Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

If there was an example of a movie possessing way more style than substance, then Alexi Tan’s ‘Blood Brothers’ is certainly that film.  But because it was brimming with so much style and had such a high pedigree of production value, it’s almost reasonable to ignore the fact that the film is about as hollow as an empty egg shell.

Feng (Daniel Wu), Gang (Ye Liu) and Gang’s little brother Hu (Tony Yang) are three best friends living in a small town in rural China during the 1930’s.  Feng is pretty happy with his life in the small town with his baby sister, ailing mother and potential girlfriend, spartan though his life may be, but Gang who is the overpowering personality of the three believe they should head to Shanghai to find their fame and fortune.  In Shanghai the three young men struggle to make a living, dragging rickshaw carts around to make ends meet.  Eventually the ultra aggressive Gang manages to hook his two friends in a deal that involves stealing from a competitor of Boss Hong, Shanghai’s top gangster, but Feng wants nothing to do with it.  Circumstances however forces Feng’s hand and as such he finds himself waist deep in a game that he has no desire to play.

Along the way Feng also makes the acquaintance of Mark (Cheng Chang), Boss Hong’s main enforcer and younger brother.  He also finds himself embroiled in a slight love quadrangle with Boss Hong’s main moll Lulu (Shu Qi) who is the headliner at Boss Hongs Rainbow club where a lot of the exposition takes place.  However the gangster lifestyle is exactly what the ruthless Gang has been waiting for and he takes to it like a pig in slop, though his gentle younger brother needs alcohol to help deaden the pain of some of the things they have to do under the orders of Boss Hong.  Eventually Feng is asked to do something that he simply cannot do which places him at odds with his friend Gang and irreparably fractures the friendship of the three young men which will ultimately lead to a most gloriously violent shootout showdown leaving us wondering who will be the last man standing.

‘Blood Brothers’ seems to be an epic movie in look and feel with all of the epic story stuff weeded out.  As one watches the film you can’t helped but be amazed at all of the effort that went into the creating the spectacular sets, designing the clothes for the women as well as the men, the classic cars, the wonderful atmosphere and setting up the spectacular shootouts.  But as great as all of that peripheral stuff was there was seemingly nothing to support it.  Rarely would I ask for any movie to pad its running time, but considering how little service was given to the individual characters in ‘Blood Brothers’ and how little support was given to the actual story, beefing up the narrative would have helped this film immensely.

For instance very little background was given for our three young men heading to Shanghai, with the exception of Feng who we know has sick mom and likes a girl.  Gang does give a 30 second speech to his younger brother about what their lives may have been like back in the home town, but it was quite unsatisfying.  We won’t even begin to ponder the lives of Lulu and Mark who we guess are in love because it’s just something to do since Lulu comes off as a bit of a whore and Mark is just plain moody.  Probably the most egregious miscarriage of the narrative is that there is almost no arc from the young men being simple two-bit thugs to Gang eventually becoming the gangster King of Shanghai.  Whatever the transition that led to this ascension is basically left to the imagination as barely lip service is paid to it.

Oh but Alexi Tan sure knows how to shoot a pretty scene though.  The violence is brutally exquisite and shot with plenty of Woo-esque style, which shouldn’t surprise since John Woo served as a producer for the film.  Actress Shu Qi has never looked better, and that’s saying something indeed. Daniel Wu is certainly leading man material and Ye Liu makes one hell of an oppressive villain.  It’s just too bad that a film with this much good stuff in it and production values this high cut corners on probably the most important part of any story based art form, which happens to be the story itself.  Shame a rank amateur has to be the one to inform them of this.

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