For even the newest viewer of Hong Kong films, cop movies and Danny Lee go hand-in-hand. Since the early 1980's, "Officer Lee" has been synonymous with playing hard-boiled policemen on the edge, which has been a double-edged sword. It has given him a lot of success and able to find a steady stream of work through the years. However, a good number of Lee's films were frankly cheaply-made rushjobs and have given Lee a bit of a stigma with some viewers. This might explain why a gem like Brotherhood has slipped under many people's radars.
In the film, Lee plays Lui, who along with his partner, Keung (Alex Man), are among the best cops in Hong Kong. But their high success rate comes at a high level of violence, and after Keung goes too far with a suspect, he is thrown off the force. Falling into debt, Keung starts borrowing from a loan shark who then convinces him to help a crew pull off a series of jewel heists to earn some more money. Lui wants to protect his friend, so he keeps his knowledge of Keung's activities away from his superiors, which soon makes Lui a suspect himself. Things become even more complicated when Lui's brother, Kwok (Lam Wai) begins to investigate the robbery cases.
This sort of plot is pretty standard Hong Kong cop picture stuff. There aren't any big twists present, and the movie doesn't derivate much from the template followed by most films of this genre, right down to an ultra-violent downbeat ending that doesn't offer much in the way of resolution. But the proceedings are saved by Danny Lee's performance. He plays Lui with a cool intensity that really stands out, especially against movies from this same period, which tended to favor melodramatics.
Some note should also be made of Alex Man. Like a lot of actors who worked during the "golden age", Man appeared in dozens of films, but yet never seemed to ascend to real "star" status. It's kind of a shame, because based on his output here, Man shows himself to be capable of being a damn fine actor under the right director. The supporting cast also, for the most part, does a good job, especially Shing Fui-On, who specialized in playing heavies and seems to relish his role here as the slightly psychotic leader of Keung's robbing crew.
If you're expecting some John Woo-style gunfights here, you might be disappointed. Though there is some action, and what is done is done well, Brotherhood falls much more squarely into the drama side of the action/drama sandwich. And with Stephen Shin's sure direction, a nice sense of dark style, and solid acting performances, that's not a bad thing. On the surface, Brotherhood might seem a bit generic, but after watching a few minutes, it becomes a film that's more than the sum of its' parts, and is highly recommended if you're into Hong Kong crime movies.
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