1930s Shanghai: a glittering city of vice and decadence. Three innocent young men arrive to this seeming paradise in search of a better future. But as time goes by, their paths diverge, even as they all descend into a life of crime. Soon, friends turn against friends, brother against brother. The blood bonds are now but relics from their early days of innocence. Once they hoped for a better tomorrow: now tragedy and betrayal have become a way of life.
From the synopsis that I had read prior to watching Blood Brothers, the film did appear to be quite standard in its plot line. Films about men from a more quiet life going to the city to earn money, but ending up living a life of crime aren't exactly that uncommon. Where Blood Brothers does stand above most other films of this genre is that it has an above average romance story, albeit still a rather clichéd one. Love triangles/rectangles, revenge and betrayal are all key elements of the story, but also all elements that have been acted out many times before. There were going to have to be some very impressive moments in the film in order for it to stand clear of the competition!
The first thing that struck me about Blood Brothers was the general look of the film. From the opening scenes through to the final shot, the cinematography really was quite amazing. This isn't something that I generally notice that much, but for some reason it really stood out. Every scene looked so stunning and realistic, the sets and costumes so elegant. Maybe it was because the film print quality was very good, so every scene looked crystal clear and razor sharp, enhancing the apparent production values and making all materials and colours seem so vibrant. If you like a film that looks good, you are on to a winner from the get go. This very pleasant early feeling helped ease some of my initial hesitations over the story.
The story is somewhat predictable throughout, as after watching dozens of films of this ilk, plot lines and actions can be effortlessly foretold. What stops Blood Brothers becoming lost in the crowd, however, is the strength of the actors and actresses. Daniel Wu is one of the leads, the nice guy, Fung. He's caught up in things way over his head, but tries to do what he can to help out his two friends. Since first seeing Daniel in 2000 AD and Purple Storm I was a fan, those films were very good and he was equally as good in them. However, his career did seem to take a bit of a nose dive at one point as I recall seeing him in some utter drivel since then. Now I admit I've not seen many of his more recent films, but if this is anything to go by it is good to see that he is back on form. He is completely believable as the nice guy, doing things he doesn't really want to do and trying to help those who he cares about. The rest of the cast is equally as solid, all giving very good, believable performances. Liu Ye, towards the end of the film, started to bear a slight resemblance to the late Leslie Cheung with his look, and if he can continue to act with such good a standard, hopefully he will become as highly regarded. It was also surprisingly delightful to witness Shu Qi in another film. I've not seen many of her films of late either, the most recent (release wise) probably being her USA film The Transporter, but based on her other Hong Kong films that I've seen, her acting and her general look is getting better. While never actually anything bad, I've never found her to be that great either, and also tended to find her quite annoying. Now though, she has improved with age in every way, looking better than she did in other films from over a decade ago.
Where Blood Brothers was a bit of a let down though was in the action. There is plenty of it, but the style they chose to go with didn't make it exciting enough. It was stated in the extra features that they couldn't go with the modern look of flamboyant action as it would not suit the era of this film; the 1930s. So instead they choose the more stand and shoot gun fighting style, quite reminiscent of Takeshi Kitano's shoot outs in Brother. While this style still had people being shot left, right and centre in the bigger gun fight scenes, it did allow elements of complete disbelief to crop up. Simply put the good guys were incredibly lucky that all the bad guys were very slow to react and can't aim for sh!t. At least with the more flamboyant people running around shooting, you can forgive people for missing as it is more difficult to hit a moving target, but when people are not running around, it become less believably so. With the amazingly slow reactions in some cases from people being shot at, it does taint the rest of the film's sense of realism.
All in, this was a decent film, definitely above average and for a story line that has been filmed to death already, it is a good example of the genre, however there isn't enough originality or moments that keep you gripped in the film to raise it to the great film levels.
Audio & Subtitles
The DVD comes with audio in either Mandarin DD5.1 or stereo. 5.1 was the obvious choice for me. The soundtrack was effective throughout, utilising all the speakers where necessary with discrete effects used in both the front and rear surrounds where appropriate. Speech was a little quiet at times compared to the rest of the audio but not drastically so. Not being a Mandarin speaker it didn't really matter much to me! All ambient and background effects are crystal clear, immersing you quite effectively into the film.
I don't recall spotting any spelling or grammar errors in the English subtitles and the timing of them seemed good throughout. Written text on screen was translated.
As has seemed to be the case with the Metrodome releases of late, the film image quality is quite superb. I've seen some pretty awful looking DVDs before to appreciate how good this film looked. Colours were muted in places, but I think this was a deliberate cinematic effect for the various scenes, as in other scenes where extravagance was more the key the colours were bright and vibrant. Detail levels were exceptionally high for a standard DVD. At times it was hard to believe it was just a DVD not a HD source. I was very impressed. Maybe my upscaling DVD player (Toshiba HD-EP35) should take some of the credit for it... Regardless, I liked the look of this film a lot.
DVD & Extras
There is a general lack of extras on this DVD, just a Making Of featurette and the film's trailer. The Making Of is quite interesting, with regular comments from all the major cast and crew, giving their own perspectives on the film. John Woo makes an appearance talking about how he has been caught up for too long making films in the US! It is a decent, but not essential, watch.
With so many films around that follow pretty much the same plot-line as Blood Brothers it was always going to be difficult for this film to gain the recognition to allow it to stand above the others. It is a fairly major production which has helped it in the hype regards from the outset, but where it succeeds the most is in its cast. They all perform to a very high level giving fantastic characterisation. The let downs are the clichés, predictable story and not as exciting action as people have come to expect these days. It is still a good film, but not much more.