It is somewhat unfortunate that the names of John Woo and Terence Chang are being used so prominently to promote this movie, as anyone expecting wall-to-wall shootouts are going to be disappointed. Although it does end in a climactic moment of prolonged Heroic Bloodshed, to watch Blood Brothers online is, for the most part, a very engaging period crime drama, peppered with violent confrontation, passion and tragedy.
Boasting high production values, Blood Brothers transports the viewer to 1930’s Shanghai – a place not dissimilar to Chicago, with it’s Fedora’d gangsters, flashy sedans and glitzy nightclubs. In particular, the Paradise Club, where a lot of the action takes place, is pretty sumptuous with its art decor design.
The story borrows elements from John Woo’s underrated epic, Bullet in the Head, but unlike that film the three main actors aren’t able to truly establish the bonds between them, so when they go their separate ways, the audience doesn’t feel the sense of loss that was intended. Other relationships fare much better, particularly Fung’s friendship with Lulu, played beautifully by Shu Qi, who for me stole the show. Lending her own voice to the sultry songs on stage and online and being the centre of big dance numbers, she not only commanded the stage but she proves to be a complex character off it.
Lulu is having an affair with Hong’s brother and chief enforcer, Mark, who wants to quit his killing ways and take her away from Shanghai. However, Lulu is a victim of her own ambitions – she wants to be a famous movie star and Boss Hong has promised she’ll one day be in one of his movies. Then watch what happens when Fung comes, infatuated with her singing and stage persona, who befriends her, injecting some happiness into her life. The scene where they break free into the studio set is pretty magical and manages to evoke images of the golden age of Hollywood musicals.
Gang proves to have a certain amount of depth as well – whilst his brother was too young to remember, Gang has all-too-vivid memories of his father’s drunken rages and the beatings his mother endured. When Hu starts to drink heavily, it affects Gang in unexpected ways.