During the 1930s in China, a tragic Civil War broke out in the country between the Kuomintang-led government of the Republic of China and the Communist Party of China for control of the country, stretching out for several decades in the country’s history. Amidst this real-life backdrop, emerges the newest work from director Kiefer Liu (again using his familiar nome de pleume in Ah Gan) in his film, “Brothers”

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Finally rising through the Army’s ranks, Chen Tiejin (Li Dong-xue) has overcome his past as a poor vagrant and turned into a brave and experienced company commander. During a dangerous rescue mission, he and his Red Army troop are locked in a heated battle with the rival Kuomintang soldiers and finally manage to capture a small squad as prisoners. About to deliver the final blow, he soon realizes that the main target is his long-lost brother (Peter Ho), thought to have been dead for the past several years but instead a major figure in their army. Determined to remain true to his family bonds while still honoring his duty to his country, he struggles with the decision he knows he has to undertake, to fight his brother to the death

For the most part, this was an incredibly disappointing feature. The biggest obstacle to get over is the rather distracting and wholly unneeded visual style. As the film is shot in a stark black-and-white style with only intermittent flashes of color, ‘Brothers’ is exceptionally ugly to look at and sometimes impossible to tell what’s happening. The action scenes during the war are nearly impossible to tell who’s who on the battlefield, with all the bodies and bullets flying everywhere and dust-clouds being kicked up by the battle around. This is exactly the wrong time during the film to be struck by that kind of filmmaking tactic at the hands of Kingman Ng, the director of photography. Worst still, the ploy of doing so is a direct rip-off of other Hollywood films, namely the ‘Sin City’ series which utilizes the black-and-white framework interspersed by minor snippets of color flashed by a specific character or object in the scene, rendering the entire time with a rather familiar feeling which is not enforced by the ugliness of the visuals to go alongside that familiarity.

On top of that issue, ‘Brothers’ is far more boring than it should be. Director Liu’s screenplay only requires a select few action scenes in the overall setup, which is only at the beginning and ending of the film, leaving the middle portion to slog through an underdeveloped storyline about the themes of brotherhood and duty to your country, which has been done better in other films, most notably John Woo’s epic masterpiece ‘Bullet to the Head’ which this tries incredibly hard to emulate. Once again, the film revolves around two brothers torn apart by the betrayal of war, both of which must resolve to utilize their skills to overcome the other. There’s barely anything here given about the two brothers’ history at all, beyond the fact that the older brother just got out of prison at the start of the film and that they are on opposite sides when they meet up later. This is all the information given for the characters here, and with the utterly banal romance angle that has no purpose in the film, since we don’t even get their names, there is plenty of problems to be had with the story here.

About the only enjoyable aspect of the film is the nice action scenes. The few battle scenes in the movie are incredibly enjoyable, thanks to action director Fu Bin, which is the clear highlight of the film. Relying on massive battlefields where hundreds of soldiers are engaged in combat throughout the screen, this kind of action is played out with a nice exhilarating sense of action where bullets go flying around people’s heads, guns continually spray deep into enemy lines and soldiers on both sides go flying into the air quite often. That kind of action makes a couple of appearances in the movie: in the opening battle where the two sides are engaged in brutal combat, while that is repeated in the finale which sets up the last battle between Peter Ho and Ethan Lee. Adapting a brutal swordplay style with some streetfighting mixed together, there is some fun to be had there which is due to the bloody fighting styles that finally puts the photography style to good use as the scene looks impressive for once. Otherwise, there isn’t much else to enjoy about ‘Brothers.’

While this one has some enjoyable elements throughout, the fact that ‘Brothers’ has several rather prominent flaws throughout manages to undermine a lot of those positives and leaves it with a slightly disappointing experience. This is really only recommended to those who can appreciate these positive points in order to really get the most out of it while those that are turned off by them should heed caution with the film.