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(left) Miu Kiu-Wai and Eason Chan, and (right) Andy Lau and Gordon Lam in Brothers.
Chinese: 兄弟  
Year: 2007
Director: Derek Chiu Sung-Kei
Action: Chin Kar-Lok, Wong Wai-Fai
Cast: Miu Kiu-Wai, Eason Chan Yik-ShunHuang Yi, Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Felix Wong Yat-Wah, Ken Tong Chun-Yip, Wang Zhiwen, Gordon Lam Ka-TungTeddy Lin Chun, Elaine Kam Yin-Ling, Henry Fong Ping, Yu Rong-Guang, Lam Suet, Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai, Wong Ching, Li Shun-Yan
  The Skinny: Competent, but dull triad melodrama that struggles to be better than average. Derek Chiu tries to jazz things up with some showy direction, but most of the time he's only calling attention to how lacking everything else is. Not a standout film, though undemanding audiences may not be very bothered. Starring the CYMA watch and Andy Lau in a supporting role.
by Kozo:

When reviewing an Andy Lau film it's best to get one thing out of the way: product placement. In Brothers, Andy Lau pushes his signature bottled green tea drink, seen in most of his recent films from Infernal Affairs to Protégé, not to mention the incredibly crass All About Love. That last movie also featured an obnoxious cameo from a CYMA watch, which gets an extreme close-up when a single tear drops in slow motion onto its ultra-magnified face. The connection: Andy Lau pushes that watch brand full force in print advertisements all over Hong Kong.

The CYMA watch makes a return in Brothers, where Lau, playing cop Inspector Lau, offers it to a subordinate as payment for some unnamed debt. He's just kidding about parting with his beloved watch, but by removing the watch and placing it on his desk, Lau gives audiences yet another close-up glimpse of the CYMA watch's luxurious, beveled design, which surely makes it a masterful, timeless, uh, timepiece. It's also an opportunity for audience groans, which most assuredly will happen if the audience knows anything about Andy Lau, pitchman extraordinaire. Thanks Andy, for earning your check.

Lest we forget, there's also a movie, and though Andy Lau gets much more screentime than his CYMA watch, its arguable if he has much more impact. Lau is only a glorified supporting player in Brothers, a gangland thriller from director Derek Chiu that's most famous for reuniting TVB's Five Tigers, who were so dubbed back in the eighties as some sort of marketing push by the local television behemoth. Actually, only four of the Tigers return. The missing Tiger is none other than Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, who's too busy having an international film career, leaving the other four tigers - Andy Lau, Felix Wong, Miu Kiu-Wai, and Ken Tong - to represent, along with Eason Chan, who we assume is the Tony Leung stand-in.

Chan has turned in some decent work recently in Hooked on You and The Pye-Dog, and having him around is actually quite promising. To the younger actor's credit, he holds his own versus the grizzled veterans surrounding him. Chan plays Shun Tam, the brother to gang boss Yiu Tam (Miu Kiu-Wai). Shun is now returning from his education in the states after an assassination attempt on their dad, Tin Tam (Wang Zhiwen). The attempt comes courtesy of rival triad Uncle Nine (Henry Fong), who angles to knock off both Tin Tam and Yiu Tam and install both he and his son, Kui (Ken Tong), as the new leaders.

However, the wily Yiu Tam seems to be one step ahead of Uncle Nine and Kui, apparently expecting their treachery and betrayal. What is unexpected is Yiu's attitude towards his brother Shun, who's completely naïve to criminal procedure, constantly trying to call the cops and usually getting grief from the uncooperative Inspector Lau, who's all hot and bothered about catching Yiu Tam and not anyone else. As Uncle Nine and Kui begin to take violent action, Yiu Tam starts to take steps to get his brother out of harm's way.

Or is he? There's a curious edge to Yiu's actions, almost like he may be trying to get his brother killed instead. This is because of a prophecy once told to his father, that the two brothers would one day do harm to each other. Of course, Tin Tam didn't want that, which is why he sent Shun to the States instead of having him hang in Hong Kong with Yiu. Armed with this knowledge, Yiu could be trying to hurt his younger brother, and his actions sometimes seem to imply that.

