BLOOD BROTHERS (2007) is a re-imagining of John Woo’s classic “Bullet in the Head” but this time the backdrop has been switched from Vietnam to Shang Hai and is being directed by music video director Alexi Tan. Armed with a popular cast and produced by renowned HK director John Woo and Terence Chang, the movie has a lot of expectations going for it. The film looks beautiful, but with its lackluster script, overused themes, stereotypical characters and very uninspiring direction, the film just cannot deliver on its expectations.
Fung (Daniel Wu) is a country boy who dreams of making the big time along with his friends, Kang (Liu Ye) and Hu (Tony Yang). One day, they decide to go to Shang Hai in hopes of making a better life. Fung and Hu starts out as rickshaw drivers but are introduced to the owner of Club Paradise by Kang who works as a waiter there. Boss Hong (Sun Hong Lei) is also a gangster, who also instructs the trio to steal firearms from a rival gang. The three friends succeed in their endeavor and are accepted into the gang. One evening, Fung befriends Mark, the boss’ top enforcer after he took him home to mend his wounds. The trio of friends believe they have it made, little do they know that it is just the calm before the storm.
The movie contains all the usual themes of honor, brotherhood, love, pride, greed and betrayal but the movie just fails to convince in its proceedings. There is just something missing in the direction. There is a lot of hollow characterization that is really illogical and the direction lacks coherency. The film is nary without a spark and it immediately alienates its viewers with the lack of emotions. The attempt is there but director Alexi tan seemed to have thrown in a bunch of ideas and abandoned said ideas without developing each one. The film feels very empty and nothing develops as being substantial.
Fung is the usual decent guy who gets caught in the situation, Kang is a man bent on success by whatever means necessary and Hu is the reluctant brother who becomes a drunk because of the things he has witnessed. Yes, while all these factors are visible and the director just expects us to buy into this minor development? Mark’s character showed a lot of promise despite his stereotypical characteristics. He looks cool and emotionless but he is in love in Boss Hong’s mistress Lulu (beautiful Taiwanese actress Shu Qi) but this subplot is so underdeveloped that no one would care about their plight. Further hurt with the fact that Fung likes Lulu that also goes nowhere. Su Zhen (Lulu Li) is Fung’s love interest in the beginning but her character just disappears and then resurfaces again near the climax.
The direction seemed to have also lost track of its proceedings thereby opening a lot of nauseating plot holes. The movie jumps around from one scene to another. One minute, Kang is just starting out then he is Boss Hong’s right hand man. Boss Hong is clueless to the love affair between Lulu and Mark, then all of a sudden he finds out. The factor that is supposed to generate tension ends up being dumped and the conflict ends up as a simple plot device to get to the film’s exposition. The characters also tend to make hard decisions but it all happens in less than a second. The lack of emotions and the lack of credibility makes the sequences and the characters very dry and boring. Then, the director tries to impose a touching moment about Lulu’s past and her love for sticky rice that proved so erroneously dull. Alexi Tan seems to rely on the performers’ “star power” that he expects the viewer to just sit there and play dumb.
The performers do a decent job for the most part but sadly, they have so little to work with. The bare-bones script couldn’t even be saved by divine intervention. Liu Ye and Sun Hong-lei are actually the film’s saving grace. Sun may have limited screen time but he adds a lot of believability to his ruthless character. Kang’s character is actually the movie’s central focus, his “descent” to betrayal puts the brotherly betrayal into motion. Liu Ye performs convincingly enough, despite the weak script. To its credit, at the very least, the film’s set designs are beautiful and the costumes look accurate enough for its time period. There is also quite a lot of eye-candy with all the gorgeous girls prancing around. The style and atmosphere looks very reminiscent of “the Untouchables” and it does have the look and feel of a dark and somber crime drama. The movie’s budget seemed to have gone to its superficial looks.
The lack of emotional content and passion made “Blood Brothers” fail as a movie. It feels like a rethread of already established formulas, and while this wouldn’t really be a bad thing if only the movie offers more to dig into underneath its polished surface. The unconvincing action near the climax proved so perfunctory and emotionally purging. The movie just doesn’t seem credible and is a mere rehash of proven themes that the only reason you may want to see this movie is if you‘re fan of its cast. Extremely disappointing.
Rent It [ 2 Out of 5 Stars] This Review was Originally Posted in amazon.com July, 2008