“Brothers” is something of an event film as it reunites four of the famous TVB Five Tigers who enjoyed incredible popularity during the 1980s and who hit the screen together in the 1991 thriller “The Tigers”. Although Tony Leung Chiu Wai is notably absent, Andy Lau, Felix Wong, Miu Kiu Wai, and Ken Tong join forces under director Derek Chiu (previously responsible for “The Log”) for a tale of triads and bloody brotherhood. The Tigers themselves aside, the film features an impressive supporting cast which also includes such Hong Kong luminaries as Eason Chan, Wang Zhi Wen, Gordon Lam, and Elaine Kam.
The film begins in the past with gang boss Tin Tam (Wang Zhi Wen) being told by a fortune teller that one of his infant sons will grow up to kill the other. Understandably concerned, he sends the younger of the two to the US to try and keep them apart. Years later, after Tin is hospitalised by an assassination attempt by triad rival Uncle Nine (Henry Fong) and his son Kui (Ken Tong), older brother Yiu Tam (Miu Kiu Wai) takes charge of the family business whilst the determined Inspector Lau (Andy Lau) tries his best to bring him to justice. Matters are complicated when younger brother Shun Tam (Eason Chan) returns to Hong Kong, inevitably becoming involved in the conflict, protected by family enforcer and childhood friend Ghostie (Felix Wong). As everyone plots against everyone and Yiu and Shun’s situation becomes more desperate, the fortune teller’s prediction seems chillingly close to coming true.
Although “Brothers” may sounds like a throwback both in terms of its cast reunion feel and its familiar sounding plot, it is in fact a decidedly modern production and quite a different take on the usual triad tale than might be expected. Certainly, it is by no means yet another tale of honourable gangsters who kill each other freely while whining on about brotherhood and honour. Indeed, the various relationships in the film are frequently unconventional and interesting, particularly that between the two titular brothers, which is far from being as simple as one being good and the other bad. Chiu spends a lot of time developing and fleshing out the characters, and given the subject matter the film is actually quite dark and angst ridden, though painfully human and sympathetic at the same time. Since from the start the viewer is led to expect that Yiu Tam and Shun Tam are going to end up in deadly conflict the film has the feel of a tragedy, though thanks to some skilful storytelling it plays out in a surprising manner. To a large extent this is thanks to some excellent performances from the veteran cast, all of whom work hard to really bring their characters to life, though without the film ever coming across as an obvious star vehicle.
The film is basically an escalating series of revenge attacks, and there is a constant air simmering tension which always seems on the verge of exploding into violence, and as a result it makes for gripping viewing throughout. Although it is resolutely a character drama rather than a gunplay film, there are a number of sudden flashpoints of bloody action, all of which are well handled and are all the more intense for the fact that the viewer has actually come to care for the characters. The plot itself is actually quite clever and engaging, with plenty of cunning schemes and ruthless machinations, helping to lift the film above the hordes of similarly themed productions.
Chiu’s direction is fresh, stylish without ever being stylised and as such the film is a pleasingly low key and determinedly grounded affair with a washed out look miles from the usual brash glare of neon usually seen in the triad genre. There is a definite absence of glamour, although he similarly eschews a markedly gritty approach, aiming instead for simple realism. The subtle soundtrack fits perfectly, providing a menacing ambient backdrop to the drama which helps to compliment events rather than clumsily underlining them as is so often the case. The film is well paced and is pleasingly free of the usual dragged out histrionics and melodrama, and indeed, if anything it feels a little too short, a very rare case of the viewer being left wanted more.
“Brothers” is a well made and refreshingly mature take on the triad genre, which serves up believable yet exciting and suspenseful character drama, boosted by a set of worthy performances. An excellent film that stands as one of the best of 2007, it should appeal to all fans of Hong Kong cinema, whether they are old enough to remember the glory days of the Five Tigers or not.
Sung Kee Chiu (director) / Kin Chung Chan, Yuen-cheung Kong (screenplay)
CAST: Kiu Wai Miu … Yiu
Eason Chan … Shun
Yi Huang … Chong Ching
Andy Lau … Chief Inspector Lau
Zhiwen Wang … Tin
Felix Wong … Ghostie
Ken Tong … Kui
Ka Tung Lam … Sun