Bloody Brotherhood (1989)
Director: Wang Lung Wei
Writers: Charles Tang
Starring: Andy Lau, Michael Chan, Ku Feng, Dick Wei and Philip Ko

The Plot: Wah (Andy Lau) and his brother are Chinese citizens trying to escape the mainland and become successful in Hong Kong. Just as their dreams seem to be coming true, their mother dies during the boat trip and then the two brothers are split apart by the Chinese coastguards who toss Wah into the water and arrest his brother. Wah soon awakens on the Hong Kong shore, being taken care of by a woman named Kui and her very respectable father. Kui and Wah are soon caught up in a romance that seems to be heading somewhere big. Unfortunately, after three months of working in Hong Kong, Wah is a bit disillusioned with the system and gambles on opening a small vendor-stall on the docks. When he is pressured by a group of triads who demand protection money, Wah beats them up single handedly. Fed up with this oppressive system, Wah decides to go after their boss in order to be compensated for his broken stall. Inevitably, this leads to another fight where Wah actually manages to impress the boss of this Triad organization. Soon enough, Wah has a job with this crime family, but this also throws him into the middle of a bloody war as the local crime families are beefing over how to approach the drug trade. Eventually, Wah’s boss is set up by a rival faction within the crime family, and Wah will soon be on his on and very much a target himself.

The Review
There’s no doubt that Wang Lung Wei, aka Johnny Wang, is a rather inspirational figure here at Varied Celluloid. A shady character best known for playing villains, he is an actor who caught the attention of anyone who ever saw a film featuring him. A chubby sort of man, he had a bigger-than-life presence, and almost always made any movie better by the addition of his serious demeanor. Yet, up until recently I never knew of his work as a director. It took the CAT III (hard-R rating within Hong Kong, a rating that is held for softcore sleaze and extremely violent pieces of exploitation) shocker Escape From Brothel to get me interested in his work as a filmmaker. Having made films throughout his career when the opportunity arose, Wang Lung Wei showed that he was fairly well rounded and could work in multiple genres. Bloody Brotherhood shows Wang Lung Wei working within the confines of a very straightforward gangster picture. This is the sort of thing we have seen numerous times in lower budget heroic bloodshed titles, the films that couldn’t afford the massive squib work that John Woo employed. We get lots of intense drama, a little action on the side, and a whole lot of Andy Lau. Does that make a good film? Short answer: No. Long answer: Continue reading.

The film finds Andy Lau running afoul of local triads, and this inevitably leads to him taking part in multiple physical skirmishes. Andy Lau, who has lost his reputation as a action-oriented leading man throughout the years, shows off his capability in carrying an action scene with Bloody Brotherhood. It doesn’t hurt that Wang Lung Wei is the man behind the camera, but this wasn’t a singular experience for Lau. The early half of his career seemed to see him playing these sorts of roles often (notably in several heroic bloodshed titles), and Bloody Brotherhood might be the most athletic that I have seen him. With a veteran like Wei behind the helm it is a predetermined ideal that the action is going to look good, but unfortunately Bloody Brotherhood never manages to step out and show any sense of flash. With Wang’s other work that I have seen, such as Hong Kong Godfather and Escape From Brothel, he showed a resistance to logical thought. Danger be damned, Wei’s films are a land explicitly for the brave. Unfortunately, in that regard, Bloody Brotherhood is a bit tame. Regardless of this, the choreography is tight and incredibly well directed.

The action certainly isn’t the problem with this movie. If there is a noticeable issue, it comes in the form of its narrative. The movie is a bit “all-over-the-place” and it looks to cover way more than one might expect from a rather typical piece of triad melodrama. It would be enough to simply follow a straight narrative surrounding the Wah character, but the movie then moves into an even larger and more intricate conspiracy against Wah’s boss who is framed and sent to prison for seven full years. So, the movie inevitably jumps around a great deal in terms of its time and setting. As a viewer I started to lose track of just what was going on. The only thing that kept me going was Andy Lau’s character, and even he isn’t all that interesting. There is very little for the audience to dig into, but the movie simply continues to chug along. While the melodrama tends to stack up, usually revolving around Wah and his brother being split apart, my personal interest continued to fade more and more. The only spike in interest comes in the form of a child’s death, but even that sequence couldn’t be compared to the epic “child being heaved out of a glass window” sequence in Wang Lung Wei’s Hong Kong Godfather. This just isn’t that sort of movie.

Due to the title of the picture, and the way in which we see the two brothers split up during the opening of the movie, the audience can quickly establish what will inevitably happen during the course of this movie. We know that we’ll have these two brothers pitted against one another, and we can also imagine that they will team together at some point. However, I’ll give the movie credit for not going about things in a very conventional manner. Some of the early sequences, revolving around Wah finding his way into the Triad business, stands out as the most interesting facets of the movie. Unfortunately, the movie relies heavily on movie cliches and doesn’t try to come up with much in terms of originality. Even when this means the characters come across as rather hypocritical. The entire contingent for drama during the earlier part of the movie comes from Wah’s boss not wanting to enter into the vice trade. He comes out rallying against gambling, prostitution, and drugs, but the audience has to wonder what else this “mafia” (these gangs are never referred to as triads in the subtitles, always mafia) could hope to make money off of? This is a cliche that goes back to The Godfather, in which the honorable thieves refuse to enter into the drug trade, but Bloody Brotherhood seems to take things to a different level of moral superiority. That moral superiority also seems ridiculous, being that Wah’s boss can be seen gambling multiple times throughout the movie. Regardless, you won’t get very far questioning the logic in a movie like this.

The Conclusion
It should be no secret at this point that I am not a fan of Bloody Brotherhood. It has its moments, but for the most part I see it as a case of “what could have been.” With so much talent on board, this could have certainly been a more interesting feature. However, if you are a big fan of triad melodramas, this may still be up your alley. I have had issues with pure triad films before, ones that do not revolve around action or bloodshed, but if that sort of thing intrigues you, then Bloody Brotherhood may actually be right up your alley. As it stands, I give the movie a two out of five.

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