Few actors can bring so much raw power to the screen as Tony Leung Chiu-wai does with long stares into the void as he smokes endless amounts of cigarettes. That’s what made his mark in Chinese cinema through the films of Wong Kar-wai, and director Cheng Er knows exactly how Leung can shy in Hidden Blade. He’s arguably the best part of the whole thing, an espionage thriller focusing on undercover Communist spies who infiltrate the Japanese army to obtain secret information that will cause their downfall.
Leung plays Director He, who oversees the entire operation. The story is presented through fragmented vignettes. Er will frequently show a brief moment of a character performing a small action and cut back to it several minutes later after the whole picture is revealed. It’s an exciting way to frame the film, but it’s not enough to cover that it is nothing but state-approved Chinese Communist propaganda.
Hidden Blade‘s Glorification of the Chinese Communist Party is Obvious
I don’t try to use the word “propaganda” in any reviews because it’s a word that has been weaponized by the right whenever they describe anything that is slightly progressive. However, Polybona films have produced propaganda through their “Chinese Victory” films. These include Chinese Doctors, which celebrates the Chinese frontline workers’ heroism during the COVID-19 pandemic, even if some of them were muzzled by the CCP for sounding the alarm on the virus before the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic, and the two-parter The Battle at Lake Changjin. Hidden Blade is another “Chinese Victory” film, making it part of an unofficial trilogy where the Communists emerged victorious, and the stereotypically evil Japanese got what they ultimately deserved.
One completely inane scene happens during the tail end of the movie, where a character asks another why he had to kill someone. He responds, “because she was a Communist.” The other character pulls out his gun, points it to the killer’s head, and says, “So am I.” Cut to black. As if it wasn’t apparent to anyone that you weren’t watching a state-approved film, Hidden Blade’s finale makes it obvious.
Tony Leung Chiu-wai is one of the greatest actors who ever graced the screen
Still, the movie does compellingly structure its story, but the script could be much better. Aside from Leung, there are heavily caricatured performances from Wang Yibo, Huang Lei, Hiroyuki Mori, and Da Peng. None of the actors can match the level of charm Leung can, but he’s in a class of his own. The way his glare can mean so many different emotions simultaneously is the stuff only a few actors have accomplished in the history of cinema and television (Shah Rukh Khan, James Gandolfini, Channing Tatum, Takashi Shimura, Cary Grant, to name just a few). Leung’s performance proves why his power as an actor remains unmatched, especially during the film’s thrilling one-on-one fight scene between him and Yibo.
It’s when Hidden Blade deftly picks up the pace after fragmented sequences filled with uninteresting dialogues. Quick action flourishes keep us on our toes, particularly a fight scene where Yibo topples Japanese soldiers in a hallway. Still, the most exciting setpieces start as a handgun fight until it transforms into a brawl that goes more intense as it progresses to its final moments. That sequence should’ve happened early in the movie to hold the audience’s attention. Instead, it happens too little too late and strolls to its non-eventful ending, revealing how it glorifies the Communists as the real heroes of the story.
Too bad it’s not as visually exciting as The Battle of Lake Changjin, which saw three of China’s best filmmakers, Tsui Hark, Chen Kaige, and Dante Lam, do propaganda with enough style to make it feel like a spectacle. Hidden Blade is no spectacle, but at least Tony Leung is in it, right? Right???
Hidden Blade is now playing in select theatres.
What did you think of Hidden Blade? What are your thoughts on Tony Leung as an actor? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to follow us on social media!