The Blood Brothers (1973)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a ghostwriter of personal memoirs for Story Terrace London and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

Three men, who are as close as brothers are forced to endure the ultimate test of friendship as one of them gives in to corruption and his love for his brother’s wife. Based on a purported true court case, the epic story is told via flashback.  Chang, (David Chiang) is on trial for murdering General Ma Hsin I (Ti Lung.) Chang tells his story to the court of how he and his brother Huang Chung (Chehn Kuan Tai) met Ma during their days as bandits on the road. Unable to defeat Ma, the three of them quickly bond and become best friends. As the story progresses, Ma falls in love with Huang’s wife Mi Lan (played by Ching Li ) who reciprocates. Ma then leaves the group to join the Imperial Army. 

Three years later, Chang, Huang and Mi Lan are called by Ma to join him in the field. During their time apart, Ma has changed. He’s become a corrupt, power hungry General who, following a successful battle, commences a secret love affair with Mi Lan. Who could blame her? Her husband Huang is a drunken boar who cheats on her regularly. Ma is educated and disciplined. When he takes his shirt off, he could charm the eyes of a rattlesnake. 

The friendship of the three men soon takes a turn for the worse as Ma plots the death of Huang. Nothing will stand in his way. The film continues on to the end with a  series of betrayals and wonderfully executed fight scenes ending with the death of Ma at Chang’s hands. 

 The film is a showcase for Ti Lung’s exceptional acting ability. Ma starts out charismatic and loveable but transforms into a man blinded by his own ambitions. 

Blood Brothers was shot during the glory days of Shaw Brothers Studios and has all the markings to show it. It is lavishly photographed using a rich color palette and fantastic outdoor locations. The interior sets and costumes are strikingly detailed. 

Chang Cheh was Shaw’s Spielberg While this is largely considered his best work, during his time for the studio, he created one masterpiece after another for future generations to emulate. 

Thematically speaking, John Woo’s Bullet in the Head owes a lot to this film. The comparisons are undeniable. Slow motion bloody death scenes abound in the work of both directors. Notably, Woo served as apprentice under Chang Cheh before moving on to direct his own films. 

Ti Lung was one of Shaw’s greatest starts of the ‘60s and ‘70s along with frequent co-star David Chiang. He was born in 1946 and began studying Wing Chun under Master Chu Wan as a boy. In 1969 at the age of 23 he appeared with Jimmy Wang Yu in Chang Cheh’s Return of the One-Armed Swordsman. Shaw Bros. studio saw potential in the earnest young man and trained him in the arts of swordplay, acting and horseback riding. The investment paid off, as Lung’s relationship with the studio remained fruitful for many years to come. At the 11th Annual Golden Horse Awards, Lung won he Special Award for Outstanding Performance for his work in Blood Brothers. Following a career lull in the early ‘80s when Kung Fu films fell out of fashion, John Woo cast him in A Better Tomorrow which served to introduce him to a whole new generation of filmgoers. Blood Brothers is not to by missed if you are even a little curious about the Shaw Brother’s Kung Fu catalog. Amazon has the Celestial Pictures transfer which boasts a beautiful widescreen transfer. While I prefer the Cantonese version with English subtitles, the English soundtrack for this title is pretty decent compared to some. The true scope and beauty of a movie like this cannot be fully appreciated in a cropped, poorly dubbed version.  

Watch the final fight scene here.

Trailer:

Celestial Pictures DVD Trailer:

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