Brothers From The Walled City (1982)

Directed by: Nam Nai Choi
Written by: Shaw Creative Group
Producer: Mona Fong
Starring: Chin Siu-Ho, Phillip Ko, Johnny Wang, Liu Lai Ling, Wang Ching, Lung Tin Sang, Baak Man Biu & Kwan Hoi-San

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Brothers Xiao De and Da De lives within the confines of the Walled City, running wild on the streets and not thoroughly working hard at school. Their father (Kwan Hoi-San - Hard Boiled) is a respected and feared figure in the seedy community but is one day stabbed to death by a drug addict. The boys grow up (now portrayed by Chin Siu-Ho and Phillip Ko respectively), staying with their original living ground and the nightlife surrounding it. Xiao De is the one continuing spiraling out of control, despite Da De's constant desire for his brother to put another spin to his direction in life...

Though he co-directed with Danny Lee One Way Only (coincidentally Lee's first directing stint as well) for Shaw Brother's, fan favourite Nam Nai Choi (The Cat, Story Of Ricky) flew solo for the first time with Brothers From The Walled City (here credited as Lan Nei-Tsai). Nam an appreciated cinematographer prior and subsequently (credits include The Avenging Eagle and his own directed Erotic Ghost Story) in his radically different path as filmmaker, one of the few things to be grateful for as Celestial's remastered Shaw Brother's movies comes out is the (possible) opening up of sections of certain filmmaker's hidden depths, desires and knowledge. This gritty and punishing drama clearly showcases a Nam Nai Choi trying to make up his mind for future ventures and from it, he took the brutality, not the drama.

Although not featured to a great extent, the setting of the Walled City in Kowloon demands its little historical perspective. Today torn down by the Hong Kong government, its history goes back to the 1800s and despite the British gaining control of Hong Kong, this area for some reason never was claimed until the Japanese occupied Hong Kong in 1941. After this, the Walled City turned into a slum, filled with triad activity, whore houses, gambling dens and a population organizing on their own, causing outside influences to avoid the area. Although its goal was to survive and many businesses flourished, such as cheap medical care, in the end the government moved in for a clean-up in the 90s. Nam Nai Choi's movie goes as far as shooting on location as well as recreating the narrow streets of the area on stage to good effect. And despite not seemingly hinging on the famed setting, he and Shaw Creative Group has a central question directed towards the Walled City; is it to blame for the doomed fate of characters that early on is manifested?

Obviously the question is yes as Xiao De and Da De are in their separate ways shaped by the surroundings that includes peep shows, drugs, daylight robbery etc etc but one can not overlook the fact that we humans also mould ourselves. The dividing strife in the brothers is a classic one, almost clichéd by now which makes Brothers From The Walled City not the freshest of works today but it undeniably has an impact like others of its kind also did. There's little room for the lighter side of life (outside of a well-integrated comedy scene in a men's room) or sympathy, again going back to how the environment helps to shape in its particular way, and it's clearly bound to end up in harrowing territory.

Nam's cinematography background helps but he isn't out to spit polish his story into something artificial. Often times we feel immersed and believe in the images but while it's not a huge knock, the film doesn't grow into something terribly special as even the trademark gangster film formula takes center stage. Petty gang conflicts, giving face to triad bosses and the inevitable brawls just shows Nam as someone who can do this, not overly well but when all's said and done, Nam has expressed his views to a decent extent, planting firmly the notion that Shaw Brother's wasn't about being grand at all times, something that is easy to forget. Slight mention must go to the use of score that is actually quite inappropriate during critical moments as it leans more towards upbeat considering the grim circumstances at various times.

A concern and a genuine curiosity arises in the casting department since we get a trio of performers usually associated with action in some shape or form. While not talent with the greatest depth, Nam draws upon the screen experiences (even of Chin Siu-Ho who had appeared fairly frequently at Shaw's for 3 years at this point) and gets his actors to deliver well-served (story-wise) presence. Especially Phillip Ko and Johnny Wang bring nobility, hopelessness and fright combined and it's something to treasure seeing these veterans play in a radically different genre and setting. Chin Siu-Ho performs the character youth ignorance adequately and though only appearing during the opening reel, it's actually Kwan Hoi-San that brings the best veteran chops as the influential profile in the Walled City but one that feels the need for his children to prosper in a way he never did.

Did Nam Nai Choi do the right thing by largely abandoning any dreams of being a character drama director? Based on his subsequent, highly enjoyable B-movie output, I'd say yes without a doubt. While Her Vengeance gave us a chance to experience his serious side once more, it's obvious he wanted a break from special effects driven cinema to deliver bloody, hard hitting brutality instead. His early Shaw Brother's venture here sees those aspects coming to life and in a fairly well-honed way, Nam manages to cast a pessimistic shadow over life through his solid narrative. Never thought the guy who featured a man vs. kangaroo fight and more importantly, a cat vs. dog fight in Hong Kong movies was capable of anything seen in Brothers From The Walled City now did you?

The DVD:

IVL presents Celestial's remastered print in an anamorphically enhanced aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Completely clean and crystal clear throughout, it's a fitting tribute to how the film was envisioned. Slow motion or steady cam shots seems to suffer from excessive shaking but my guess is that it's not a fault during the restoration process but during filming.

Reportedly originally released in Cantonese, which would make sense due to setting and production year, Celestial here provides only a Mandarin dub, thankfully in original mono (Dolby Digital 2.0) though. Presentation has no problems but the Mandarin only option and the conclusion of the film suggests that a Taiwan print was used. There has been no other home video option to the best of my knowledge so do consider the above as speculation on my behalf.

The English subtitles comes with no grammar or spelling errors, seemingly presenting a good translation. Traditional Chinese subtitles are also included.

The usual Celestial extras appear, starting with newly created trailers for River Of Fury, Cherie, The Illegal Immigrant and Hong Kong Hong Kong. Oddly enough, no spot for Brothers From The Walled City, new or old, appears. In the Movie Information section we find a collection of production stills (10), image of the original poster and production notes (aka the plot synopsis). Biographies & Selected Filmography has Chinese/English write ups on actors Chin Siu-Ho, Phillip Ko, Johnny Wang, Liu Lai-Ling and director Nam Nai Choi. The actors get fairly brief career outlines but Nam's file contains some worthwhile facts about his rising status at Shaw's and how it lead to directing in the first place.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson