The Blood Brothers
AKA: Dynasty of Blood, Chinese Vengeance
Year of release: 1973
Genre: martial arts
Director: Chang Cheh
Action directors: Lau Kar-Leung, Tong Gai
Producer: Run Run Shaw
Writers: Chang Cheh, Ni Kuang
Cinematography: Kung Mu-To
Editing: Kwok Ting-Hung
Music: Frankie Chan
Stars: David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Ching Li, Cheng Miu, Wong Ching-Ho, Tin Ching, Yeung Chak-Lam, Lau Gong, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Bruce Tong, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wu Chi-Chin, Fan Mei-Sheng, Danny Lee
Not rated; contains IIB-level violence
Movie Review Index
Widely regarded as legendary director Chang Cheh's greatest cinematic accomplishment, The Blood Brothers may not have all of the high-powered kung fu scenes you might be expecting, but Chang's excellent handling of the actors and story put this film in the upper echelon of martial arts motion pictures.
The Blood Brothers would come to influence future generations of Hong Kong film-makers, in particular John Woo, who served as an assistant to Chang on this production. Woo reworked the ideas of brotherhood, loyalty, and revenge into many of his own features, most notably Bullet in the Head, which clearly shows Woo's debt to Chang, as both films tell the story of a trio of friends who come together during a time of national turmoil, only to have jealousy and greed break their bond apart.
Here, the friends are played by Ti Lung, David Chiang, and Chen Kuan-Tai. The film is loosely based on historical events surrounding the murder of Ma Hsin (Ti Lung), a high ranking general in the Ching dynasty, by Chang Wen Hsiang (David Chiang) as revenge for Ma killing Huang Chung (Chen Kuan-Tai) so Ma could carry on an affair with Huang's wife, Mi Lan (Ching Li).
The actual historical facts have been obscured by the mists of time and the subsequent retellings of the tale, but here Chang does a great job in showing all three men as fully developed characters. At this point in time, Chang was one of the Shaw Brothers studio's top directors, and so he was granted more leeway than most film-makers employed by the studio to tell the story the way he wanted to. The film runs at two hours, which was almost unheard of for Shaw productions, which the notoriously penny-pinching siblings would mandate to run at ninety minutes or less, so more screenings per day could be packed in.
This breathing room allow for Chang (along with his co-screenwriter, Ni Kuang) to not have to depend on the broad character archetypes that were all too present in martial arts cinema of the time. This is a drama first and foremost, and the approach works, especially with Chang's masterful use of cinematography and editing combined with impressive sets and locations that sidesteps the usual phony looking and claustrophobic feeling many Shaws films had due to the tight purse strings of the studio, where seemingly the same few sets were recycled over and over again.
This is not to say that The Blood Brothers is totally devoid of kung fu. In fact, there are some very good fight scenes, especially the final showdown between Ma and Chang, which showcases the use of varied weapon styles, a trademark of one of the movie's action directors, Lau Kar-Leung. But they do seem a little stiff and by the numbers, lacking even Chang's iconic use (or overuse) of the uniquely day-glo colored Shaw Brothers brand of fake blood. There's nothing here martial arts wise that is really going to bowl veteran fans over in the fisticuffs department, but for those looking for some more cerebral fare, this is as about as good as it gets for the genre.