This disturbs Yiu's right-hand man Ghostie (Felix Wong, sporting keen shades), who cares for Shun like a younger brother and doesn't want to see him hurt. However, one major reason why Yiu probably isn't out to off his brother is because he's a stand-up guy with a righteous attitude, and besides, he has a terminal disease due to off him soon anyway. So, if he's not trying to kill his brother, why is he sometimes such a jerk? Meanwhile, the cops glower in the background while Kui angles to knock off Yiu, and Shun is still caught in the middle. Will he slink off quietly, or become corrupted by these triad shenanigans?

The film's large cast of familiar names is a marketing plus, with actors like Lam Suet, Elaine Kam, Eddie Cheung, Gordon Lam, and Yu Rong-Guang supporting the Four Tigers Plus Eason. The downside is that there are now more characters than need be, though thankfully the filmmakers keep the extraneous subplots to a minimum. Instead of too many subplots, however, we get an abundance of overused themes, including ones involving family, righteousness, loyalty, destiny, responsibility, justice, and a bunch of other stuff that should be familiar to people who've seen more than one Hong Kong triad film from the late eighties or early nineties.

Brothers seems cut from the same cloth as those earlier films, which usually starred Andy Lau, Alan Tam, Alan Tang, and probably a few other actors whose names begin with "A". The stories were generally the same: real-life brothers stuck in the triad must demonstrate their loyalty to one another while also fending off ill-tempered rival triads and occasionally overzealous cops. Brothers isn't over-the-top or rough-around-the-edges like earlier genre entries, though it does serve up partial Cantonese-dubbing and rock-like English-language dialogue (the film is set pre-Handover), which may fool some viewers into thinking they're watching an early nineties-relic.

That nostalgia doesn't necessarily translate into a great film, however. Brothers has a solid concept, decent acting, and even some minor tension due to Yiu's murky motivations, but the total experience is more generic than some sort of welcome genre revitalization. Brothers has received some local comparison to The Godfather, though one would hope that's due to similar themes and not the belief that this film could ever equal The Godfather in quality. Brothers should never be mentioned in the same breath as the Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece, though it could be favorably compared to Jiang Hu.

Brothers is simply pulpy, familiar stuff that gets a reverent treatment thanks to director Derek Chiu, who dresses it up with talky seriousness and some occasional directorial flourishes meant to add gravity to a film already weighed down by pre-supposed genre meaning. Some of his choices are oddly stylistic. A car is side-swiped and its side mirror floats through the air in slow-motion, pretty lawyer Ching (Crystal Huang) reacts psychically to an event occurring many miles away, multiple scenes are punctuated with a slow pan and fade-out. What does all this signify, exactly? Who the hell knows, but Chiu calls heavy attention to these choices with a jarring self-consciousness, giving them perhaps undeserved meaning. Brothers isn't unforgivably heavy-handed, but it does flirt conspicuously with pretentiousness.

The characters and details don't really register either, and the film's slow, unavoidable path to destiny isn't as much powerful as it is simply predictable. Given the film's opening shot, which gives the audience a peek at the climax of the film, plus the existence of a foretold prophecy and the terminal disease plot device, the film basically announces its intentions very early. The question then is how the film will get there, and if the journey is involving and compelling. The decent story, solid performances and Chiu's direction handle the involving part - it's just that the compelling part gets away from them. Brothers touches all the proper bases, but it doesn't affect enough to warrant grander emotions, or the significance that Chiu's sometimes showy directorial choices seem to imply.

Ultimately, Brothers is just standard, competent, audience-friendly stuff that's mostly interesting for reasons outside of the actual film, like the reunion of four of the Five Tigers, or Miu Kiu-Wai's curious rise from the fourth Tiger to solid leading man (thanks to both Brothers and Wo Hu, it seems that Miu Kiu-Wai is hot again). Also of note is Andy Lau's perfunctory supporting role, which the superstar handles professionally and in a dazzlingly uninteresting manner. And then there's the CYMA watch, which is unforgettable if you have any idea what CYMA means to the people who have to stare at Andy Lau hawking them everyday. In Hong Kong, you simply can't get away from Andy Lau and his CYMA watch, so having to be reminded of it so bluntly is distracting enough that it can break whatever fictional reality a film is trying to attempt. Even without the CYMA watch, Brothers is just an okay film, but with it, there's only one thing Brothers can really be: a product. (Kozo 2007)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 6.1EX / DTS ES 6.1
Removable English Subtitles

images courtesy of Focus Films Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen