French critic-turned-filmmaker Christophe Gans' 2001 film Brotherhood of the Wolf was a cinematic wet dream for fanboys--a moving picture pastiche of genre films with a childlike love for all things cool. In much the same way Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars and Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon captured both directors love for the genre films they grew up watching, Brotherhood of the Wolf is Gans' loving tribute to the spaghetti westerns, kung fu flicks and horror movies that inspired him in his youth.
The American release of Brotherhood of the Wolf in 2002 was not nearly as successful as the European release, and while the film gathered a cult following in the states, it was far from a commercial hit. The original DVD release in Europe and Canada was a multi-disc collection with a 152-minute version of the film and a ton of bonus material. The American DVD release, however, simply featured a 144-minute cut of the film and deleted scenes. This new two-disc release features the 152-minute director's cut, and much of the bonus material from the Canadian and European release.
Set in 1765, Brotherhood of the Wolf combines fact and fiction to create a pre-French Revolution political thriller fused with a horror mystery--that may or may not have supernatural overtones--all wrapped up in an action-packed, romantic kung fu revenge film. The film uses the real-life tale of the Beast of Gevaudan, a mysterious creature responsible for attacking more than 100 people, as the focal point. For King Louis XV, the Beast was a source of embarrassment, and a symbol that he was incapable of effectively ruling or protecting his subjects. That much of the film is true, but reality gives way to fantastic adventure and political intrigue as Gans' introduces Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a naturalist dispatched by King Louis to capture and kill the creature. Having seen his fair share of action during a campaign in New France (Canada), Fronsac is more a man of intellect than of outright action. Fransac likes to leave the asskicking to Mani (Mark Dacascos), his Iroquois blood brother and Kato to Le Bihan's Green Hornet.
When Fronsac and Mani arrive in Gevaudan, they find a group of men terrorizing a woman and an older man. Mani dispatches the men in a martial arts-like battle that sets the tone for the rest of Brotherhood of the Wolf. This is clearly not a standard period-piece costume drama. Within the first few minutes of the film, Gans manages to work in references to Planet of the Apes, Jaws, Sergio Corbucci's spaghetti western classic Django, and the films of Bruce Lee. And as the film progress, the references don't stop, with Brotherhood paying loving respect to everything from the martial arts epics of Shaw Brothers Studios to the British horror movies of Hammer Films.
The local villagers, and the soldiers dispatched by the king, believe that the Beast is a wolf, but Fronsac is convinced otherwise. He suspects there is more going on than meets the eye, and he soon becomes caught up in a web of political deceit. Complicating matters is his love for the beautiful Marianne de Morangias (Emilie Dequenne), the sister of Jean-Francois de Morangias (Vincent Cassel), who holds a dark secret connected to the Beast. When Fronsac and Mani fail to capture the Beast, the king dispatches Beauterne (Johan Leysen) with orders to simply capture a wolf, and have Fronsac pass it off as the actual Beast. But when the killings continue, Fronsac and Mani return to Gevaudan to deal with the deadly killer once and for all.
Working with an international cast and crew (including fight coordinator Philip Kwok and editor David Wu, both John Woo collaborators), Gans has crafted an action film that transcends genres and nationalities. The end result is a tale of universal heroism that is, if nothing else, a cool movie. Brotherhood of the Wolf is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a great film, but it is very entertaining. The action sequences are great, the Beast is awesome and Dacascos is a total badass. Le Bihan and Cassel are pretty cool as well, and co-star Monica Bellucci certainly makes things easy on the eyes.
When all is said and done, the movie feels like it was made by a child who had run amok in some sort of cinematic toy store of his dreams. Gans is determined to create the ultimate genre hybrid--a film unencumbered by borders (or at times, logic) Think about it: This is a film that features a Hawaiian actor playing a Native American who uses martial arts in 18th-century France while hunting a creature that may be a werewolf. But somehow, whether through sheer determination or simple love of genre films, Gans succeeds in crafting a film that is captivating, drawing the audience in and reminding you of what it was like to be a kid watching a movie that is just plain cool.