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DVD Review: Brotherhood of the Wolf

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Written by Stephane Cabel and Christophe Gans


Directed by Christophe Gans


Released by TVAFilms Canada


Starring: Samuel Le Bihan (Grégoire de Fronsac), Vincent Cassel (Jean-François de Morangias), Émilie Dequenne (Marianne de Morangias), Monica Bellucci (Sylvia), Jérémie Rénier (Thomas d'Apcher), Mark Dacascos (Mani)


Rated R, 152 min.


October 11th. That was the date of my last DVD review. For those three of you that eagerly anticipate a new review each week, I apologize. But unlike a lot of ‘net writers out there who just talk about it and pretend, my life outside of this monitor sometimes has to take precedence over my other loves like you three guys, movies, wrestling and PORN. This past Saturday, November 2 at 12:18pm, I was fortunate enough to witness my second child, a boy this time, come into this cruel, cruel and selfish world weighing 9lbs and 12oz not really kicking but definitely screaming. Thanks in advance for all of your “congratulations.” I’ll be sure to raise him in all the ways of extreme cynicism and bitterness that we have all sworn to uphold and keep so near and dear to our own black hearts. Anyone who wants to send the little tyke a gift or two (hint: he loves DVDs, especially ones from Hong Kong Legends) drop me a line and I’ll be sure to get back to you with a list of "his" needs. In the meantime, lemme tell ya a story:


Last December, everyone and their mom was anxiously awaiting the release of Lord of the Rings. Well, I was one of the many who flocked into the theaters to get my hobbit-fix when it finally dropped. When it was over, I left just a tad disappointed. While sitting around the house sulking about the non-definitive finish of Peter Jackson’s epic I saw a trailer for a movie that, at least in look, seemed very similar. Except in this clip, there was a leather-clad horseman kicking ass like a veteran of some Hong Kong kung-fu flick. This I had to see for myself if my theater was going to carry it. Fortunately for me, my theater was showing this little-known (back then) film and I can count myself amongst the few souls lucky enough to see it in a theater setting and not jumping on the bandwagon after its home video release. This movie was called Brotherhood of the Wolf and it was an infinitely more enjoyable way to spend over two hours squirming in those damned theater seats than The Fellowship of the Ring.


The Movie:


The place: pre-Revolutionary France. The year: 1764. King Louis XV reigns supreme over all of France. But while Louis rules his kingdom it is a monstrous beast that rules the Gevaudan countryside. A wolf-like creature is rumored to roam the land, preying on the weak; women and children, killing them in fields, along mountain passes and in the woods. The number dead has reached the hundreds. The king’s royal huntsmen and their numerous expeditions have yet to capture the beast. While sometimes it seems they have wounded it or they capture several other large predators, the real beast somehow manages to elude them. All of their traps, bear traps and poisoned meat, fail. The few survivors and witnesses, who eventually go mad from shock, describe the Beast as looking like a huge wolf. Gevaudan is paralyzed with fear, King Louis XV seems inept and powerless and the locals are becoming more and more restless, wanting to rise up and overthrow the king. Farmers’ livestock are being eaten and they are too scared to take their animals out to graze, the locals too afraid to venture out for firewood. Something had to be done. Desperate, Louis dispatches two men to Gevaudan to solve his rapidly growing problem.



Um...the two men...strangers on horseback lookin' all cool in the fog and shit


Enter philosopher and naturalist, Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his blood brother, a Canadian Iroquois Mohawk Indian named Mani, who is more than just a little adept at kicking arse and taking names (Mark Dacascos; finally a film that has found the perfect use for him. He doesn’t speak. Yay!). It will be these two men’s job to hunt, find and eventually destroy the beast that has Gevaudan gripped with panic. This recalls a certain Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story, The Hound of the Baskervilles, to be honest. Actually, this movie recalls a lot of other movies: Sleepy Hollow, Jaws, Leone’s “The Man With No Name” trilogy, just about any HK action flick you can name…the list goes on and on. Fronsac and Mani will be assisted in their hunt by the one-armed, ruthless Jean-François de Morangias (Vincent Cassel) and Jean-François’ sister, Marianne (Emilie Dequenne), whom Fronsac falls in love with. Fronsac also ends up falling for another, a prostitute from a local bordello named Sylvia (Monica Bellucci, Cassel’s real-life wife). The closer Fronsac gets to capturing the beast, the more he finds that everyone he knows aren’t exactly what they appear to be and that the beast may be the least of his concerns. Fronsac soon finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy that involves the supernatural, the occult and secret societies in the ultimate battle between church and state; a new age of enlightenment versus a dark medieval past.



