Made a year after John Woo’s genre-defining A Better Tomorrow, Flaming Brothers now comes across as a fairly routine Hong Kong action thriller, but remains important for introducing arthouse auteur Wong Kar-Wai to the world, and for compounding Chow Yun-Fat’s position as HK cinema’s biggest star.
Alan (Alan Tang) and Ah Tien (Yun-Fat) are life-long friends from the island of Macao who make a decision at an early age to survive on the streets anyway they can. Twenty years later the pair are established gangsters who own a night-club and run guns for the corrupt Triad boss Mr Kao (veteran actor Yin Tse). However, their friendship is threatened when Ah Tien announces he plans to quit the criminal life after being reunited with Ka-Hsi (Pat Ha), a girl he knew as a child.
Alan Tang was the producer of Flaming Brothers and tackles his lead role competently enough, but is consistently out-classed by the charismatic Chow Yun-Fat. The relationship between Yun-Fat and Pat Ha is warmly performed, and much more convincing than the pairing of Tang and a night-club singer played by Emily Chu. In general however the film doesn’t really work on a dramatic level – Wong Kar-Wai’s script has some nice touches, but is nevertheless highly conventional and frequently contrived. The Alan/Ah Tien friendship isn’t developed in any great depth – there’s never the sense of close brotherhood in the way there was between, say, Yun-Fat and Ti Lung in A Better Tomorrow.
Where Flaming Brothers does score is in the action – there’s not a huge amount, but director Joe Cheung ensures that it’s fast and blistering. The climatic showdown in a horse stable is relentlessly bloody, and there’s a particularly nasty scene in which Mr Kao’s mob try to extract information from one poor sucker by blowing his kid’s brains out in front of him. Cheung is also quite a stylish director – much of the film is designed in vivid primary colours, although the hilarious 80s fashions and grating synth score somewhat distract from any visual strengths. But if nothing else, the success of Flaming Brothers led Tang to produce Wong Kar-Wai’s first two films – As Tears Go By and Days of Being Wild – kick-starting the career of one of cinema’s most talented film-makers.
Hong Kong director who has made kung fu flicks (The Incredible Kung-Fu master, with Sammo Hung), action (Return Engagement, Flaming Brothers, with Chow Yun-fat) and comedy (The Banquet). Also co-wrote Jackie Chan’s Twin Dragons. Born Tung Cho Cheung.