Director: Peter Chan
Cast: Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Xu Jinglei
The official website (with English)
The film is inspired by Cheh Chang 1973's film "Ci Ma"
Superficially speaking, it is a film about how three men got to become sworn brothers, and how subsequent events led to challenges and tension in their relationship ...
-- In the beginning, I was kind of worried that the film might end up being one of those big budgeted films that had strived to impress with big battle scenes, grandiosity of scale or outrageous costumes, but with little plot. Fortunately, it did not. This time, the director and its crew aimed at realism and authenticity. Hence, the audience only sees predominantly brown, black, gray and dull colors (costumes and sets). While the fights are still impressive, they are more realistic. So, do not worry that there is any over the top choreography of fanciful flying or darting on water.
But what really grip are the plot and the characters
-- Initially, I was wondering how to craft this should I craft it like the way I analyzed 4:30 so that all my arguments are corroborated, but at the expense of many spoilers or should I just hint at all its possibilities but let the readers figure them out after they have watched the film After some thoughts, I opted for the latter. This is because part of the accolades goes to the plot and it is better to leave many events untold
-- On the surface, it is a simple but nonetheless heart wrenching film about three men (two were bandits and one was a fallen general) who became sworn brothers. Predictably, numerous events would happen subsequently to challenge their bond many of which would be depressing, but at the same time thought provoking.
One of the lines said it well
In the present world, dying is not difficult, living is!
What maketh a man? And to know the answer, one may ask what the three brothers represent in terms of a man's qualities i.e. Is it loyalty? trust? wit? courage? ambitions? ideals? belief? faith? passion? or love (not only romance)? etc
Between right and wrong, the line is often thin
Between good and evil, the line is thin too
Between realism and idealism, there are many tradeoffs
What is important? is it the self? brothers? spouse? family? or the people?
What constitute bravery? and what constitute stupidity/gullibility?
What constitute sacrifices? and what constitute scheming/evil?
What is war and peace about?
What is bond and love about?
PS: And if you manage to analyze the film from these aspects, you would find that it is a great film belying its simple plot
(i) Jet Li
- Unlike earlier films which mainly showcase his martial arts, his character is more complex this time. At the end, although it is easy for many audiences to dismiss and dislike him, claiming that he seeks personal aspirations and gains, it is not easy to convince oneself (but one HAVE TO) that Jet Li actually personifies many modern individuals, who are torn between personal and people, realism and idealism, etc if one is willing to scrutinize, one may not fault him entirely in other words, if you were in his shoe, what would you have done in those situations? Are you sure matters would have become better if you have opted otherwise? It is easy to claim he has done wrong on various occasions, but it is hard to claim that the alternative would be wise hence, I think the plot and characterization is great
(ii) Andy Lau
- Ok, many are going to laud him for his performance this time. And if nothing goes wrong, he should be one of the four in next years Golden Horse Award, vying for the Best Actor Award. But just a minute, one cannot deny that part of the charm goes to the fact that his role is such a likeable character even with its flaws At the end of the film, many of the audiences would be in tears over this tragic hero But on second thoughts, have you ever wondered, would his benevolence and bravery have worked in those situations to turn things around?
(iii) Takeshi Kaneshiro
- I want to credit him for a number of scenes and discredit the director/writer for three particular scenes
* I try to minimize the possible spoiler *
He had the right expression at two scenes
(i) When Jet and Andy were in tension, arguing over the criminal act of various teens, to kill or to spare them Takeshi was decisive with the correct expressions and stole the scene ...
(ii) When Takeshi witnessed the betrayal, and his eyes met those of Jet great
* End of possible spoilers *
But I thought three scenes spoil it (is it the director or scriptwriter or his fault?! Or all are to blame to some extent)
* MAJOR spoilers *
(a) Based on the lines delivered at the end, Takeshi should have committed suicide ... Somehow, it just did not seem correct to end the way it did
(b) Takeshis line "Eldest brother is always right" somehow was not well executed ... we know the director/scriptwriter is trying to portray his simplicity/gullibility but the execution was bad why?! Many audiences laughed (though it was not meant to be comical). The line somehow sounded stupid I would rather have a voice over by Takeshi (like the beginning of the film) whereby he narrated in the correct emotions, something to the extent of "At that time, I felt that eldest brother was right (optional) Maybe I still think so?!" or something akin to that ... It would have touched more rather than sounded comical
(c) In one of the earlier battle scenes, Takeshi had chopped off the head of the leader and showed it to everyone ... Somehow, I felt that his expressions were not correct (or not precise to convince his emotions). Making things worse, when the camera panned to those of Jet and Andy (maybe it was easier for them) their expressions stood out much better So, it contrasted and make Takeshis expression less than perfect
* end of MAJOR spoiler *
(iv) Xu Jinglei
-- The only female character ... Although she only had supporting roles, I think there was a lot of subtlety ... She managed to convey/convince/confuse what a woman really wants?! a womans dilemma?! A womans pursuit of dreams versus happiness often, it is NOT simple ... between rationality and emotions, between the mind and the heart, often it is difficult ... I particularly like the scene with Jet and Xu in the trench * very well executed *
(v) Guo Xiaodong
-- He is the Suzhou leader ...
And before we end, because few people mentioned, I would like to say I like the Suzhou leader best even though he only appeared on screen for a few minutes, I thought what his character did was really worth commending * clap * ...
Highly recommended. It will be another commercially successful film.