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刺馬 (1973)
The Blood Brothers


Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 03/27/2008

Chang Cheh's gong-thumping, trumpet-blaring, sabre-rattling historical drama seemingly has borrowed its melodramatic edge from the trio of Mandarin musicals the prolific director cut his teeth on.

Chang, Ma, and Huang are three noble bandits who form an underground society during the Qing Dynasty and let the good times roll. Over time Ma (Ti Lung) begins to long for more and the need to better himself through indoctrination despite the lust he feels in his heart for Huang's wife Mi Lan (Ching Li).

Two years after joining the Qing the former bandit cum respected general sends for Chang (David Chiang) and Huang (Chen Kuan Tai) and his wife (who has spent every day away from Ma's presence in unbridled agony) along with their denizens who all eagerly renounce their former stature and become legitimized soldiers.

When the would-be lovers can no longer bare the simple obstacle that lies between them General Ma decides all is fair in love and war and there shall be no honor among thieves.

"The Blood Brothers" ranks among some of Chang Cheh's most celebrated works of the 1970's and is often considered the director's superlative entry in the martial arts genre.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 06/02/2006
Summary: A masterpiece

Two small-time bandits, Chang Wen-Hsiang and Huang Chung (David Chiang and Chen Kuan-Tai) meet and befriend another by the name of Ma Hsin I (Ti Lung). The three – along with Huang’s wife Mi Lan (Ching Li) overtake a bandit hideout and set up base. All seems well, but Ma has aspirations to better himself and become a Qing officer. Furthermore, he develops strong feelings for Mi Lan, although Huang is completely oblivious to the fact. We find that Mi Lan married Huang when she was young and now regrets the decision, thinking that Huang would grow as a person when in fact he was always destined to be shallow and unambitious. Driving himself hard, Ma achieves his dream and eventually becomes a well-respected general in the Qing army and, mindful of the promises he made to his brothers, enlists Chang and Huang. However, the reunion also means meeting Mi Lan again, and neither party’s feeling have changed. In fact, Mi Lan now thinks she’s found the man she’s always wanted…

This is by far the most widely seen film by western audiences of a Chang Cheh vehicle starring his two favourite leads – and for a good reason: it’s fantastic.

Told in a series of flashbacks following the capture of Chang Wen-Hsiang for the assassination of Ma, we are shown the doomed friendship from start to finish already knowing the final outcome. He sits resignedly throughout the movie writing his confession in front of his captors, wanting nothing except the truth of the matter to be brought to the world. It’s a device that works brilliantly, and you find yourself engrossed in the story, wondering why exactly things went so wrong for them.

This film surprisingly flirts with symbolism and shows great restraint – we do not get nearly as many buckets of blood here, the emphasis more on the story and characters. It is excellently scripted throughout (although the subtitles do fall below expectation on a number of occasions on the Celestial DVD) and the pace remains constant with no “flat” moments that can appear in such productions of the time.

This is also the film that won Ti Lung deserved recognition when he received the Golden Horse award for Outstanding Performance. Although none of the main characters are two-dimensional (with the exception of Huang Chung – who is SUPPOSED to be two-dimensional!), Ti Lung really does shine.

POSSIBLE SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN
His character is complex as he copes with his inappropriate feeling towards his brother’s wife. Furthermore, does he order Huang to be killed because he wants him out of the way so he can be with Mi Lan forever, or because Huang is a liability as an officer and does not appreciate his wife? Although Ma insists repeatedly that he will crush anything that stands in his way, I find it interesting that he only gives the order after discovering that Huang frequents brothels and bad-mouths his wife.

David Chiang is also superb as Chang Wen-Hsiang. He shows great range as he finds himself between his brothers, faced with almost impossible decisions. After his final confrontation with Ma, rather than gloating over his victory at bringing justice to a brother betrayed, he says to his dying friend: “you can rest in peace. I will not try to escape”, before peacefully giving himself up to the inevitable torture and execution at the hands of the government.

Powerful stuff.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 10/13/2003
Summary: Pretty ordinary

Well what can i say, but Ti Lung seemed like he was OVERACTNG in his role. Though i was impressed but it. David Chaing seems like the only acting he can do is smile. Chen Kuan Tai plays his role well but i just can't stand that type of character.

