Wuxia movie heroes are typically driven by codes of honour and justice, which can make them a little one-dimensional. The protagonists here, however, are anti-heroes, a trio of underground Ming dynasty palace assassins driven by a thirst for money and status.
No one, not even Taiwanese heart-throb Chang Chen, is obviously good or bad, which makes the characters so much more believable and the story perpetually suspenseful as it keeps you guessing their fates right to the end.
Immediately after a new emperor takes over the Ming dynasty court, he orders the downfall of eunuch Wei and his supporters, a group who wielded much power under the previous ruler.
Three palace assassins - sworn brothers (from left) Yichuan (Li Dongxue), Jianxing (Wang Qianyuan) and Shen Lian (Chang Chen) - are tasked to kill them. Drama aside, the wuxia action sequences - choreographed by Lin Sang (Red Cliff, 2009) - are truly satisfying to watch, crucially without the aid of lavish visual effects or fanciful weaponry.
Good old-fashioned swordplay takes centre stage here in a series of intense battles where every swish of the blade is deliciously pronounced - and, more importantly, the requisite cheesy romance is kept to a minimum.
This article was first published on October 24, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.