Starring Kuan Tai Chen, Ti Lung, David Chaing, Ching Li
Fight Choreography by Liu Chia-Liang, Tang Chia
Directed by Chang Cheh
Chang Cheh is widely considered the “Godfather of Hong Kong Cinema” and for a good reason. He’s had over 100 films within the Shaw Brothers stable, and helped to create the Shaw Brothers “brand”, making some of the most recognized old school kung fu films out there, but few costumed epics are as dark and unforgiving as Blood Brothers.
David Chiang and Kuan Tai Chen star as Chang Wen Hsiang and Huang Chang respectively, two thieves during the Ching dynasty who try to rob the wrong man in Ma Hsin I (Ti Lung). Ma’s kung fu turns out to be far better than they expected and so they decide to team up with Ma to defeat some of the other bandit gangs and bring them under their banner, or more to the point, Ma’s. The seeds of evil are planted as Ma begins to covet Huang’s wife Mi Lan (Ching Li) who also falls in love with Ma. Ma decides to take the officer’s exam to gain more power as an official, and has Chang and Huang watch over the gang until he calls for them. Some time later finds Chang and Huang being called to take the gang to Ma, who will now make the soldiers for his army. Ma still covets Huang’s wife, without Huang noticing, and Ma hatches a plan so that he and Mi Lan can be together forever with unforeseen and tragic consequences…
One note: This is one downer of a film, a greek tragedy in many respects. It’s dark and only gets darker, mainly due to the performances of the leads. Ti Lung, in one if his few villain roles, really does a fantastic job as Ma Hsin I, an ambitious man who wants to climb higher and higher, and isn’t afraid to step on his friends to do so. He never sees himself as a villain, but as a man who believes that he is deserving of anything he tries to attain. Kuan Tai Chen probably had the easiest role as happily ignorant Huang Chang, a fun loving man who doesn’t truly understand the depths of his wife’s and Ma’s betrayal of him until it is far, far too late. David Chaing also gives one of his best performances as his cousin and friend, and the one who figures out what is going on and is too late to stop it. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders as the film progresses, and his burden is painted all over Chaing’s face in every scene.
The genius of the film rests with the fact that we know early on Ma’s ambitions in regards to Mi Lan, but the suspense is in waiting for the dominoes to fall as Chang and Huang realize what’s been happening, and what their response will be to their betrayals. Chang Cheh’s cinematography shines in freeze frames and quick zooms that never takes us away from the action. The fight choreography is good but not great. The fights are mostly weapon fights, but what sells them are the actors. Of all of them Kuan Tai Chen has the best fights, particularly toward the end. The final fight of the film is also good but better fight choreography can be found in other films, but the acting during the final fight is exceptional. both David Chiang and Ti Lung sell those scenes as two men who know that no matter what happens the endgame of the fight will remain the same, but it doesn’t matter.
Blood Brothers is a look into a bond between men that is destroyed by one brother’s envy. One of Chang Cheh’s best.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):
CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) The fights are good and carry the story along. The weapon scenes are done well, as are the giant battles between any of the main stars and the cannon fodder.
STUNTWORK: (8) Also good work by all involved. The giant battles really show the dedication of these guys to making it all look good. Especially scenes where they roll down hills, and they do this a few times.
STAR POWER: (10) David Chaing, Ti Lung and Kuan Tai Chen reached new heights of stardom after this film, and cemented their place as Shaw Brothers stars.
FINAL GRADE: (9) Blood Brothers is a film that features good fights, but the operatic story and acting are what make this movie a martial arts classic.