2 May 2012 | BrianDanaCamp
Solid cast and nonstop action in above-average Shaw Bros. adventure
BROTHERS FIVE (1970) is a well-made Shaw Bros. swordplay mini-epic with top-ranked action performers on both the hero and villain sides and a steady stream of large-scale fight scenes. The plot is a simple straightforward affair of five brothers being reunited for the first time since childhood and then schooled for a mission of revenge against the villain who killed their father and took over his property. If you're looking for deep emotional subtext and fraternal conflict and tension, there are plenty of Chang Cheh films to choose from (VENGEANCE, THE HEROIC ONES, THE DUEL, BLOOD BROTHERS, etc.). If you just want one solid weapons battle after another, with clearly marked good guys and bad buys, then this is the one for you.
Cheng Pei Pei (COME DRINK WITH ME, GOLDEN SWALLOW, THE SHADOW WHIP) plays Miss Yan, the swordswoman whose father was an ally of the brothers' father and has now made it her life's work to find the brothers, bring them together and prepare them for their mission by teaching techniques from the "Five Tigers with One Heart" kung fu manual, the only copy of which is in her possession. Three of the brothers are played by genre stalwarts Yueh Hua (COME DRINK WITH ME), Chang Yi (BELLS OF DEATH), and Lo Lieh (FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH), while the other two are played by Chin Han (LADY GENERAL HUA MULAN), and Kao Yuan (THE JADE FACED ASSASSIN). Each uses a different weapon in battle, with Yueh Hua favoring a metal ring with sharp edges that doubles as a hat, Lo Lieh wielding a black whip, and Chin Han swinging a blacksmith's hammer, to name three. The villains, led by the formidable trio of Tien Feng, Wang Hsieh, and Ku Feng, also have unusual weapons.
What makes this film stand out from so many similar Shaw Bros. swordplay adventures, including several from the same director (Lo Wei), is the high quality of the action staging, which is credited to Hsu Erh Niu (aka Simon Hsu, aka Simon Chui) and Chu Yuan Lung (aka Sammo Hung). The fight scenes are generally shot in long, unbroken takes in medium long shot, with the camera following the performers as they move so we can see the action in full frame for an extended period. This means the actors have to work a lot harder than usual and master a succession of intricate moves to complete one shot. Most of these scenes are shot outdoors in bright daylight with the others shot in large, well-lit interior sets. On the Blu-ray edition of this film, released by Well Go USA, these scenes are quite beautiful to behold. This is the way martial arts action should be shot.
Simon Hsu did action scenes for quite a number of Shaw films from 1969-1976, including some others I've reviewed here: HEADS FOR SALE, THE YOUNG AVENGER, BLACK TAVERN, AMBUSH and THE DRAGON MISSILE. Sammo Hung had worked with Hsu on MAD, MAD SWORD at Cathay and staged action scenes for a couple of other films at Shaw before moving on to Golden Harvest, where he devoted the bulk of his efforts in the '70s, and becoming a major star and director of kung fu films in his own right by the end of the decade. In BROTHERS FIVE, Hung appears in one extended fight scene as a security officer guarding a shipment of money for one of the brothers and gets to show how agile and athletic he was for a man his size. It's just one of the many distinct pleasures this film has to offer.