Sunday, July 3, 2011


There may be five brothers serving as the titular heroes of Lo Wei's wuxia adventure, but the star is a woman, the mighty Cheng Pei-pei. She plays "Heroine" Yen Hsing-kung -- in the Chinese martial world you can wear "heroine" as a title or job description. She's the daughter of a hero who had died protecting the five sons of Gao, a fellow hero, from the vengeance of the Flying Dragon bandit gang. Now of age herself, Yen's mission is to unite the Gao brothers, teach them martial arts if necessary, and lead them in the pursuit of justice and revenge. The Gao boys were placed in a variety of households and have developed different vocations. One is a scholar, another a blacksmith, another a security guard for caravans while another is a chivalrous thief, and so on. Yen will recognize them as Gaos by the horizontal scar across each left fist that forms a straight line when the brothers place their fists together.

After various exploits unite them, Yen teaches the boys the five-tigers-become-one style from a book she's been carrying. This unique fighting style will allow the brothers to pool their attributes and become an invincible fighting unit -- as they'll have to be to defeat the Flying Dragons' master, the man who killed their father.

Observing the style in practice just might inspire doubt in general audiences.

For all that Master Lung (Tien Fung) is a villainous bastard, I couldn't help urging him to go for the legs during the climactic battle. But I suppose that you have to accept the premise that the legs of Blacksmith Gao, who forms the base of the formation, are so strong that Lung could not hope to topple him and his brothers. Wuxia stories often require such leaps of faith, but since we're dealing with fantasy movies it's not exactly an insult to the intelligence to indulge Brothers Five in its whimsies. The show is so lighthearted overall, so akin in its high spirits to the old Hollywood swashbucklers, that you can't hold anything against it. But you can definitely admire the dynamic exuberance of Lo Wei's direction and the infectious good nature of the six protagonists. Cheng Pei-pei naturally steps aside often to let the brothers do their stuff, but her authority is never in doubt, and when she tells Lung that she won't interfere in the climactic fight, you can't help feeling that she could deal with the villain quite nicely on her own, Lady Hermit style.

Lo Wei often keeps his frame busy by having stuntmen circle a hero or heroine, as seen from inside the circle with Cheng Pei-pei (above) or from a bird's-eye view (below).

If you're looking for intense emotions, virtuoso fighting or extreme violence, Brothers Five may not satisfy, but if you can have fun watching charismatic people beat each other up in a fantastic setting, you can have a lot of fun with this picture. Films like these may have played in American grindhouses, but they really kept the spirit of the old Saturday matinees alive.


dfordoom said...

I really need to see more Shaw Brothers movies. Definitely.

venoms5 said...

I will need to watch this one again. There was little here that stood out from several dozen other similar movies, but this particular film got plenty of ballyhoo in Shaw's movie magazines. I did like the film and I do enjoy Tien Feng as a villain. He was really good at essaying roles of the malicious sort. SWORD OF SWORDS is now out here on US DVD, Sam. I highly recommend that one. Tien Feng is an incredibly evil bastard here. He also played memorable sadists in THE MAGNIFICENT SWORDSMAN, OATH OF DEATH and BLACK ENFORCER among others. He directed a swordplay film called THE GOLDEN SEAL which was fine, but I scarcely remember anything about it.

Samuel Wilson said...

dfordoom, the library has definitely whetted my own appetite for more Shaws. Fortunately, they have plenty more for future reviews.

venom5, speaking of which, the library has Sword of Swords, which you've helped move to the top of my Shaw list. These films are still a refreshing novelty to me, which may explain more enthusiasm expressed here for Brothers Five than your memory justifies.