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Original Title:
Tian Tang Kou

Hong Kong 2007

Crime, Drama

Alexi Tan

Daniel Wu
Liu Ye
Tony Yang
Chang Chen
Shu Qi
Sun Hong-lei
Li Lulu
Jack Gao

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Blood Brothers

Story: Kang (Liu Ye), Hu (Tony Yang) and Fung (Daniel Wu) are very close friends, who even consider themselves brothers. Kang wants to leave his village and make it big in Shanghai. Although there is already a girl (Li Lulu) in the village, Fung is interested in, the three decide to leave for Shanghai together. It doesn't take long and Kang can introduce his two friends to the owner of "Paradise" club, Boss Hong (Sun Hong-lei). Hong has his hands in illegal business and assigns a job to Kang, Hu and Fung. They are supposed to steal weapons of a rivalling gang boss. When Fung finds out what job he was hired for, he wants to drop out. But it's already too late for that. In order to save his friends he even has to kill a bunch of gangsters...
While Kang climbs the ladder within the organisation astonishingly fast and shocks his friends with his cold-bloodedness, Hu turns to alcohol as his new friend, whereas Fung seeks the company of singer Lulu (Shu Qi). However, Lulu is the girlfriend of boss Hong, and also has a lover in shape of Mark (Chang Chen), who is the right hand of Hong. Hong eventually finds out about Lulu's affair, and entrusts his three subordinates to eliminate her and Mark. For Kang, Hu and Fung this means that they finally have to show colors. The friendships seems about to be drowning in a pool of blood and betrayal...

Review: "Blood Brothers" is a movie about brotherhood, honor and betrayal. If you find the story to be familiar, then you won't be surprised to hear, that the movie is more or less a remake of John Woo's "Bullet in the Head". His story gets transfered into Shanghai's 30s, which is why Alexi Tan's movie also oftentimes reminds us a bit of "Shanghai Grand". Partly, because the film was apparenty shot at the same studio, too. In the end, this crime-drama, produced by no one else than John Woo himself, sadly proves to be a disappointing viewing experience, especially when you take into account the great expectations for this movie risen by the impressive list of popular actors involved into the making of this flick. The reason for the movie's failure lies within a jumpy script, badly written characters and a very cold distance that is created towards the events on screen.

Although, the film's motives, as the already mentioned brotherhood and betrayal, are very appealing to a true Hong Kong cinema fan, "Blood Brothers" misses to provide us with anything substantial. The drama's motives are the only things we can relate to, because apart from that, there are many incomprehensible cuts in story evolvement, and actions by the protagonists we just can't find any logic in. And this really spoils entertainment.
Actually, you will find yourself asking lots of questions during the movie. Where exactly have we been when the three friends suddenly got so much influence in the organisation? Sure, they snatched some arms for their boss, but that's all you need to do to become the next candidate for Hong's right hand? The change of Kang to a merciless villian is also depicted in a very bumpy manner. Furthermore, you always have to wonder about Fung's level of intelligence. He doesn't want to be involved into the doings of a criminal organisation, but then again apparently falls in love with the girlfriend of a gangster boss, and even more odd helps a killer, who runs into him from head to toe covered in blood, pointing a gun at his head. Of course, this just can't head for a Happy End.

The biggest problem "Blood Brothers" has are its protagonists. The movie should had been heavily relying on its characters, yet that's exactly where the most flaws can be pinpointed. Granted, clocking in at a running time of 90 minutes, there may not have been enough time to dive into the depths of the characters, but to see just a little bit of them really would have helped the movie a lot. There are lots of popular actors the director could get on board, and yet he doesn't know how to make use of any of them. For example take Chang Chen ("Silk", "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), who takes on a surprisingly unspectacular role as a killler, which means he more or less plays Simon Yam's character of the original. He may have some scenes, in which he looks pretty cool, but that's it already.
Shu Qi ("My Wife is a Gangster 3", "So Close") plays a singer, who can't get out of the grip of her boss/boyfriend Hong, and hopes to find help from Mark. So, why exactly does she willingly flirt with Fung? Moreover, Fung's moves towards her are also not easy to understand, as he already has a beautiful girlfriend, played by Li Lulu, waiting for him at his home town.
Tony Yang embodies Kang's younger brother, who only joins the organisation out of commitment and love for his brother, even though he actually doesn't like what they are doing. Which is why he becomes an alcoholic and staggers across the stage completely wasted and apathic most of the time.

Salvation on an acting level was to be expected by Liu Ye ("The Promise"), but we only partly get what we hoped for. The script just doesn't provide Liu with enough material to work with, therefore his portrayal sometimes seems a bit overacted and Kang doesn't convince as a whole. Only towards the end we realize, that Liu, maybe apart from Daniel Wu, is the only one who manages to emotionally involve us and move his audience at least a bit. Besides him there is no one who manages to flesh out his character on a subtle level, which means that almost all scenes that are supposed to be tragic and sad, just feel shockingly cold. We can't sympathize with the characters and we also don't care about their fate, which is underlined by our indifference when it comes to dying scenes. Dying scenes that are no surprise at all, by the way, as the genre just comes with them.
However, I was a bit surprised by Daniel Wu's ("Protegé", "New Police Story") acting efforts, as he looks much less wooden in his performance than in his other works and in fact would have been able to pull off a nice performance, if the script would have provided him with anything better than the role of the naive somewhat-good guy he has to play here.

Nonetheless, "Blood Brothers" is nice to look at and can score with its great cinematography. The sets and the costumes really can take you back into the 30s, and the shootout at the end is also good eye candy. There may not be anything new or outstanding here, but a shootout with Asian men dressed in suits and a hat just looks very stylish, anyway.
Despite all that, the film remains to reserved on an emotional level, which is why it also seems a bit dull at times. The well done soundtrack by Daniel Belardinelli or the exceptionally beautiful scenes at Fung's village can't change that very fact either.
"Blood Brothers" may be a pleasent view when it comes to the exterior, but it eventually fails because of a coarse script, and shallow/unrefined characters. If you expect anything outstanding then you are surely to get disappointed. For Hong Kong cineasts, who need their weekly treat, this film gets an ok, though. Let's just hope that music-video director Alexi Tan will bestow more substance onto his next work.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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