Big Brother Cheng | Varied Celluloid

Big Brother Cheng

Posted by Josh Samford On July - 10 - 2008
This review was originally written between 2003-2006 and has since been slightly edited. The opinion remains the same as the original posting, but slight errors have been revised or smoothed out.

Plot Outline: At the end of “The Teahouse” (the previous film in this series) Boss Cheng left Hong Kong along with his new wife and son. After an undisclosed amount of time he is lured back after the death of a friend who he worked with. No one knows who committed the crime, but Boss Cheng aims to find out. He searches high and low, from one clue to the next until he finds the culprits. He first plans to kill them flat out, but the chief of police coerces him to let them get their just deserts via the legal system. Cheng gives the law this one last chance to prove it’s worth and hands the murderers over and they are given prison sentences. While they serve their term, Boss Cheng grows more upset with the crime problems in Hong Kong and along with his coworkers, sets out to essentially clean up the streets by themselves. Things get screwy real fast though once it is discovered that the three killers have friends in high places and are soon back on the streets, as well as the gang leader who Boss Cheng placed in prison during the first film.

  

The Review: After I sat through The Teahouse I knew that I really liked the film, but felt that the ending was severely weak. It left far too many questions and seemed to end in a matter of minutes. So, knowing full and well that there was a sequel and that I had it sitting right in front of me I didn’t let the completely unfulfilling ending drag me down. Looking back now, I feel as if I should have perhaps been a little more upset. I was expecting Big Brother Cheng to be a direct continuation of the first film and in many ways it is, but not in the way I was hoping. I guess I thought the next film would either have Cheng going off with his family and doing good or perhaps slowly being lead back to the Teahouse to fight off a gang of some kind. Once again, I was partly right. He is lead back to The Teahouse, but it isn’t in a slow seductive way, he’s already back at The Teahouse within the first four or so minutes. The hectic opening takes place so fast it’s almost hard to keep up with. Then we’re lead back into the ‘episodic’ pace of the first film, but this time it just doesn’t work for me. Cheng is back in town to help get revenge for his friend who was killed, but his getting revenge comes and goes. Sure his character grows, this time into a Charles Bronson clone of sorts, but I didn’t get the satisfaction of watching him grow as in the first. His character is no longer fresh at this point. He doesn’t feel like an every day man being placed in stressful conditions anymore. Now he’s a superhero! That’s just my perception of course. While I’m not too far away from the Death Wish topic, the whole film kind of feels like it was more than just a little inspired by Death Wish which came out one year earlier. The way in which the film essentially gives the same morality tales makes me wonder how big of a hit it was in Hong Kong. After saying all of this, don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Big Brother Cheng. In many ways, the film is actually superior to the previous entry. There’s more action, the characters are equally as interesting and there’s more motivation for the actors. If I could change anything about it though, it would be the editing.

In the original film I found the editing to be unique and engaging, but here in the sequel it frankly just annoyed me. The reality of the situation is that this is a sequel, and if the first one merited a continuation of the story I just wished it would have done so and not retreaded old territory. There is an ‘episode’ (I’m using the term loosely, there is no actual end or beginnings to these turning points within the film) in the film where a girl who works at The Teahouse quits her job to marry the son of a wealthy Chinese-American and it is flat out bizarre. The sequence takes up a decent portion of the film, perhaps twenty minutes or so but for what cause? To show the audience that Boss Cheng and co. are no longer putting up with swindlers and thieves? Is that reason enough to take up this much screen time? It seems a montage would have handled the situation with far more impact or better yet they could have let the later sequence involving the three rapists take care of that. Since the film is almost two hours in length you would expect it to have been edited and tightened up some. I can only hope and assume that scenes like this were added for artistic intentions, but if so I can’t figure out why. I personally think there’s a really brilliant film lying in the heart of Big Brother Cheng and if it were maybe made a little more linear we might actually see that film. Hey, it’s not that I’m some prude who isn’t welcome to anything new, I really liked the technique used in the first film but for this sequel it felt as if it needed a jolt of energy. If they were to somehow cut the film down so that it doesn’t feel as if a subplot is overriding the theme to the film every five seconds and if they could get to that dynamic ending a little quicker, the feature would have jumped up an entire point in the rating scale. When I say dynamic in describing that ending, I mean it. The final twenty minutes of the film are truly the reason to watch. Cheng does things in it that Jackie Chan wouldn’t do for another ten years! A hyper stylized battle that takes place in the streets, in cars and eventually on a boat. All in preparation for yet another great fight scene. Mind you, just like ‘The Teahouse’, this isn’t a Kung Fu film. The fight scenes are along the lines of triad beat downs. Street fighting at it’s best. People swing pipes, chairs, knives and I think there was a sword at one point. If the fight scenes weren’t so great and frequent, I don’t think I would have rated the film as high as I did.

The director returns in style. Although he doesn’t feel as strong as in Teahouse he still does a magnificent job handling the artistic side of this gang tale. The music and his visuals collide on several occasions, but nothing perhaps as mind numbingly cool as the ‘music fight’ from the first film. His style is more relaxed in many aspects, but it’s still obvious that he’s not just some average Joe. Chen Kuan Tai returns in fine fashion too, although his character isn’t as complex as the first film he still excuses himself fine because of his great charisma. A truly undervalued actor, just look at that mustache, how can you not love the guy? He plays it low key but is much more prone to rage this time around which makes watching his performance that much more fun. The rest of the cast, as with the first film, really don’t matter all that much. They’re only there to serve Cheng’s character. I would have perhaps liked to have seen more of Cheng’s wife come into play in the film, she speaks only in about three or four scenes total. Her character is just dumped at the wayside and whatever happened to her son I have no clue. There’s a scene where Cheng and his wife find a kid smoking and get upset, so I take that was the child but I’m not sure if he makes another appearance throughout the entire film. These are small things that never really enter into the equation of course but are mild annoyances. I didn’t really want to see the wife or the kid take a huge part in the film, but I just found it odd that for continuitys sake they weren’t in the movie more. As far as the technical stuff goes, that’s about all there is to know. It’s a well made film… well, except for the fact that every time someone jumps off a building (which is surprisingly frequent) you can tell that it’s obviously a dummy, but other than that the film works perfectly minus the editing.



The Conclusion
As much as I complain about the way in which the film is put together, it’s still very much worth watching if you’re into gang or vigilante movies. It’s got a style all to it’s own and for all the excessive scenes and overly drawn out subplots, it’s still a fun and entertaining little watch. It’s not an easy film to recommend, much like Teahouse, but if you like the style it may open doors for you. Otherwise you’ll hate it and probably hate me. The first film was an art house Hong Kong gang film, this one is more a wannabe art house/Hong Kong Action/gang film. You can decide for yourself what that means because I’m not sure if even I get it.

You might also be interested in:

VIDEO

TAGS

Sponsors

About Me

Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

Twitter

    Photos