This film at times feels like the “evil cousin” to the “Heroic Bloodshed” genre. One can see similarities at times, but these traits are buried underneath an extremely unromantic look at the world of triads and the “brotherhood” within it. This film twists around the notions of loyalty and heroism  - loyalty is a convenience and no one is ultimately heroic. This gritty and very violent tale of the Taiwanese and Hong Kong underworld was clearly influenced by both the Hollywood gangster films of the 30’s and the Godfather trilogy. At times it is a soap opera, at other times a blood fest.

The story of Tung (don’t know this actors name) is almost told in chapter style – from his boyhood - to his entry into the triads – to his conflict with his life long friend. What makes the film different from many such triad movies is that Tung never really becomes much more than a foot soldier and a killer – yet his sense of honor, pride and loyalty (within the framework of his concept of “brotherhood”) make him seem much more. If there is a hero in this film it is Tung – but his dreadful treatment of the women in his life leave large holes in his character as well. The director makes it nearly impossible to really like anyone in this film – everyone has their share of flaws, weaknesses and dishonourable moments – but the film has such a realistic if brutal bent to it that it is impossible not to be a bit fascinated by it all. Though I don’t know the names of two of the three main protagonists, they are all excellent and the supporting cast is absolutely top notch.

Chin Han, Sihung Lung and Tung as a boy
The first chapter in Tung’s life begins with him as a young boy witnessing Big Belly kill his parents in front of him. He runs away and hides. As he wanders the streets only a young girl is kind to him – and he ends up stealing a shoe shine box and going into business. This chapter is all shot in black and white seemingly as a homage to the old gangster films and it looks fabulous. I was hoping the entire film would be in this style – it fit the feel of the film perfectly – but only the first section is shot in this manner. One day, the head of a triad family (Chin Han) is receiving a shine from him when a rival gang comes gunning for him. Tung helps him survive and in gratitude, he is taken into the triad. Sihung Lung (the father in Eat Drink Man Woman) plays Han’s advisor Uncle Tuan. Still a youngster, Tung soon has the opportunity to revenge Chin Han and it turns out his parents as well – and he guns down Big Belly in cold blood. He is sent to jail for many years.
Tung, Jack Gao and girl
When he gets out, he is in his twenties and his triad family is no more  - Chin Han is dead and Uncle Tuan is a bartender – but Tung teams up with Chin Han’s son (Jack Gao) and they begin to attempt to rebuild the family business through bloodletting. They first kill Blackie Ko and others are soon to follow. The killings are extremely bloody and in your face. After Ko’s murder, Gao takes Tung to a woman to celebrate both getting out of prison and killing a man on his first day out. Not just any woman though – he takes him to Amy Yip for some fun and relaxation. Then I think – wait a second – he has been in jail since he was a kid – so this guy is starting off with Amy Yip! Some guys have all the luck.
Tung, Blackie Ko and Gao
The Yipster only has about 10-15 minutes of screen time in the film – but she is surprisingly solid in a tragically dramatic role as a woman very much in need of love – but always picking the wrong guy. She has a couple very good scenes and a couple revealing ones.
Tung falls in love with the little girl (all grown up now of course) that helped him as a young boy – but events (often of his own causing) soon drive him into another chapter of his life. He flees Taiwan to HK to escape certain death while Gao goes to the south of Taiwan. In HK Tung joins a Taiwanese gang – headed by Ko Chuen-hsiang and his son Chang Chung-Yung. They face off against a Mainland gang headed by Wu Ma and Lo Lieh. Tung becomes the gang enforcer. The fifth and final chapter has Tung returning to Taiwan to join up with Gao – only to find Gao now married to his old love. Alan Tang plays the older rival gang leader.
I really enjoyed this film – it is fairly low budget – very stark – very violent – very visceral - with none of the bullet ballet or romanticism of a Woo film – but it’s feel of being so basic felt very  refreshing.

I was surprised to find out that the film was directed by the legendary Taiwanese director Chu Yen Ping - known for his campy classics such as Fantasy Mission Force and Golden Queen Commandos - but unlike those films, this one is fairly straight forward and focused.

My rating for this film: 7.5