Brother Of Darkness (1994)
by: Billy Tang
the DVD at:
Ivan Lai brought to the screen Daughter Of Darkness and its non-related sequel. Those movies were basically the same but did suitably retain the notion that you can't hold back when it comes to the kind of Category III cinema we're talking about here. However during this era a filmmaker by the name of Billy Tang (for some reason nicknamed Bloody) emerged on the scene and created two very memorable, the latter being a genre classic, entries called Dr. Lamb (co-directed with Danny Lee) and Run And Kill. So when veteran Cat III producer Kimmy Shuen wanted to bring back the cast of the original Daughter Of Darkness for a final showdown, they turned to director Tang. Knowing what Ivan Lai did with the franchise, a question arises; can or will Billy Tang take the darkness up a few notches? Bring on Brother Of Darkness!
Wong Kuen To (Hugo Ng) lives with his adopted grand parents but it's far from a happy or safe family existence. His brother Wah (William Ho) constantly threats the family and wants nothing to do with his adopted brother, gravely abusing him because of it. With Wah in prison the family tries to live happily and To's girlfriend Jenny (Lily Chung) seems like a great step towards that. But once again, Wah is let out and continues his domination over the family...
Just so you don't have to wait for the answer to my question above. No, Billy Tang hasn't taken the darkness or graphic violence up a few notches from Daughter Of Darkness but done something even better, made an actual good Cat III film! Tang scored high points for setting aside the conventional flashback plot structure and comedy in Run And Kill but keeps the former in Brother Of Darkness. From the opening frames though, it's clear that we're looking at a director with a far better vision and dedication to the genre however. The opening is a beautiful slow motion shot of the aftermath of the main crime, shot in low angle and telling of a grim event that has occurred. I commended Ivan Lai for a similar, in meaning, shot from both Daughter Of Darkness movies but if you had to compare, Ivan's way is more forced, Billy is more concentrated. For the flashback structure in Brother Of Darkness, we're instead lead straight into the courtroom for a change (via some excellent Tony Mau camerawork). Usually these movies lets the back story play out in the interrogations.
Now, working from a well structured script by Kong Heung Sang, Billy begins his not too unrealistic tale of domestic abuse. Those of you expecting a gore fest can leave now, this is an erotic drama with physical and physiological violence being an important part. The director doesn't make the mistake of starting with darkness and then letting us wait a long time for it while the cast is clowning around. One, there is not barely any silly humour in this and two, we're thrown right into the plot that is then going to show us the violence and erotica that in the end takes us to the courtroom. Basically divided into two acts, first one shows the abusive situation further back and currently To's life, with his brother already in control of the family. As we watch him grow up, he has to become the protector of them because Wah isn't about to change. When we move on to act two, we see the tragic romantic part of the film via To's and Jenny's struggling relationship. This is where I was completely surprised by, not so much that the writing was exceptional, but how sad and touching this section is. As the couple, you couldn't ask for a more likable duo than Hugo Ng and Lily Chung (now in reversed situations compared to Daughter Of Darkness). Childhood friends and sweethearts, they are so right for each other but the abuse towards To has left him emotionally scarred and impotent. This latter aspect could've easily not worked for one second but the sincere writing and Tang's handling of it, mixed with fairly good erotic scenes, makes for involving viewing not only due to nudity on display but because there is a serious intent with it. There's so little exploitation here compared to previous Cat III films in the same vein and a feeling of genuine love instead.
The sex scenes are of the softcore kind and well-shot but Tang injects some human touches when it comes to the shyness between the young couple. In other words, Tang is pleasing the audience on a commercial level while still having these scenes be an actual part of the narrative. If there's criticisms to be uttered regarding the erotica, it is that Lily Chung's masturbation scene, while very important believe it or not, does cater too much to the male audience and not enough to the film's favour. William Ho's over the top sexual behaviour in some scenes also renders some sliiiiight unnecessary comedy but get this, there is no actual scene of rape in the entire film, only an attempted one. It all logically culminates in the finale, after To's years of abuse and there's some unexpected character turns for this genre worthy of praise. Billy Tang's handling of the narrative and its subject matter probably remains the most mature I've seen. This may even be more acceptable for those who have voiced their opinion against the genre before
Jonathan Wong hasn't fully lived up the fine music work he did for Dr. Lamb but his contribution to Cat III scores is always memorable, even if the one for Brother Of Darkness works only as a basic mood setter. Tony Mau, DP on several of these films, uses his blue filters to a better degree than most while also showing accomplished camerawork throughout, in particular during the mentioned beginning.
Hugo Ng is a perfectly acceptable leading man, displaying fine presence in most scenes and fairly convincingly going through the emotions needed. Even gets to do a small bit of action which fits in the movies structure since it's really about short brawls. It's more the stunt work that shines, mainly William Ho's stunt double but was there really need for 3 action directors on this? Either way, William Ho is his usual loud mouthed, horny psycho but there's a bit more menacing depth to him than previously seen. Still the same performance basically as we saw in the Daughter Of Darkness films but he's such a staple of these movies so it doesn't really hurt the movie obviously. However Lily Chung once again emotes so much sympathy with her performance. Playing Jenny, clearly in love with To and desperate to make the love fully work but having to face huge obstacles few women would dare to try and conquer. Not only is she stunning but have displayed fine acting chops for the genre before and does so again in Brother Of Darkness. Anthony Wong puts in solid support as the Prosecutor.
What a surprise! After watching Billy Tang's Brother Of Darkness, it's time to quote it as one of the best and mature pieces of Category III cinema. It may look and feel like any other genre effort but those serious and those curious I hope will see a good load of artistic merit from the top director of the genre.
As with Daughter Of Darkness, the film at hand was previously only available on an average Ocean Shores dvd . Currently I can't document whether that had censor edits like Daughter Of Darkness but obviously Universe's 1.74:1 framed reissue is preferable (Ocean Shores was cropped to full frame). They apparently worked from a better looking censored print and tried to assemble an ALMOST uncut print (jumps in sound and scenes are noticeable) from alternative sources. Therefore print quality drops at times where the additional footage is, only lasts for a few seconds though. The reinstated footage is mainly for the sex scenes since there is not much gore in the film. Most of the film looks sharp and fairly colourful otherwise but feels a tad too bright. Still, another kudos to Universe for pleasing the Cat III fans by going the extra distance.
The Cantonese 2.0 mono track sounds clear in terms of dialogue and score, no need whatsoever for a remix. A Mandarin 2.0 track is also available.
The English subtitles present few spelling errors and are optional as opposed to the Ocean Shores disc that had the original imbedded Chinese/English subtitles. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. No extras are on the disc.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson