Flaming Brothers


"No, it's not a movie about flamboyantly gay siblings..."

- Numskull


Flaming Brothers (1987)

AKA: Dragon and Tiger Fight

Director: Joe Cheung Tung-Cho

Writer: Wong Kar-Wai

Pruducer: Alan Tam Kwong-Wing

Cast: Alan Tam Kwong-Wing, Chow Yun-Fat, Pat Ha Man Jik, Jenny Tseng, Patrick Tse Yin, Phillip Chan Yan-Kin, Yi Lui, Norman Chu, Ng Hong Ling, Fong Yau

Running Time: 98 min.

Plot: Crime lord "brothers" Alan and Tien suffer career setbacks and personal strife when ruthless gangsters and romance enter their lives. The strained relationship between them is put to the test when Tien decides to go straight while Alan gets involved in a heated rivalry with another Triad boss.


JOSEPH KUBY'S REVIEW: Touching Triad Thriller!

Not one of Chow's best but worth a look, especially if you're a fan of his John Woo outings or his other action movies (which to some people might not be saying much but you have to bear in mind that Chow's film career is very vastly versatile as he's done lots of comedies, dramas and romances).

Flaming Brothers' script was written by none other than Wong Kar Wai (director of films like Chungking Express and 2046) and it foreshadows his use of homosexual subtext (further exemplified in Happy Together) as the characters of Chow & Alan are not gay, it's just metaphorical). In this film, the subtext is mostly humourous (mocking the critics' analogies of homosexual subtext being readily apparent in the Heroic Bloodshed genre) hence the appearance of Chow, in one particular scene, dressed up in make-up like Boy George! (think back to Cynthia Rothrock from Righting Wrongs*)!

We first see Chow & Alan as children (again, another Hong Kong crime thriller that was inspired by Once Upon A Time In America) and when we see them as adults in this nightclub scene, we get to hear the main theme song that was used on the soundtrack of Sammo Hung's Heart Of Dragon (which starred Jackie Chan). Despite the odd placement of the song (which may or may not have infringed copyright {at least international copyright} laws), the song's theme of being together isn't quite mismatched with the story of this film.

The film is actually quite touching as what we see is essentially a tale of two childhood sweethearts who are reunited (not Chow and Alan) but have to depart because of one's loyalty to his brother, who is really his friend but they've lived together as orphans in their younger days where they ate and fought together.

Chow is his usual endearing self with those hard boiled moments (not necessarily referring to his gun handling capabilities) and Alan has an amazingly charming rogue look to him (very 80s in the American sense, perhaps it's the hair and facial expressions, but he looks like someone who could be seen on prime time U.S. TV like Dallas, Dynasty, Miami Vice or MacGyver, indeed he was very much a matinee idol whose looks adapted easily into the world of HK TV - especially soap operas).

The action in this film doesn't quite match the heights in terms of firepower (arsenal) or finesse of even John Woo's lesser outings, but it still manages to be somewhat exciting as what it lacks in texture and well-thought out design, it more than makes up for in excess as squibs (blood packets) go off in this movie like firecrackers during Chinese New Year or like fireworks on Bonfire night or even New Year celebrations in general for that matter (I'm sure you get the point).

An ambush sequence in Thailand where Alan's pursuers get theirs is particularly trigger happy as we see them riddled to death with bullets - even moreso than Hard Boiled! (complete with a pan shot where we see the wounds still steaming because of the bullets pierced within). You know what, there's so much squibs bursting that if the international title (no screw that, the GENERAL title) had to be devised for the film, it should have been Singapore Squibs or Shanghai Squibs**.

I'd go so far to say that the action goes way over-the-top as times. The sort of stuff that attracted fans such as myself to Hong Kong cinema in the first place. The sort of derring-do that would translate to American film studios (and international insurance companies) as daring-don't.

