finishes off the attackers and realizes that Miao Tong is injured. Adopted Son arrives and the two have a one-on-one battle. Shen is stabbed while trying to protect Miao Tong. Nevertheless, he overpowers Adopted Son and kicks him to the stairs. Limply, Shen carries Miao Tong out of the courtesan house.
Seemingly moved, Miao Tong takes out a handkerchief and covers Shen's wound. It starts to snow.
Yi Chuan is unable to defeat Roughneck, who is much more powerful than him. Roughneck beats him to the ground and tells him that he hasn't touched the girl. He is about to finish him off when he hesitates and murmurs that he will be left alone if he kills him. Several masked men arrive and are about to shoot Roughneck when Yi Chuan pushes him away. He is shot.
Jian Xing is brought before the emperor. He admits that he is the one who let go of Wei and he is not working with anyone else. He is brought to his prison cell. The emperor doesn't want to lose any more of his men, so he ordered to have Jian Xing killed before he spills out more names. He asks Han where Adopted Son is, to which he replies, "He disappeared."
At Wei's hut, Adopted Son throws a torch at the fatally wounded Wei.
Shen arrives at the doctor's place and cries over Yi Chuan's body.
Jian Xing is publicly executed as Shen watches from the audience.
Two months later, Adopted Son and his men arrive at the war zone at North Frontier. He looks back and sees a man who has been following him for two weeks.
Hiding up a tree, Adopted Son points a rifle at his stalker when someone attacks him from behind - Shen. The stalker removes his conical hat, revealing himself as Roughneck. It turns out that Shen and Roughneck have worked together to avenge Yi Chuan and Jian Xing. Shen tells him that he will not give up until he kills him. Adopted Son reveals that the emperor never orders them to kill Wei. It is him who wants Wei dead from the beginning.
The Manchus, the rebels who are harassing the Chinese border, arrive on horses. The leader asks who among them is Commander Li Yong Fang's friend, after which Adopted Son shouts his name and removes his hat, showing himself wearing a queue (a hairstyle) which signifies his allegiance to them. He yells that the two Han Chinese men, referring to Shen and Roughneck, are enemies. Roughneck single-handedly attack the Manchus, while Shen has a one-on-one fight with Adopted Son.
Shen seems to be losing and is stabbed twice. He asks why he chose them, to which Adopted Son replies, "You three are worthless and no one would care." Shen grabs his sword from the ground and thrusts it through Adopted Son's body. Adopted Son dies. Shen looks at Roughneck, who is safe but exhausted from killing all the Manchus.
Roughneck gives Shen directions to a place in Suzhou where Miao Tong and Zhang Yan are staying. Shen thanks him before the two part ways.
On his way to Suzhou, Shen imagines his brothers alongside him.