All Men are Brothers - Blood of the Leopard

Reviewed by: TKL

June 15, 2004

Rating: four

"All Men are Brothers – Blood of the Leopard" is a great adaptation of the classic “Water Margin” or Shui Hu Zhuan, one of the four famous Chinese novels along with Dream of the Red Mansion, Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Journey to the West. “Water Margin” is an immortal epic about 108 outlaws in the Sung Dynasty. These courageous heroes all had suffered oppression, and injustice and came together with the intention to fight a Dynasty that had become so corrupted. They formed the strongest bond of friendship even though they were all from different backgrounds or classes in society.

Tony Leung Ka Fai – Lin Chung
Joey Wang – Lin Chung’s wife
Tsui Kam Kong – Lu Zhi Shen
Sean Lau Ching Wan – Tso Wu

The movie was about Lin Chung’s life before he became one of the 108 heroes in LiangShan Po. Lin Chung was a courageous and handsome young Chief Instructor of Imperial Guards. He befriended an unusual monk named Lu Zhi Shen, who was from Liang Shan Po. They soon became best friends and later sworn brothers. However, Lin Chung’s honesty upset his superior, the commander of Imperial Guards, Kao Qiu and his expertise in martial art evoked the envy in his colleague, Lu Chien. In addition, Kao Qiu's son, Kao Ya Nei, lusted after Lin Chung's beautiful wife. Kao Ya Nei was humiliated by Lu Zhi Shen when he stopped Lin Chung’s wife in the street. During this time, Lin Chung met Tso Wu, a poor man who was selling his saber for money and food. Lin Chung took Tso Wu in and paid for the saber.

Kao Qiu saw Lin Chung as a great threat to him and devised a scheme to frame Lin Chung for murder. He sent Lu Chien to Lin Chung’s house and to ask him to bring the saber into Kao mansion for comparison with his precious saber. Naive as he was, Lin Chung stepped right in the trap that Kao Qiu had set up. He was unknowingly led into a military "Hall of White Tiger" that had restriction on entrance. Being accused of murder attempts but with the help of a good Prime Minister, who was aware of Kao Qiu’s true nature, Lin Chung escaped the death sentence and was sent on exile to Tsang Chou. A tatoo on his cheek as a mark for convict became one of Lin Chung’s famous features.

Lu Zhi Shen escorted him on the way to prevent Kao Qiu's people from killing Lin Chung. During his absence, Kao Ya Nei forced himself on Lin Chung's wife, but he accidentally killed her. At Tsang Chou, seeing the way Lin Chung was being treated, Lu Zhi Shen tried to persuade Lin Chung to join Liang Shan Po. However, Lin Chung's blind loyalty to his country was strong and refused Lu Zhi Shen many times. Yet Kao Qiu did not give up the intention to kill Lin Chung and sent Lu Chien with a troop to Tsang Chou to finish the task.

The story of Lin Chung is one of the famous tales from the Water Margin. The movie followed faithfully to the story except the addition of Tso Wu and a few minor changes. The star-studded cast delivered excellent performance, especially Tony Leung and Tsui Kam Kong. Tony Leung's Lin Chung was everything Lin Chung supposed to be, a handsome, righteous, and respected martial art expert who valued virtue and loyalty. He was also able to show another side of Lin Chung, a devoted and loving husband. Tsui Kam Kong’s lively portrayal of Lu Zhi Shen, a monk with violent temper, and love for wine was wonderful. The friendship between Lin Chung and Lu Zhi Shen was in fact one of the high light of the movie. The two men whose personalities and backgrounds were very different but they developed a strong bond based on loyalty, trust and respect. Tie of friendship between men was an important feature of "Water Margin" and it is rather apt with the title, "All Men are Brothers".

Sean Lau’s character Tso Wu added a poignant factor to the movie (even though his character was entirely created by the scriptwriter), a man who considered loyalty and honour as priority in his life and would not mind sacrifice himself for his friend. Joey Wang was beautiful as the wife of Lin Chung. Her few scenes with Tony Leung managed to weave some romance and light-hearted moments into this action packed movie. She graced the screen with her serene beauty but left little impression in the audience. However, it was acceptable because “Water Margin” never placed much importance on the female characters anyway. The story focuses more on the heroes. The supporting cast was strong, even the actor who played Kao Ya Nei was wonderful in his portrayal of a good-for-nothing playboy.

Few changes and omissions were made in the script. Lu Chien in the movie did not show his true self, a selfish and envious man until the end and Lin Chung naively went on believing that Lu Chien was one of his true friends. One of the important fact that was omitted from the movie script was how Lin Chung wrote a letter to divorce his wife before he went to Tsang Chou because he knew that he might not return while she was still to young to wait for him. Lin Chung was a very considerate and loving husband. The torture Lin Chung suffered on his way to Tsang Chou was also omitted from the script. I guess it was because of the time limit of the movie and if those scenes were added, they would slow the pace of the movie down.

I was amazed at how the entire plot was packed rather nicely into a period of merely 90 something minutes and was still very consistent and faithful to the original story despite some minor changes. The great fighting choreography completed the package of this entertaining movie. The kung-fu was rather believable and provided some breath-taking and heart-stopping moments throughout the movie, especially the spectacularly ending fight. Much attention was paid to the scenery, direction, supporting cast such as soldiers and costume to bring this movie to the level of epic grandness.

This is one of few movies that I would not wish for it to end as I watched. I just wonder why filmmakers in Hong Kong won’t do anymore adaptation of “Water Margin”? There was another memorable adaptation back in 70s starring Ti Lung as Yu Tong and David Chiang as Yan Qing. There is also rarely any TV series based on the story. Well, my review is full of praise and what more can I say except to recommend you to rent or even buy this movie for your enjoyment?

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