First Look Pictures // 2007 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // July 25th, 2008
Bros before ho's!
From producers John Woo and Terence Chang and director Alexi Tan (who, according to the synopsis on the flipside of the disc case, is "new" and "hot") comes a period gangster pic about three brothers from a jerkwater fishing village that head to Shanghai seeking fame and fortune and end up forfeiting their souls in the employ of a ruthless crime syndicate boss.
Before all that, Kang (Liu Ye), Fung (Daniel Wu) and Xiao Hu (Tony Yang) were naïve brothers, wide-eyed and nurturing visions of wealth and happiness in 1930s Shanghai. They were indeed "blood brothers," swearing to each other they would always stay together and support each other. That oath will be put to the test once the mob gets its claws into them, forcing the brothers to perform violent acts that they never would have thought they'd have the moral capacity to. Things get even pricklier when one of the brothers falls in love with the boss's gorgeous girlfriend Lulu (Shu Qi, The Transporter). This will turn brother against brother, leading to a brutal final confrontation.
And it is precisely that brother vs. brother dynamic that makes this film a worthwhile endeavor for fans of gangster flicks. The fact that it's set in Shanghai instead of Chicago or New York makes no difference -- the themes of corruption, loss of innocence, betrayal, grist we've seen ground in countless other gangster movies, are present and accounted for in Blood Brothers. In fact, the Shanghai venue offers a nice twist to the proceedings, offering a look into a place and time period that I've never seen before.
What a beautiful-looking film. Alexi Tan has crafted a true slice of history, juxtaposing the simple, yet bucolic fishing village with the ornate nightclub and city life of Shanghai. The expansive restaurant and stage set-ups -- where several musical numbers are executed -- get a work-out, and are gleefully destroyed in the action-rich, bullet-riddled finale. In a way, the fate of the brothers is tied to their settings; when they're in the village, life is fine, their bonds are strong and the naivete flows...like whatever flows in a fishing village. Fish guts? Once they make it to the so-called "promised land" of Shanghai, things go downhill fast and their harsh, nihilistic surroundings sap away at the brothers' relationships. All of which leads up to the eventual fracturing of those bonds, and, without revealing anything, let me just say that it is effective. Brutally effective.
Performances are great across the board, the highlights being the three brothers, whose personalities slowly diverge from each other as fate leads them down different paths. The crime lord is a total bastard, sadistic and weird. And Shu Qi? Yowzas.
The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is gorgeous, working wonders for the great milieus that Tan has created and the 5.1 surround (Chinese) is strong. No extras save for trailers is a disappointment.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Look Pictures
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Chinese)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R