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A tale between two brothers. One has left the triads and gone legit. The other has decided to stay and keep the triad from going to the ways of drugs and gun running. But, when one brother's in trouble, will the other drop whatever he's doing and protect his sibling even if it means losing his life? Written by
Joseph P. Ulibas <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Alan Tang (Alan) and Chow Yun-Fat (Ah Tien) play two men who grew up together as street urchins on Macau. When they were boys, Ah Tien was caught stealing rice from the kitchen of the local orphanage by the girl Ka Hsi; instead of reporting him, she hid the theft from the Sisters and started smuggling food to him and the other street kids until she was adopted and left Macau for Hong Kong. Even as a young boy, Ah Tien loved Ka Hsi as much for her kindness as her food and was hurt deeply when she departed.
Younger, less experienced or fierce than the older boy Alan, Ah Tien is taken under Alan's wing. Together they become pickpockets and learn to survive as petty thieves in the streets of Macau. One day they they witness a local "Boss" extracting tribute from the same bullying adults who had recently terrorized the two little pickpockets, and the two boys made a vow that they would one day be in that position of power.
Fast forward to late 1970's Macau, where Alan and Ah Tien are now successful underworld figures on a small scale. The film begins in earnest at the opening of their nightclub, and hear we learn the dynamics of their business and of their personalities. Alan and Ah Tien are now as close as blood brothers, Alan as the Boss and Ah Tien as his second in command; they deal in illegal weapons, gambling and prostitution but according to Alan's principles they do not touch drugs. (Think of the speech of Don Corleone to the assembled Dons in "The Godfather".)
Because they are young and successful, they attract the ire of an older established Boss and the double-crossing begins. On a fateful trip to Thailand wheels are set in motion which will change the lives and loves of the two brothers.
The character of Alan is one of a man who is deeply devoted to the younger Ah Tien, and prizes him above all others. Alan is fierce, arrogant and cock-sure yet there is an underlying current of vulnerability about him which he tries desperately to hide. When he meets Jenny the cocktail lounge singer, he loves her for her rough bravado - she is his twin, a tough woman who deep inside is hiding a wealth of emotion. She is crass (dressed in her huge cow-print fur coat she looks like a walking ad for Gateway Computers) and has a big mouth. Alan says she is "bitchy, but I like that in a woman". After a humiliation at his hands in front of two Thai prostitutes, Jenny seems to have found the man who can tame her and joyfully comes home to Macau with Alan when he leaves Thailand.
In the meanwhile, Ah Tien has been ambling about on Macau in his usual amiable way. Ah Tien is young, handsome and obviously a protege of Alan only out of loyalty; his humor and carefree manner seem to mask all kinds of insecurities, and his baby face (even though CYF was 32 when the film was made, he looks 10 years younger) seems to be better suited to expressing genial good humor than hate and anger - unless he witnesses any slight to Alan, at which he explodes in rage.
A chance encounter (so often important in the course of HK film romance) connects him with Ka Hsi again, now back on Macau and teaching at the convent where she grew up, and where Ah Tien's godson is attending school. At first afraid to tell her who he is, Ah Tien romances Ka Hsi and falls in love with her; after having received his life-long wish to see her again, he never wants to be parted from her. She seems to hold for him the possibility of redemption for his former life of crime as much as being his dream woman; Ah Tien's affection for Ka Hsi is kind and gentle and seems pale in comparison to his fierce love for his brother Alan. Yet he is willing to forego his place in Alan's underworld in order to marry the righteous Ka Hsi, who will only marry him if he gives up all of his illegal activities. When confronted with the possibility of losing his beloved lieutenant, Alan demands that Ah Tien choose between Ka Hsi and himself, and though torn by the choice Ah Tien says he cannot live without Ka Hsi and leaves Alan's house and life with regret.
Upon the separation of ways of Alan and Ah Tien there are a few references by other characters to the sexuality of Alan and Ah Tien; Jenny, who is told that she will always come second to Ah Tien, spits out that Alan can "just go be gay" with Ah Tien. Later one of Alan's henchmen says that Alan should not grieve so openly at his quarrel and parting with Ah Tien, or people will "make fun of them as homosexual". We are left with the clear impression that their love for one another goes beyond brotherly bounds (as they are not blood brothers, but by bond of affection); this explains the jealous rage of Alan upon being rejected by Ah Tien for Ka Hsi, and also of Ah Tien's decision at the end of the film to face death with Alan rather than continue to live with Ka Hsi.
Because of the subplots of the emotional dynamics of Alan, Ah Tien and the two women in their lives, this film is taken above the usual action shoot-'em-up and begins to land in solid territory. Without the tension between Alan and Ah Tien the ending would have been sterile, but as it is their final words are poignant and touching. Jenny, the bad girl who will do anything once, is an interesting character which of the two women is fleshed out a bit more and gives some interest to the story, whereas Ka Hsi as the woman of God seems to be bloodless; we can see why in the end Ah Tien realized that his path lay with Alan and not her.
There is the usual amount of violence in this film, nothing which will be shocking to those to have seen a goodly amount of HK action films. There is one *very* funny scene in which CYF dresses up in makeup drag and does a sort of Boy George impression, leading a karaoke to some Cantonese pop song about being a bad girl last night.
While the action story is very formulaic, the talents of Alan Tang and CYF make the romantic subplots interesting and well worth watching. Alan Tang was considered one of the handsomest leading men in his day, with a very stylized appearance and method of acting. CYF, with an acting style as sheer as that of Catherine Deneuve, is more informal and relaxed. This is a happy combination for this film about two men who are essentially different but who choose to conform to a standard out of love and loyalty.
This is a film that both action and romance fans will enjoy, as long as they are not overly sensitive to the gay undertones. For my money, this makes the performances all the more interesting. A good choice of earlier CYF flicks, even though he is not cast in the leading role.
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