Produced by John Woo, Blood Brothers 天堂口 is your basic village kids goes to big city (in this case Shanghai), hang out with the city’s number one gangster, fall in love with the boss’ lady, and eventually turn on each other. The film does feature marquee names Daniel Wu, Shu Qi, Chen Chang and Liu Ye. Production values aspire to be of blockbuster level. The director Alexi Tan is a relative newcomer and seems to be content with paying tribute to John Woo: this means Blood Brothers has the requisite Woo ingredients (which Woo basically inherited from Chang Cheh) including male bonding (and the eventual dilemmas like choosing between sworn brothers and women) and over-the-top gunfights. Problem is we’ve seen all this before and nothing here really excites. In his prime Woo managed to overcome clichéd plots with charismatic stars and then-groundbreaking action heroics. Tan can’t really out gunplay Woo nor does he manage to tweak the heavy-handed themes to make Blood Brothers a riveting story of betrayal.
The actors can’t manage to turn things around either. Daniel Wu comes across as too wussy for a hero and Chen Chang too posy. Chang’s character bears the name Mark (the only Western name used in the film), so I suppose this is some form of homage to Chow Yun Fat’s classic Mark in A Better Tomorrow. Unfortunately, Chang has none of the swagger Chow Yun Fat had in his prime; Chang can be a thoughtful actor but he feels out of place in this type of action romp.
Other disappointments include a repetitive music theme (which I didn’t find moving at all, though it really tries hard), and stale action choreography from Philip Kwok (classic Shaw actor and the psycho killer Mad Dog in Woo’s last Hong Kong film Hard Boiled). I felt the movie was badly paced and the final act rather unconvincing.
Having kept up with the film’s production and the promo stills, I was looking forward to a solid period picture. Today, however, I came out of the cinema disappointed. I can’t really recommend Blood Brothers as entertaining – on the other hand, it is not outright bad. Just mediocre and not original. I am now hoping that Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution will fare better.