Review by Cole Groth
The release of 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings brought Tony Leung to prominence in Hollywood. Most notably starring in Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s incredible filmography, Leung is one of Asia’s most talented actors, and he brings his A-game to Hidden Blade, a Chinese World War II spy thriller. While the overlong pacing and the somewhat confusing plot don’t make it an accessible watch, fans of foreign films will find this to be worthwhile.
Hidden Blade is the third film in a trilogy meant to celebrate China’s military victories. While this trilogy is mainly meant as propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party, there’s much technical merit to be found within it. Here, we follow a group of Chinese spies who infiltrate the Japanese government in World War II. As tensions rise, the spies must navigate increasingly intense conditions to turn the war against the Axis powers.
As far as Chinese propaganda goes, this is potentially one that Americans could agree with because their efforts were helpful in the defeat of Japan. However, this film doesn’t do much to emphasize the war efforts of other countries besides Japan, keeping it centered on the two Asian countries without focusing on the rest of the world. It’s an odd decision; without much historical knowledge, most viewers will be lost on exactly what’s happening. This is catered to a different audience, but the writers didn’t consider that other perspectives could watch this movie and maybe learn something.
The technical merits previously mentioned include excellent set design, fantastic action sequences, and strong acting, mainly by Leung. Director Cheng Er puts us into the 1940s with ease, and each location feels like a genuine relic of that time. He understands how to direct violent, gritty, and realistic-feeling action sequences very well. It reminds me of The Courier, an excellent British thriller released in 2021.
Espionage thrillers rely on snappy writing and tense sequences to keep the audience on their toes, and Hidden Blade does a reasonably good job at that. The action sequences keep the tensions high, but certain characters aren’t written very well, and it’s hard to follow who exactly is good and who is bad. Again, coming from an outside perspective, this is an issue with it being a Chinese production. The difference between the Allies and the Axis powers is apparent in American war films. Here, the Japanese are portrayed in a way that confused me about whom I was watching. The sets will go from China to Japan with very few differences.
While it’s somewhat hard to follow, Hidden Blade is pretty solid all around from a cinematic perspective. It’s rather thrilling and tense and has a few fun twists and turns. If you have prior historical knowledge and are interested in the history of China, this could be an accurate representation of their history. Although I can’t comment on the historical accuracy, I can say that this was at least a pretty darn good work of fiction and reminded me of why I like spy thrillers so much.
Hidden Blade releases in select theaters starting February 17.