Year of release: 1989
Andy Lau. Image courtesy of Mei Ah.
Bloody Brotherhood didn't make much of a splash at the HK box office (just reaching that "magic" two-week theatrical run where most HK movies reach the break-even point) and it's gone largely ignored by fans, even though it stars Andy Lau, arguably the biggest star in HK right now. To some point, this is justified. Bloody Brotherhood doesn't really offer up anything new or do it in any sort of spectacular fashion. In fact, many parts of the film are merely adequate, or even sub-par. However, after watching a spate of recent half-ass over-CGIed movies, Bloody Brotherhood brought back memories of a time when even the most average HK crime/action flick was better than anything Hollywood could (or would) churn out.
The film begins with Andy Lau, his brother (Lam Wai) and parents being smuggled in a boat to Hong Kong. The coast guard finds the boat and begins shooting it up. Washing ashore, Andy is befriended by a kindly old man and his daughter (Irene Wan) and begins to look for work. After his stall is shaken down by the local hoods, Andy goes to the Big Brother (Triad movie mainstay Michael Chan), where his fighting skills gain him entrance into the gang. Things seem to be going well -- Andy even begins to go legit -- until a face from his past changes everything and a gang war threatens to destroy everything he has worked for.
Michael Chan. Image courtesy of Mei Ah.
This is by-the-numbers Triad movie stuff; most long-time viewers of this type of film will see the big "plot twist" a mile away. However, things are handled well for the most part. The movie moves at a crisp pace (even forgoing the dreaded musical flashback/montages which usually pop up in films like this), most of the actors do a good job, and the action is well-done. Don't expect any John Woo-like antics here; this is the "get big choppers and cut everyone up" kind of stuff (Andy even uses a handsaw in one scene). Film-makers at this point didn't favor the fancy camerawork which would later come into vogue after the success of films like Young and Dangerous, and as such, there is an immediacy and brutality to these scenes which is sorely missing in many new movies, which often try so hard to look cool that they forget to put any actual emotion into the picture.
Really, besides the somewhat pedestrian nature of the film, Bloody Brotherhood's only major flaw is its' star. Andy Lau simply wasn't that good of an actor at this point in his career. Well, okay, to be blunt, he sucked. This is actually some of his better work from his earlier years, but it's still not very good. I swear there were some points where I thought he was reading off of cue cards -- at least he keeps his shirt on and doesn't sing any cheesy ballads this time out. If you can get past Andy's less-than-average performance, and enjoy the old-school gangster stuff, then you should check out Bloody Brotherhood. It's not a classic by any means, but it's still an entertaining way to spend ninety minutes.
Irene Wan and Andy Lau. Image courtesy of Mei Ah.