Directed by: Derek Chiu
Nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2008:
It's been hard to keep track of director Derek Chiu (Comeuppance, Love Au Zen, The Log) as nowadays he tends to just POP UP and all of a sudden there's a movie or two there. Case in point, the little seen Love Trilogy (starring Francis Ng and Anita Yuen) from 2004 alongside the co-directed Mainland Chinese rom/com Love Is Love but then... gone. Cut to 2007 and Brothers, a big ass vehicle coming from Chiu, starring Andy Lau and Eason Chan lies before us and apparently he even went to China again the same year to shoot a historical drama called Road To Dawn (with Angelica Lee of The Eye fame). Nevertheless, some of us have come to appreciate the fairly eclectic cinema of Derek Chiu, best showcased in Comeuppance but now in quote unquote normal territory again, here's a thoroughly professional production, directed in the utmost solid manner but it still doesn't rise too much above any standard gangster-drama of the last few years, such as Colour Of The Truth. Which perhaps may disappoint the top personnel involved but viewer- involvement they nail in a pretty fine fashion.
Opening Brothers with a shot of the bloody ending, there's always the question if a movie will deserve to come to this desperate conclusion. A faint yes is probably the answer. But Chiu, with writers that had been on his excellent The Log, goes back in time to examine, albeit in a more subdued way, initial steps into crime for the kid-versions of the characters of Yiu and Shun. Driving around in a car, they accidentally hit someone but this isn't the step into the upper class gangster world. No, the head of the organization, Tin (Wang Zhiwen - Love Battlefield) has his heart deep into fortune telling and he's been told his two sons will eventually end up annihilating each other so a separation will have to occur. Later when both grown up, Yiu (Miu Kiu-Wai - Magic Cop, Wo Hu) is the head of what was always to be an organization free of drug trade while opposing factions, power hungry characters such as Ungle 9 (Henry Fong) and his son Kui (Ken Tong) regard themselves as mistreated. When the assassination of Yiu's father Tin eventually succeeds, brother Shun (Eason Chan) is brought back to a world he's not been part of. A world where the cops, headed by Chief Inspector Lau (Andy Lau) have no hesitance in invading funerals and a world where he's beginning to be utilized as a pawn by his brother, towards something. It starts with Shun ending up behind the wheel of the car that kills Uncle 9...
Shooting in drab colours, shadows and general muted aspects, for once it's a story set in a jiang hu that doesn't contain the oddball look of the gangster world. These are mostly middle-aged to elders engaging in the power struggle and Chiu clearly demonstrates a conscious calm to the proceedings, with ambience that suggests explosive behaviour could take place soon. And it's going to be loud. Partly a frustration does set in because little DOES happen but Shun's entrance makes matter go boom for the first time during a violent bit at the funeral of their father. This effectiveness sees director Chiu be in an element he hasn't been in, playing with the big boys and in an effective manner. But as the mystery becomes clearer, why Yiu is being a bit of a dick towards Shun by involving him against his will, what's revealed is an exciting and fast moving time but not much span or depth to go along with it. When we well beforehand know Yiu's reasons, there lies little surprises in what the climax offers up and what we're left with are a couple of effective BOOM's, sharp technical direction and veteran presence in the older cast.
Which may depress the likes of Derek Chiu and behind the scenes folks such as Andy Lau but it is valid to think of big effort spent "only" generating a decent, immersing time with a gangster Hong Kong movie. Actors bring as much as they logically can but looking at Miu Kiu-Wai and Andy Lau alone, neither is on automatic and knows how to play along with mentioned, effective BOOM's of the story. Eason Chan is left a little behind though, getting in over his head, receiving little help and still has his reference performances behind him. Despite all that, Brothers isn't a shame in a sparse output and it's not a shame either that Derek Chiu has directed his best BIG movie yet. Hopefully there's still more tricks in his bag however.
Deltamac presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. The muted colour scheme seems represented in a correct manner as well as sharpness.
Audio options are Cantonese (with synch sound Mandarin used in some Mainland Chinese actor's cases, such as Wang Zhiwen's) Dolby Digital 6.1 EX, Cantonese DTS 6.1 ES and Mandarin Dolby Digital 6.1 EX but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review. The latter selection retains synch sound performances from scenes involving Yu Rong-Guang as well in the case of Crystal Huang when she acts opposite Yu.
The English subtitles fairly frequently stumble when it comes to grammar and tends to miss words but are on the whole perfectly coherent. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.
The trailer (actually two spots play out, with the second being a teaser) and an English subtitled Making Of (16 minutes, 46 seconds) are the only extras. A lot of talk of characters and only a little on production (script, stunts, behind the scenes bonding) makes this program quite unnecessary.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson