Director: Terry Ng
Cast: Bosco Wong, Louis Cheung, Carlos Chan, Niki Chow, Kenny Wong, Michelle Wai, Kent Cheng, Ben Yuen, Jacquelin Chng
Runtime: 1 hr 36 mins
Rating: NC16 (Mature Theme and Violence)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 12 October 2023
Synopsis: Seventeen years ago, triad member Chai helped his childhood best friend Meow flee Hong Kong after discovering that Meow attempted to kill Chai’s boss. Now a successful and respected triad figure, Chai runs into Meow, who has secretly returned to Hong Kong to make an honest living after working abroad as an illegal worker. Chai knows that the triad will not let Meow go if they find him. Caught in between his duty to his gang and his loyalty to his friend once again, what will Chai choose?
Whereas they were a dime a dozen before, triad movies have since become few and far between in Hong Kong cinema. It is therefore with bated breath that we had awaited ‘The Brotherhood of Rebel’, a throwback to the genre that seemed to boast all its signature trademarks, including a group of actors with good machismo, a strong dose of brotherhood and a healthy dose of gratuitous violence.
Those with similar expectation will be glad to know that this thematic sequel to Daniel Chan’s 2012 ‘Triad’ does not disappoint; indeed, thanks to a surprisingly character-driven script by Ronald Chan and Leung Chung-fai, director Terry Ng’s sophomore film proves a captivating watch from start to finish, anchored by solid leading turns from Bosco Wong, Louis Cheung and Carlos Chan.
Than get distracted by the typical infighting among duelling groups within a triad, Ng keeps a tight focus on the titular trio – Chai (Wong), Mao (Cheung), and Kam (Chan) – who after assassinating a rival gang leader in the opening sequence finds favour with Yau (Kenny Wong). Their eagerness and efficiency to do Yau’s dirty work quickly help them climb up the ranks of Yau’s triad faction, with Chai soon becoming Yau’s right-hand man and the de facto leader of the three.
Their fortunes take an irrevocable turn when Mao unknowingly accepts a freelance gig as a driver for a crew of men who turn out to be out for Yau’s life. To save his own life, Mao has no choice but to run Yau over, before his passengers get out and start stabbing Yau. Chai and Kam catch up with Mao in an alley, and Chai decides to save Mao’s life by giving him a sum of money to go into hiding.
It isn’t hard to guess that their paths will cross years later, when Mao returns to Hong Kong with his pregnant wife (Michelle Wai). Given how he has been reduced to a paraplegic, Yau has ceded the running of his business to Chai, who wisely steers the organisation towards legitimate businesses. That also explains why Chai is livid when he discovers that Kam has been going behind his back to do his own illegal dealings.
Without giving too much more away, let’s just say that Mao’s return triggers a tsunami of recriminations, including and especially Yau’s wife’s (Niki Chow) determination to seek vengeance on the people responsible for the attack on Yau, even after Yau tells Chai and Kam that he knows Mao is among those responsible but is prepared to forgive him. Kam’s own ambition, greed and pride also combine to become a toxic cocktail, and it isn’t hard to guess that Kam will betray Mao and by extension Chai.
Like we said, Wong, Cheung and Chan pretty much carry the movie throughout, and it is kudos to their naturalistic performances as well as their infectious chemistry that you’ll find yourself emotionally invested in their fates. Each of the three actors brings their own to their respective roles – what with Wong being a cool and confident leader, Cheung a guilt-stricken reject, and Chan a hot-headed brute – and their commitment makes their ultimately tragic fate poignant and profound.
To his credit, Ng has a firm grasp of tone and pacing, and there is never a dull or phoney moment throughout an economical 96 minutes. It won’t replace ‘Young and Dangerous’ as the icon of the genre, but ‘The Brotherhood of Rebel’ is a solid throwback to a fast-fading, if not faded, genre of Hong Kong cinema. It is an enjoyable, even nostalgic, watch for fans all right, and will have you looking forward to the next instalment in the gangster series.
(A surprisingly character-driven tale of loyalty, ambition and circumstance, this throwback to the Hong Kong triad genre is a hot-blooded treat for fans)
Review by Gabriel Chong