Lau and Lee plays the Zhang brothers, Zhang Zhi-gang and Zhang Zhi-qiang, raised in the slums by their single mother. Growing up and hoping to make it big, Zhang Zhi-qiang joins the police and was promoted to Chief of Police, while older brother Zhang Zhi-gang, after failing his business, ends up joining the local triads where he slowly rises within their ranks, becoming their chief enforcer and a powerful mob leader, unbeknownst to his family...
This movie is the Ur-Example to the Heroic Bloodshed genre that dominates Hong Kong later in the 1980s; it is the inspiration behind John Woo's classic, A Better Tomorrow, and a blueprint to numerous gangster-themed films revolving around the triads released afterwards.
Tropes found in The Brothers (1979)
- Anti-Hero: Zhang Zhi-gang, a triad enforcer, gangster, yet an honourable man to the code of the triads, a dutiful son and dedicated to his brother.
- Badass in a Nice Suit: Zhang Zhi-gang when he became an enforcer for the mob. The suit he wears on the poster above is featured prominently throughout the film.
- Big Fancy House: Zhang Zhi-gang purchases a mansion for his mother and brother after making it big in the mob, lying to them about how he obtained all his wealth from being the CEO of a shipping business. He ends up dying in the hall of that same house, after being accepted by his family once more.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Zhang Zhi-gang's entire motivation is to provide a better life for his mother who raised the Zhang siblings all by herself. He ends up suffering a Heroic BSoD when his mother finds out his source of income is through illegal means by working for the mob, and she subsequently disowns him as a result.
- Heroic Bloodshed: This is the ultimate Blood Brothers-themed movie of Hong Kong cinema, a good 7 years before A Better Tomorrow!
- Inspector Javert: Inspector Zhang Zhi-qiang, who will stop at nothing to hunt down his brother for being part of the triads.
- Keeping Secrets Sucks: Zhang Zhi-gang had to hide the fact that he is a powerful triad enforcer and mobster, and that his brother Zhang Zhi-qiang is actively hunting him, from both his girlfriend and mother. It doesn't end well AT ALL.
- Mama Didn't Raise No Criminal: Sadly played straight when Zhang Zhi-gang gets disowned by his mother the moment she discover he's a mob enforcer, and not a travelling sales executive like he claimed.
- Mutual Masquerade: The Zhang brothers are actively opposing each other and havetheir hands on each others' throats, while trying to prevent their mother from finding out the truth.
- Parental Obliviousness: The Zhang's single mother is completely oblivious to the fact that both her sons are enemies opposing each other, due to the elder brother being a triad leader and the younger brother being a cop.
- Rags to Riches: Zhang Zhi-gang, a lowly, struggling coolie raised in poverty, who made it big after joining the mob. Unfortunately, the source of his wealth are obtained through smuggling and extortion, and his brother Zhang Zhi-qiang ends up working as a cop.
- Struggling Single Mother: The Zhang siblings' mother who raised them all by herself after the father's death.
- The Triads and the Tongs: The original Triad-themed film about brotherhood.
- Ur-Example: To classic Heroic Bloodshed cinema, and the film that inspires John Woo to be John Woo.