‘Hidden Blade’ Review: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Tony Leung stars as a spy chief during a shadowy period in midcentury China, when nationalists, communists and imperialists vied for power and souls.

Send any friend a story

As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.

By Austin Considine

When you purchase a ticket for an independently reviewed film through our site, we earn an affiliate commission.

History’s shadow is long; so is the shadow of Tony Leung’s cigarette, which few other images in modern Chinese (Hong Kong) cinema can rival for iconographic force. To picture him smoking is to conjure an entire world of feeling — the aesthetic ecstasy of Wong Kar-wai distilled into a single vision. Perhaps only Bruce Lee’s fist or the Cheongsam sway of another Wong favorite, Maggie Cheung, compare.

Like many a neo-noirist, Cheng Er thrives in these shadows. They define his latest film, “Hidden Blade,” a puzzle-box action-thriller set amid the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), during which communists, Chinese nationalists, Japanese imperialists and collaborators vied for power and souls: shadow warfare; shadow governments; and yes, a lot of deep-shadow photography of Leung, who plays a spy chief, looking amazing while smoking. (Then there is the shadow of Chinese communism, which raises tricky questions about the film’s politics.)

Impeccably coifed and suited, with his sad smile and careful manners, the simmering, mesmerizing Wang Yibo, who plays a young spy-assassin protégée (of whom, exactly, is a central question), is like a mirror to Leung from decades ago. That sense of homage appears deliberate; it serves the story in ways that aren’t merely meta-textual, and Cheng clearly honors the immense talent and cinematic history at his disposal.

But however crisp and stylishly executed, the parts don’t quite add up to a satisfying whole. The women characters (led by Zhou Xun) are thinly drawn, and Cheng’s love for puzzle-plotting leads too often to confusion, with too little payoff for all that time wandering the darkness. Still, I could have watched the actors smoke (and cry, and bleed) in midcentury Shanghai’s sumptuous back rooms all day.

Hidden Blade
Not rated. In Mandarin, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 8 minutes. In theaters.

Site Index

Site Information Navigation

Source: Read Full Article