Brothers From The Walled City (1982)

Directed by
Grungy and nihilistic depiction of Hong Kong's criminal underworld
Reviewed by Simon on 2021-07-04

Two brothers grow up in the Kowloon Walled City, a region of Hong Kong controlled by the Triads where the cops dared not go (or chose not to anyway). They feel pretty safe their though since their father is the big boss... until one day he's not.

Some years later Da De has grown up to be a respected dai lo himself, but young Xiao De is a trouble maker and miscreant. He and his friends earn the ire of another gang and draw the attention of bad cop Wang Lung-Wei.

Lam Nai-Choi's second film as director is a a grungy and nihilistic but brilliantly filmed depiction of life in Hong Kong's criminal underworld. The film starts with an introduction to the brothers as children that shows the influences which shaped them, including the loss of their father at an early age. It then focusses mostly on the younger brother, now played by Chin Siu-Ho and not so young, who is on that borderline between adolescence and adulthood where life still seems like a game but the consequences are starting to get real.

We see the consequences of an essentially harmless bit of tomfoolery escalate and become more serious, bringing tragedy crashing down on all around.

Lam doesn't flinch from showing the sordid side of Hong Kong's underbelly, drugs and prostitution and violence are the norm. The film starts as a rather lascivious depiction of the criminal world but evolves into a full blown melodrama as "shit gets real".

Although he gets much less screen time than Chin Siu-Ho, Phillip Ko is surprisingly impressive as the older elder brother. He wasn't often called upon to actually act as far as I can remember, but he proves quite capable of doing so. As overwrought as the melodrama gets he remains convincing in his emotions. Wang Lung-Wei also gets more of a dramatic part than was often the case, still a villain of course even if he is nominally on the side of the law.

The film's action is impressive - no martial arts on display just dirty street brawling, but well choreographed and executed. It's the second film I've seen today with Wang Ching in a prominent role, and was also the second film where he served as action director - not the same two films, but he's caught my attention more than he ever has in the countless films I've seen him in before.

Lam Nai-Choi also served as the cinematographer for the film, and it's uncommonly well filmed. The camera captures the grit and drama well along with some impressively kinetic work in the action sequences.

After the generally grimy and sordid tone of the film the ending on the IVL DVD feels off - it's far too abrupt and inconsistent with the film's direction up to that point. Shaw Brothers often prepared a "clean" cut of their films for distribution in markets with stricter censorship and I assume that's what this is... seems like a lost cause given the rest of the film though!

There's been a good track record of Celestial releases outside Hong Kong carrying the uncut version of films that got the clean cut on the IVL DVD, so here's hoping a more fitting ending exists (still) and somebody is going to release it one of these days. Fixing the horrible interlacing artefacts from the usual PAL -> NTSC mess on the DVD would be a great contribution to society as well.