Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Mark Dacascos, Monica Bellucci, Emilie Dequenne
Written by: Christophe Gans, Stéphane Cabel
Directed by: Christophe Gans
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and gore, and sexuality/nudity
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 144
Date: 09/09/2000
IMDB

Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Full Moon Fever

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

You could pretty much sell Brotherhood of the Wolf on its genre alone. It's a French-language period piece kung-fu monster flick. Take thatlineup to even the most jaded moviegoer and they'll have to say, "Nope. Never seen that before."

It's 1765, and King Louis XV reigns. A mysterious savage beast roams the French countryside at night, devouring any lovely lass or cherubic child that happens to be out (it doesn't touch men). Men have hunted him through winter and summer and always fail to catch him. And supposedly, this is all based on a real legend. But you can bet the legend had nothing to do with kickboxing.

Enter Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his faithful Iroquois blood brother Mani (Mark Dacascos), summoned by the king to catch the beast. What they find is something a lot more complicated than a simple beast, or even a werewolf, as I surmised for a long while.

Directed by Christophe Gans and photographed by Dan Laustsen (Nightwatch and Mimic), the film does its best work in capturing the distinct flavor of a time and place. It seems like a three-dimensional space, with rich forests and candlelit rooms in mysterious castles. It also softens the edges of these spaces, allowing for dream-like images to evolve.

But all that is window dressing. This is a kung-fu movie, choreographed by the great Philip Kwok, a former actor for the Shaw Brothers and fight choreographer for John Woo's Hard-Boiled (1992). The fights and stunts are spectacular, as expected, though Gans is no John Woo and the fights tend to get muddled in the fast cutting and jerky camera movements. (In one random scene a stone pillar gets smashed and falls to the ground -- I counted five separate shots to complete this small event.)

Nevertheless, the window dressing comes back into play. If all we had was a story of two kung-fu warriors going at it and you couldn't make out what was going on, we'd have a failure. Brotherhood of the Wolf is a success because of the other elements in the stew.

We have a pretty solid mystery, a conspiracy, some stunningly erotic sequences featuring the lovely Emilie Dequenne (Rosetta) and Monica Bellucci (Malena). We're transported away to a mystic world where magic seems absolutely real and must be taken into consideration when hunting beasties in the forest. While most studio products tend to resemble one another more and more, a blast of B-movie originality like this is most welcome.

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