Blood Stained Tradewind (1990)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-07-16
“Blood Stained Tradewind” is an ambitious movie that doesn’t quite work on any of the several levels in which it operates but is a noble failure and definitely worth watching. Some of the characters are nostalgic and look back on a golden age that never really existed—the treachery of memory is constantly at play here. One outrageous conceit was the comparison of yakuza trying to move into organized crime in Hong Kong with the Japanese invasion and occupation of China in the 1930s. At first this was just hinted at or alluded to—although pretty obviously—but was made explicit during the last confrontation between the two. Old pro Chor Yeun—who has directed more movies in his career than some people have watched—and new pro Philip Cheng Chung-Tai try to accomplish the impossible here. While their reach definitely exceeds their grasp they have put together an intriguing and frustrating movie. Combined with a stellar cast, almost all of whom seem to be at the top of their game, unobtrusive but effective cinematography and some decent action sequences “Blood Stained Tradewind” shouldn’t be dismissed.

Unfortunately when it doesn’t work it is a mess. A lot of stock characters are dusted off and used: there is a hooker with a heart of gold, double (and triple) dealing gangsters, wise uncles, a funny drunk and squadrons of evil Japanese. The actors inhabiting these parts are and exceptionally talented bunch who transcend their roles. Carrie Ng Ka-Lai is heartbreaking as Fang, a woman haunted by the last words of her mother as mom and dad were being taken away by the Red Guard—“take care of your brother, no matter what.” She also has to take care of her young son and without skills or contacts but with a face that would melt a statue she heads out to work the streets every night. Her louse of a brother—who, in an unfortunate ellipse in the screenplay goes from street punk to gang leader in Macau without doing anything in between—keeps her broke and desperate. Ng Man-Tat is as good as anyone could be as Uncle Da the fiercely loyal consigliore to the boss of the Zhong Yi gang. Both Waise Lee Chi-Hung and Alex Fong Chung-Sun go from anger to fear to confusion as the reluctant rivals for head of the gang. Lam Wai and Ricky Yi Faan-Wai are properly repellent as the villians. Stanley Fung Sui-Faan is perfect as the kindly drunk who can still shoot with both hands.

Everyone is plagued by the past. Stanley Fung listens to the song "18th of September" while he looks at hat with KMT insignia and a picture of himself in KMT army uniform, saying "It has been 40 years". According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC, “On September 18th, 1931, Japanese militarists deliberately created the "September 18th Incident" at Liutiaohu, suburb of Shenyang City, which shocked China and the entire world. The Incident was followed by Japan's total occupation of China's northeast.” This is not the first but definitely the most heavy handed comparison of the yakuza and the Japanese Army. Uncle Long thinks he can remember a time when gangsters respected each other and worked things out without undue violence. Fang can’t escape her mother’s last words and has decided that she must owe her brother a lot from a former life. Sophia Zhou’s memories are a bit more mundane—she married Xiong but still loves and can’t forget Cheng.

The action scenes range from excellent to lousy—a real problem in a movie full of flying bullets, flashing knives and sudden explosions. A few of the small scale set pieces are masterful. For example when Brother Ming-- Lo Lieh, looking as tough and capable of mayhem as he did 25 years earlier-- is preparing to beat up the egregious Chao, he pulls his fist back to deliver a blow only to have his arm hooked by the cane carried by Drunk who then finishes things off by dispatching the entire bunch of hoodlums with his cane while not spilling a drop of the wine he has in his other hand. However there are a lot of gun battles that devolve into groups of men firing hundreds of rounds at each other from extremely short range. The body count is high but the manner in which they are sent to the next life is dull.

Another theme that is foregrounded is the inability of the Chinese to work together. Early on the yakuza boss says that, “We Japanese we aren't easily bribed. You Chinese love fighting among one another--we are different.” This sentiment is repeated from different points of view by Drunk who says that the Chinese can never get along--forty years ago, when he was both an army officer and an outlaw, they knew how to work with each other. Uncle Long feels there is no unity among his gang anymore and that prosperity only comes through unity. I imagine that there must be at least a wink and nod toward reunification, seven short years away when this movie was made, in the discussion of Chinese quarrelsomeness and the clashes between the PRC and the Nationalists from decades before but I will leave that analysis to those who are more attuned to it.

The structure of the movie can’t really support the unwieldy combination of melodrama, crime intrigue, action and politics but enough sheer talent and audaciousness comes through so that it is recommended.
Reviewer Score: 7