Fronsac likes to partake of the ample cleavage that lies inbetwixt Sylvia's heaving bosoms...and who can really blame him?


Fronsac and Mani are less than successful in their efforts and the King is not pleased. He orders Fronsac and Mani to cease their efforts and return home. In their stead, he sends one of his own lieutenants to the hunt. This lieutenant claims to have almost immediately captured the beast, but Fronsac and Mani are not convinced. Disobeying the direct orders of the King of France himself, Fronsac and Mani stay to organize one final effort to capture the Beast.




This $30 million epic is an ambitious amalgamation of genres that borrows heavily from both American and Asian culture. There is truly something here for everyone. It is a period piece, replete with lavish costumes and gothic set design. It is a fantasy movie that shares a lot in common with the look of LOTR. It has a mystery at its core, drama, romance, suspense, martial arts and a monster thrown in to boot, to cover your horror bases. The only thing that is missing here is a song-and-dance routine.



Dacascos showing you how you really 'sposed ta rock that tri-cornered hat...and a few peasants jaws


Gans, in my opinion, has grown by leaps and bounds as a director. After being somewhat disappointed in the look of his Crying Freeman (also starring Dacascos), Gans has upped the visual ante here considerably. Never have rain-soaked country houses and rolling green hills covered in fog looked so good. Martial arts being displayed in the 1700’s would normally look out of place (The Musketeer anyone?) but not here. In Gans’ Gevaudan, Native American shamans and the French elite congregate together without truly bumping heads or coming off as awkward.



Vincent Cassel -- born to play the villain...or incestuous transexual, you decide. How did he manage to land Monica Bellucci again?


Gans is a film buff of the highest order who used to publish his own sci-fi fanzine as a youth. I guess that is why it is so obvious when he borrows from all of the directors he has noted as influences, such as Sam Raimi, Roger Corman, Steven Spielberg, Sergio Leone and Tsui Hark. Gans must have went through great pains to assemble the cast and crew he did to work on this movie. Instead of running to the current flavor of the month, Yuen Woo-Ping (The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Gans enlisted the help of fight choreographer Philip Kwok, who is a veteran of such John Woo films as Hard-Boiled and has worked with the legendary Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong. To create his computer-generated Beast, Gans went to Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. It was a masterstroke by Gans to keep this Beast in shadow and off-camera until the climax; it only serves to amplify the terror. Or maybe he was just ripping off Spielberg’s Jaws again. But trust, it comes off as more homage than outright plagarism under Gans’ watchful and capable eye.



Fronsac and Mani -- methinks they could handle Angle and Benoit any ol day of the week. What chance would they stand against REALLY LONG STICKS???


I once blasted Guy Ritchie (Snatch) for employing a dizzying array of camera effects to hide his deficiencies as a director. He should watch Gans’ work on Brotherhood. This is how you do it, Guy. When the action is sped-up, slowed down or freeze-framed here, it is nothing short of amazing. Beautiful, even. It adds to each scene rather than take away or distract from the action. I used to fantasize about what a collaboration between directors Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Professional,) and John Woo (A Better Tomorrow, The Killer) would look like. I believe Brotherhood is probably the closest we will ever get to seeing that dream realized. Brotherhood is just a treat to look at; stylistically it’s one of those rare films that manages to be equally erotic and bizarre all at the same time. Leave it to the French.



"Don't be sore, Fronsac, I was only kidding...I like the HUGE cuffs...really, I DO!"


If you’re looking for an arthouse film with subtitles to make you feel smart and imbue yourself with some “culture”, you could do a lot worse than picking up this Hong Kong style, 18th Century monster movie inspired by actual events. For the serious DVD collector, be sure to pick up the 3-disc Canadian Special Edition. It is exactly ten minutes longer (but never boring) than its American counterpart and it contains two excellent documentaries, “The Legend” and another on the making of the movie.





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