During the finale, Alex wears this bulletproof vest which is really just an excuse to pull off a cliche of the genre - a person continuing to fire despite how many times they get shot (though the fresh location for the finale being a gambling horse den makes up for an otherwise standard moment); however that's better than the sage-old cinematic trick of revealing the existence of the bulletproof vest post-gunshot or someone getting shot but with a bible, book, flask,(insert object here) protecting their heart in a way too contrived deus ex machina worthy of Hanna-Barbera cartoons (or just cartoons in general - with the exception of ones that opt to convey

Having said that, the Thai ambush sequence's use of squibs (i.e. all over the place) is more realistic than the fate of Bonnie and Clyde (in said film) as they don't quite look like red felt-tip pen or paint marks (or that's how I remember it anyway....hey, I haven't seen the latter flick since 2002).

This leads to a censure I have regarding Flaming Brothers, the portrayal of violence is too inconsistent. It's contradictory approach to violence is almost as disturbing as a harrowing film with consistent scenes of gut-wrenching realistic gore. You have to applaud a director who has the guts to depict the murder-induced death of a child (ala John Carpenter's Assault On Precinct 13 and Wong Jing's Return To A Better Tomorrow) but the aftermath of the bullet-via-head murder is akin to someone who's fallen onto the ground head first. I usually find myself amused/bemused as to the way directors belittle head-shot wounds but this film really diminished the realism of such an act to such an all-time low.

The ending in particular really seems to relish the Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid slant in that we see the aftermath of the self-sacrifice although with more blood squibs than you can count! Sort of like the ending of Bonnie & Clyde, though the surprise factor wasn't as good as when I saw The Killer, I guess because I read that Flaming Brothers' denouement was downbeat but also because The Killer was the first time I saw a film where one of the main protagonists gets killed.

Indubitably not in the same league as A Better Tomorrow which was made a year earlier (or even the sequel to A Better Tomorrow which was made the same year).

* This can be interpreted as the way Cynthia looks doubled or undoubled.

** Hey, it's better than Bey Logan's Chinese Terminator comment on the Hong Kong Legends DVD audio commentary (in correlation to the scene where Alex is packing his arsenal - if there was any random given title based on that one scene, it would be Chinese Raw Deal).


NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: No, it's not a movie about flamboyantly gay siblings...it's another movie about loyalty and revenge in the world of the Hong Kong Triads. This one has some romance, too, for better or for worse (I'm going with "worse"). Call it a Triad chick flick if you want; in other respects, it's a serviceable but undistinguished production with some definite A Better Tomorrow influence, with perhaps the most notable aspect being the screenplay by Wong Kar Wai (Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love). There was a time when Hong Kong churned out movies like this by the shitload. Flaming Brothers is not among the best of these, but, to be fair, it came out before many other films in the genre.

The "brothers" in question...Alan (Alan Tam) and Tien (Chow Yun-Fat)...are not related by blood, but are as close as two (heterosexual) men can be, having grown up together on the merciless streets of Macau and formed a profitable Triad partnership, honorable as such things go. They'll sell guns (so that people can kill one another), but, as a matter of principle, they won't sell drugs (so that people CAN'T kill THEMSELVES...I know, it doesn't make much sense to me, either). When a new police commissioner arrives and it becomes clear that he's not as corruptible as his predecessor, Alan and Tien team up with a bigger crime boss. Alan is sent to Thailand to secure an arms deal, where he meets Jenny (Jenny Tseng), a singer from Macau with whom he declares himself in love, even though all they do is bicker. Meanwhile, Tien rediscovers his long lost childhood friend, Ka Hsi (Pat Ha from On the Run and Winners & Sinners), a girl from the private Catholic school who brought him food when he and Alan were starving on the streets. Foolishly deciding that he has found his one "true love" (someone forgot to tell him there's no such thing), he informs Alan that he's going legit. And so he does...until Alan finds himself grossly outnumbered in a feud against rival Triads of unscrupulous character.

Some drama, some romance, some pretty good action, especially the final shootout/brawl in a stable (unusual setting, at least). I'm afraid there's not much else to say about Flaming Brothers without venturing into big-time spoiler territory. It's competent, but uninspired. The mixture of decent performances and familiar plot elements results in little more than Another Triad Movie at the end of the day.