Hidden Blade is a dark and intense espionage thriller set in China during World War II, known in China as the War of Resistance, as China fought against an invading Japan. Our main protagonists are members of the Political Security Department in Shanghai, a counterespionage division working on behalf of the Japanese puppet government.
Our three main characters are He (Tony Leung), the director of the Political Security Department, Mr. Ye ( Wang Yibo), a subordinate of Director He’s, and Officer Watanabe (Mori Hiroyuki), the Japanese official overseeing the PSD in Shanghai.
The film is told in a series of non-chronological vignettes, starting as early as the final bombing of Guangzhou in 1938 and ending approximately year after Japan surrendered. The non-linear narrative made it difficult for me to really follow the story, but I believe that was the point. It’s an espionage film; it’s meant to be confusing. You aren’t supposed to know who to trust.
We would be shown a scene early in the film and have no context for what we were seeing. Only at the end of the film, when you see how and where that scene fits in the timeline, do you truly understand. It was honestly frustrating while I was watching, but once I realized how everything tied together, I appreciated the disjointed narrative more. I don’t think I would have been quite as engaged if I knew from the beginning who was on which side.
I’ve been excited about this movie for ages, and I didn’t even think it would hit theaters in the United States. Aside from the fact that it stars Wang Yibo (if you remember, I’m working on watching his entire filmography), his co-star is Tony Leung, so you know that this was going to be an amazing film.
Leung is fantastic in his role as He. He’s very stoic…until he’s not. He comes across as a very calm presence, but he exudes an aura that signals that you would not want to cross him, or meet him in a dark alley. I’m no longer surprised by Wang’s acting chops after the masterpiece that was Luoyang, but the duality of his character was so perfect. He bounces between extremes so quickly that I nearly got whiplash. And it’s his character arc that really ties the whole film together.
This movie is not for the faint of heart. Japan’s treatment of China during this time period was horrible, to the point that modern-day citizens of China can be ostracized for visiting certain temples in Japan. While the focus of the film is more on the actions of the Chinese government and spy organizations, it does not overlook Japan’s actions. There is a particularly traumatizing scene featuring a bunch of miners that was difficult to watch.
While Hidden Blade doesn’t shy away from violence, it isn’t, at heart, an action movie. It’s a spy thriller. There is a lot of talking, and a few scenes whose tone seems discordant with the rest of the film. Threads start unraveling, and you have to follow them to see where they end. However, there is a fantastically choreographed fight scene near the end featuring Wang and Leung during which my heart stopped. It’s brutal, but it’s so well done.
I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone who loves spy films. If that’s not your cup of tea, you might find it mostly boring with it’s over two-hour runtime. I will admit that there were moments when I checked my watch, wondering how much longer there was, but the acting is top-notch and I really loved the ominousness of the score. In my opinion, it was worth it.
Hidden Blade was released in Chinese theaters on January 22 and American theaters on February 17. It is currently playing in limited release in the United States.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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