|Available at Amazon.com|
In 1930s China, Fung (Daniel Wu) and two brothers Kang and Hu lead a quaint life in their hometown village. But with dreams of finding a better life, the naive trio head off to Shanghai with visions of success and wealth. There, Kang gets a job as a waiter in the Paradise Club, while Fung and Hu pull rickshaws. When Boss Hong, a shady movie producer who runs the Paradise, is caught up in a gang turf war, he sends Kang on a mission to rob a rival boss, who in turn brings along Fung and Hu.
Before the three friends realize it, they are swept up into Hong’s gang and turn to a life of crime and murder. Kang, a natural fighter, rises through the ranks quickly gaining power and respect. Hu, on the other hand, is unable to deal with the situation and turns to the bottle. Meanwhile, Fung becomes infatuated with LuLu, the club’s main entertainment attraction, who also happens to be Boss Hong’s girl. The pressure of the criminal underworld takes its toll on the trio’s friendship, but when Chen orders them to murder LuLu (Shu Qi) who has been having an affair, they will be forced to choose sides that will forever sever their bond.
Producer John Woo flexes his money muscle with this, the first Asian production he’s been associated with since 1992 as he returns to his roots and gives Alexi Tan his feature-length directorial debut. Woo’s “influence” is further felt as Tan, who also co-wrote the movie, readily admits that 1990’s Bullet In The Head played a heavy role with his movie’s themes of brotherhood and betrayal.
While Alexi’s plot, along with first time co-writers Dan Jiang and Tony Chan, in of itself is nothing special and often times does feel like an homage to better films of the past. However, their choice to make it a period piece and set the film in 1930’s Shanghai is a bold move that makes watching the movie a lot better than it has any right to be. The production design, which appears to use a combination of natural settings and huge indoor set pieces, is nothing short of spectacular and, aside from the final shootout, is the most compelling element of the film. Costume design is perfectly spot on, and you can almost taste the cigarette smoke in air as the warmth of the jazz soundtrack flows from the speakers. Think the opening sequence to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or the Coen brothers’ movie Miller’s Crossing with a Chinese cast.
Daniel Wu, who takes on the film’s lead as Fung, provides a rather melodramatic performance as the most conflicted of the trio. Shu Qi, who appears to have permanently returned to Hong Kong and China after a brief stint in America, is simply stunning as LuLu, and made all the more gorgeous by the gorgeous dresses and outfits she’s given. The pair try to find a screen chemistry that never quite connects, and while key to the plot, their relationship is one of the weaker pieces of the film.
Tan, whose debut here promises of better things to come once he has gained some more experience, gives his audience little bursts of action during the heavily weighted drama as he sets up all of his chess pieces with precision for the final confrontation. Tan certainly has Woo’s past bullet ballets in mind mentally though not necessarily in execution, for there is little flair here just simply the unloading of bullets into one body after another. Still, the final battle, which makes its way through the labyrinth of the Paradise Club, is a satisfying release of energy and gunplay that the audience has been waiting for during the entire running time, and gives one last needed injection of heroic bloodshed into the picture to properly close out on.
The DVD contains an anamorphic widescreen transfer which pushes the black, brown and grey hues in the picture. Included is the original Mandarin soundtrack in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Stereo (the packaging incorrectly states there it is an English soundtrack) as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
Trailer – The US trailer for Blood Brothers
Previews – Trailers for other movies released by First Look Studios
Alexi Tan’s debut is a solid film where the incredible sets and costumes help to smooth over a few flaws in forced plot points and acting, and of course there is nothing quite like a shootout filled with men in three-piece suits and fedora hats, which Tan properly delivers.
First Look Studios presents Blood Brothers. Directed by Alexi Tan. Starring Daniel Wu, Shu Qi, Tony Yang, Sun Hong-Lei, Chang Chen. Written by Alexi Tan, Dan Jiang, Tony Chan. Running time: 95 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: July 8, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.