Orphans Alan (Alan Tang) and Ah Tien/Gary (Chow Yun-Fat) grew up on the streets of Macau together, graduating from petty thievery to being fixtures in the local Triad scene.

While they do gambling and prositution they don't push drugs, thereby following that long gangster tradition dating back as far as The Godfather. So, when another Triad, Chui, seeks to bring them in on his drugs trade, Gary politely refuses.

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Chui, angry at losing face, has Gary kidnapped in a bid to force Alan to acquiesce to his demands. But Alan has one of his men secrete a gun into Chui's club - shades of A Better Tomorrow and The Godfather - and thereby turns the tables on Chui when he goes to negotiate Gary's release.

The brothers' troubles are only starting, however, as Chui's boss, Kao (Patrick Tse Yin), calls them in for a conference. While willing to accept their no drugs policy and even the killing of his underling, he cannot let them continue to act independently and offers, in a "can't refuse" way, to bring them into his organisation. Alan agrees, without enthusiasm, to negotatiate an arms deal with Kuo's Thai contact, Hsu, as a test. In what appears to be an uncharacteristic case of generosity, Kuo agrees to split the money for the deal 70/30, himself taking the smaller share.

Negotations between Alan and Hsu are tense, until an attack by a rival gang on Hsu's base brings the two men together against a mutual enemy. Celebrating the victory at a night club, Alan meets Jenny (Jenny Tseng), a singer and, after a spot of bedroom farce, realises that she's the woman for him.

Meanwhile, back in Macau, Gary discovers that his boyhood love Ka Hsi (Pat Ha) has returned and is now working as a teacher at the orphanage where she was once a pupil. At first, he conceals the fact he is a Triad but, inevitably, the truth soon outs. Nevertheless, Ka Hsi realises that Alan is a decent man at heart and agrees to marry him. He, for his part, resolves to abandon his old way of life, a decision that causes some friction with Alan on his return.

Next, Kao double-crosses Alan, splitting the proceeds from the arms deal 20/80 in his favour. With Alan thereby compelled to go to war or lose face, the brothers find their old loyalties to one another in conflict with their new situations...

Conceived of as an obvious cash in on the "heroic bloodshed" genre, inaugurated by John Woo's A Better Tomorrow, this gangster drama, known as Flaming Brothers and - a more literal translation - Dragon And Tiger Fight, with romantic and comedic elements, works well enough in toto, but lacks the special something needed to elevate it out of the pack.

Though boasting the presence of Chow Yun-Fat, who is cool, charismatic and compelling, as always, along with a Wong Kar Wai script, it's important to realise that in 1987, when the film was produced, neither man was an established name domestically, or internationally. Instead, the film was designed first and foremost as a showcase for the talents of its producer/co-star Alan Tang, then a relatively big name in the Hong Kong industry.

The shootouts, while well enough choreographed, full of bullets flying and bodies falling in slow-mo, are neither as accomplished as those in Woo and Yun-Fat's collaborations, nor sufficiently parodic or self-deprecating to work as they might have done in a Kar-Wai piece.

Much the same could be said of the film's production design and costuming, which showcase the worst of Eighties style, outside a Miami Vice DVD. Are these fashions a genuine attempt at stylishness that has dated horribly? Are they a conscious commentary on the vulgarity of the gangster, a tradition that dates back as far as the Thirties, with the likes of Scarface?

Perhaps they are both. Or neither.

Reviewed on: 15 Jun 2003
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Flaming Brothers packshot
Hong Kong gangster flick about a Triad double crossing.
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Director: Joe Cheung

Writer: Wong Kar Wai

Starring: Alan Tang, Chow Yun-Fat, Jenny Tseng, Pat Ha, Patrick Tse Yin

Year: 1987

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Hong Kong


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