This movie is based on real life events where tradegy rules. The action is slow and unrealisitic and there are actually only a few action scenes.

Sounds like there is nothing much to recommend apart from Ti lung, but the beginning actually starts off quite well. The ending though will not sit well with some, like me!!

6/10

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 03/29/2003
Summary: The best Chang Che I've seen so far

Watching Shaw Brothers movies is starting to feel like having a bunch of friends around for a movie night to me... except the friends are all actually in the movie, and they eat less pizza. This time, Ti Chen Kuan Tai and David Chiang star with Ti Lung, whilst Chang Che directs and Tong Gaai and Lau Kar Leung once again handle the fight scenes.

Chen Kuan Tai and David Chiang play a pair of hopeful mountain bandits who become friends with Ti Lung after failing to rob and kill him. Ti Lung is a man with high ambitions (and great kung-fu). The three of them lead a raid on a gang of bandits and take over there, where Ti Lung trains the men into a fearsome fighting force. But his ambitions don't stop there - what he really wants is to be a general and lead an army.

The scale of the production is large, with hundreds of costumed extras employed for the larger battle scenes. However, writers Ni Kuang and Chang Che seem to have learnt a lot since The Heroic Ones and always keep the focus on the main trio plus Ching Li as CKT's wife. The plot is hence much easier to follow, and the main characters are well developed. The story is very good, and has more depth than I've come to expect from a Chang Che story. It's far less focussed on machismo and heroism as well, though there's still a lot of oiled up shirtless men to be found.

All the actors give great performances, with Ti Lung winning the charisma award (and a Golden Horse award for that matter).

The movie is a lot more than just an action vehicle, but naturally there's plenty of fighting to be found. There's basically two types of fight... in some, huge gangs/armies have at each other and everybody basically just swings their weapons around and the extras try to die dramatically and in large numbers. Then there's the more choreographed and personal fights, some with weapons and some hand to hand. These show a lot more thought in the choreography and camerawork, and show the skills of the performers a lot more. The latter fights tend to be a lot more impressive, but in truth I didn't think the action in the movie was all that great.

The story is very captivating, however, and the direction is probably the best I've seen from Chang Che. The movie looks very good, with grand set designs and a lot of outdoor/on location work too.

The Celestial Shaw Brothers fans will probably divide a lot people into "a Chang Che guy" or "a Chor Yuen guy". Normally I seem to be a Chor Yuen kind of guy, but for this week's viewing (The Blood Brothers and Death Duel) Chang Che comes out on top.

Definitely recommended.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 07/23/2001

An early Shaw Bros classic featuring Chang Cheh and 3 of his most recognized kung fu masters. The name of the movie "Ci Ma" sounds terribly familiar, and since it's supposed to be a historical drama, I'm sure I've heard of it when I was a kid. But I can't recall anything about it at the moment.

So what do u know, we have Ti Lung as a bad guy, and he even fights David Chiang! Not something you see too often. When the 2 are fighting, it's obvious that Ti Lung only had to use 30% of his real skill to make David Chiang look good. There is no way Chiang's kung fu could have beat Ti Lung's in real life. I wonder what took the Shaw crew so long to figure that out.

The movie uses a flashback method on David Chiang's part, which I think worked very well. The film starts off with David Chiang getting caught after finishing off Ti Lung, which is also how the film pretty much ends. Speaking of the ending, it is typical of the Shaw films of the 60s-80s. Basically NOTHING!! Very disappointing indeed.

[7/10]

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: battlemonkey
Date: 12/21/1999

Three friends are torn apart as greed and power corrupts oneof them. Sort of a dynastic version of BULLET IN THE HEAD, huh? Based on actual events and people.


Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Two bandits meet an ambitious fighter on the road and the three become friends. They dominate the hills as bandits but the ambitious man (Ti Lung) leaves to try the army. They are reunited when Ti Lung has become a general but are torn into a bloody resoloution by greed, power and the shared love of one woman. The first thing that impresses in this film is it's use of outdoor and non-studio locations. Coupled with outstanding cinematography the film looks a million dollars. All the stars deliver the goods, especially Ti Lung as the power mad general. The fights are brutally choreographed and you really feel every blow. Chang Cheh skillfully shows us what happens when bonds of friendship and noble intentions are waylaid by greed and meglomania.

[Reviewed by Andrew Best]