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April 30, 2008

Blood Brothers

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Tian Tang Kou
Alexi Tan - 2007
Fortissimo Films 35mm film

Blood Brothers has a running time much shorter than that of the films that served as sources of inspiration. The look and feel of the film are closer to Once Upon a Time in America, mentioned by Alexi Tan, with more than passing resemblance to some of the style of Coppola and Scorsese. Currently seen at several film festival's, the film is an extremely accomplished. If Blood Brothers were an English language film with Hollywood stars, there would be talk of Academy Awards. Even if the story line can also be anticipated from the first few minutes, when the small town boys discuss making their fortune in 1930s Shanghai, the classic visual style of the film makes Blood Brothers satisfying to watch.

The original title translates as "Mouth of Heaven", which is also the name of the Shanghai night club where much of the film takes place. This particular heaven is run by Boss Hong, who wields the power of life and death over much of the Shanghai underworld even though his front is that of movie producer. For the three young men who initially come to Shanghai to work as waiters, the Paradise Club appears as a form of heaven with the well dressed men and women who come to dine and dance, and the stage show with scantily clad chorus girls and featured singer, Lulu. It is Lulu, mistress to Boss Hong, who warns one of the young men, Fung, to not get involved with Boss Hong. It is also Lulu who provides the motivation for the steps and missteps of the men who orbit around her.

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It is no coincidence that the main female character shares the name of Louise Brook's ill fated Lulu. Blood Brothers is about irreversible destiny, as if no one has any choice about what they will do or what function they are expected to perform. The same could be said about the three young men - Kang, the one determined to be a success in the big city, Hu, his younger brother unable to do more than stand in his brother's shadow, and Fung, the sensitive friend who finds himself unable to break away from his past as a small town boy, or his more recent past as part of Boss Hong's family. Blood Brothers works because it fulfills the conventions of the genre, resembling a Italian or Italian-American epic as done by Chinese actors.

It could well have been the European influence of Blood Brothers that attracted John Woo to serve as the film's producer. Woo has been quite open about his admiration for Jean-Pierre Melville, and Daniel Wu may remind some of the young Alain Delon in his emotional vulnerability. Shu Qi, the Lulu of Shanghai, is transitioning ably from action star to dramatic actress. Lulu's dream is to appear in films produced by Boss Hong, and be a star like Anna May Wong. One brief scene in Blood Brothers features Wong as a guest in the Paradise Club, based on her real life return to Shanghai in 1936. In the end, Paradise, whether in the form of a nightclub, or as power or fame, is easily destroyed. The heaven that the characters aspire to turns out to be their hell.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 30, 2008 12:45 AM


Pretty nice site, wants to see much more on it! :)

Posted by: John Williams at August 19, 2008 10:18 PM