Blood-Stained Tradewind (1990) is a Chor Yuen film, but it is not a film to watch if you want to know about Chor Yuen. In the same way that watching Jack cannot possibly provide a gauge for the brilliance of Francis Ford Coppola, watching Blood-Stained Tradewind isn't going to give you a good window into Chor Yuen's vision.
When the Shaw Bros. finally began releasing their vast catalog on DVD, it was Chor Yuen's films that I was most interested in seeing. Classic Shaw studio defining directors like Lau Kar Leung and Chang Cheh made films in the more popular genre, kung fu films, so they had generous importing and bootlegging within the US, but Chor Yuen made fanciful action films, a genre that for some baffling reason never caught on in the States. So, Chor Yuen was a guy I had mostly read about and when I finally got to see his notable films, like Magic Blade, Bastard Swordsman, Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, and Clans of Intrigue, I was pleased to find a Chor Yuen's films lived up to the hype. Here was a man who made dazzling, technicolor, populist action fantasies, often with confounding plots, amazing sets, and delirious imagination.
The Shaw's fizzled out their film productions and by 1990 a once prolific workhorse like Chor Yuen, who was also a steadily employed actor, found himself behind the camera making a gunplay/gangster film. While there were some films that opened the door, A Better Tomorrow really launched the bullet ballet genre that was all the rage in HK for over a decade. Despite a decent cast and an okay script, Chor Yuen doesnt seem to muster much inventiveness of energy into the picture, so the result is a pretty paint by numbers entry into the gangsters and guns genre.
Xiong (Waise Lee- The Big Heat, Bullet in the Head) and
Cheng (Alex Fong- Angel, One Night in Mongkok) are blood-brother members of the Zhong Yi gang. Cheng is the adopted son of the gangs leader and defacto heir to leadership. The Zhong Yi's get wind of some Japanese yakuza, led by Song Ben, trying to align with their enemies, dealing in arms, hiring hired killers, and basically trying to take them over. The Zhong Yi's stage an attack and turn the tide, eliminating their rivals and forcing Song Ben to flee back to Japan.
With their place in the gang world seemingly intact, the Zhong Yi boss decides to retire but to his dismay Cheng doesn't want the job.
Xiong becomes the next Zhong Yi head and marries the godfathers daughter, Sophie (Ida Chan), who had affections for Cheng. Meanwhile, Cheng finds himself on the outs and effectively forced into exile. Cheng sets up residence in Macau and takes a job as a lowly wage earner at some shipyards.
Cheng begins to fall for his landlady, Fang (Carrie Ng), who has a criminal lout of a brother. Her brother actually tries to sell her into prostitution to pay off his underworld debts and Cheng's defense of her becomes his unwelcome entry back into the criminal world, including his old gang which now has its fare share of troubles. Song Ben has come back and the Zhong Yi family is in turmoil from traitors within, as well as Xiong feeling the pressure of living in his resurrected blood-brothers shadow.
Pretty standard stuff for a heroic gangster flick, the endless ammunition gunplay, the twisted allegiances, the loyalty of brotherhood. Blood-Stained Tradewind does just enough to entertain and isn't inventive enough to really shine as a great example of the genre. Its just a dose of pure formula, decent acting, decent pacing, decent action,... but... just... decent.
This is one of those cases where the director was usually so much better than this kind of material or, at least, the material didn't suit the director, so for those in the know, that makes it all the more disappointing. Though it would have been a hard sell, its too bad they didn't let Chor Yuen play to his strength turn it into some kind of gunplay fantasyfest with guys firing magic guns with garishly animated bullets. I'd have much rather the warehouse shootout finale involved guys flying around and shooting bullets that made people explode like a toad. At least then it would have been a bit more memorable.
The DVD: Image.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Pretty mediocre effort but really not much of a surprise since HK isn't known for spiffy prints and its not the kind of film that is going to get some loving TLC in remastering. There is inherent damage and age wear, making for a very soft and muddy print. A handful of scenes also exhibit some color timing issues where the tint is very off.
Sound: Mono, Mandarin language with optional English subtitles. Well, its not spectacular, but it is, after all, mono and a b-film from a time when this kind of HK production didn't give much of a damn about explosive sound mixing. The Mandarin dub is pretty poor, for instance, they clearly have an adult dubbing a child's voice. At least the subs are good.
Extras: Theatrical Trailer.
Conclusion: Blood-Stained Tradewind is a bit of early 90's, HK, John Woo lite gangster melodrama action. A passable film. An underwhelming DVD. Rent it.