Blood Brothers is a natural return for John Woo to his Hong Kong roots that he deserted years ago for Hollywood – a passionate male bonding tale of loyalty, love and betrayal in Shanghai in the 1930’s. Three young men leave their small town and go to Shanghai to pursue life in the big city. There is the thoughtful Fung (Daniel Wu), the kind and meek Hu (Tony Yang), and the impulsive leader, Kang (Liu Ye). Kang and Hu are actually brothers, where one goes, they all go. Once in Shanghai, Kang gets a job at the Paradise Club, a jazzy hotspot run by mobster and movie impresario Boss Hong. When Kang tries to get his pals jobs, as well, the trio is sent on a heist. It goes wrong, leading to an outbreak of violence.
Becoming real gangsters, Kang lets the lifestyle get the better of his ego, while Hu loses it completely, turning into a whiny drunk. Glamorous photography is no substitute for compelling dramatic content. Far too many scenes in Blood Brothers look and feel as though director Alexi Tan followed a self-imposed method to “light first, act later”. His film labors mightily to get its narrative ball rolling, to no avail.
What struck me most was that I read that John Woo edited the film, but it feels both too long in some ways and too short in others and often contains some awkward alternating POV shots. It makes me wonder what he had to work with. The production design was nice, if a bit too slick. However, despite big names in the production, what I found to be primarily lacking, is that you don’t feel for the brotherhood and camaraderie between Gang, Hu and Feng, which I thought was extremely crucial if we were to care about what will happen to the trio.
After a series of betrayals, jealous backbiting, and revealed secrets, the world of the Paradise Club begins to melt down as an all-out power grab kicks off and quickly spins out of control. Sit back and enjoy the atmosphere and those Woo-trademarked gunfight ballets. the melodramatic and too-loud film score tramples on all of that, making many scenes feel more heavy handed than they actually are. Blood Brothers is, frankly, an unoriginal movie about brotherly bonds that manages to surprise, so I can recommend this film but it will most likely leave a bad taste in your mouth.