Bloody Ties (US - DVD R1)
Finally, Gabe sits down to a crime thriller he can stand by...or, er, sit down with...
A meth dealer finds himself in a tight spot as a police informant, and teams up with a psychotic cop to bring down a big time crime lord. The cop wants revenge for his friend's death, and has basically blackmailed the torn dealer into assisting. The dealer picks up and decides to cure a woman with a major drug addiction along the way, opening himself up to emotional damage.
It's so hard to find things to say about the seventeenth Asian crime story I've reviewed for this site, good or bad, unless that seventeenth Asian crime film does something drastic to differentiate itself from the rest. Bloody Ties is, thankfully, not another Hard Boiled or Infernal Affairs knock off, unlike just about every other Korean and Chinese genre film I've seen in the past ten years or so. I'm not going to say it's anything too original, but at this point a change of pace is a blessing, at least for me.
As you can probably tell from my synopsis, Bloody Ties isn't exactly going to set the world on fire with innovative storytelling. It's the same old tale of a likeable social outcast that finds his easy life turned upside down by a series of misadventures. He acquires a love interest with a tortured past. It's also the story of a corrupt and violent cop that plays both sides. Hollywood handles this story with slick action scenes, explosions, and a happy ending. Italian films will usually see the antiheroes riding into the sunset, empty but satisfied. The Japanese will usually kill both characters after they've done something to redeem themselves. The Koreans will usually follow the Japanese route. This film is pretty predictable, only offering up a few scene specific surprises that don't affect the overall plot's direction, with the exception of the bang up finale.
The film takes most of its cues from two distinct sources—realist Japanese crime cinema like that of early Miike or later Fukasaku, and the super-stylized world of post- Goodfellas American crime cinema (complete with voice over narratives from the lead characters). Easily described as Miike meets Scorsese, but unfortunately not as enthralling as either, the mix does produce more than a few memorable moments, though most of them won't appeal to viewers with weak dispositions.
Both Miike and Scorsese tend to wallow in violence when they make crime films, but in very different ways. Scorsese (with exceptions, obviously) brings out the joy in his violence, Miike (again, with exceptions) focuses on the ugliness. Both filmmakers prefer to infuse their violence with humour, but rarely throughout an entire film. Bloody Ties is an odd mix of ugly violence and joyful slapstick, with plenty of sex, nudity, and deprecation to go around. I don't think I've ever seen a woman have a drug-filled needle shoved into her anus, and I've seen some pretty gruesome films in my day. Most of the really wicked stuff is left just out of frame, and a lot of the violence is played for laughs, but the overall level of sex and violence is rather shocking, even in the rather violent realms of Korean crime drama.
The film is mostly a comedy (like Goodfellas), and mostly saves the heavy-handed drama for its skewed romantic scenes. The drama is (like early Miike) very dark hearted, and very Japanese. My personal favourite among the 17 Asian crime stories I've reviewed, A Bittersweet Life, was much more a theatrical piece, staged and choreographed. Bloody Ties can go wild with its music and camera angles, but the most memorable scenes are the most realistic ones. The success of these scenes over the more bombastic ones might have something to say for what the film should've been, a gritty drama, not a hodgepodge of tired plot twists and over-edited in-betweens.
I really enjoyed watching the two leads chew the scenery, but ended up inadvertently ignoring the film's other characters, to the point that I lost track of the plot a bit in the middle. It might have been just me, but the script needlessly meanders around a seeming simple plot. Dealing with our dealer's friends is extraneous, his relationship with the crime boss, the girl, and the violent cop are the only important issues at hand here. This isn't a TV series, it's a movie. When Guy Ritchie stops the film to introduce a colourful character the character is often so broad and different from the other characters that he's (and it's always a he) easy to remember. That and Guy Ritchie films don't usually require much specific attention to the plot. Bloody Ties can't decide if it's a ride or a compelling character study.
Like I said though, the ending, despite the major contrivances it takes us to get there, is good enough to put the film over the top into the 'good' category. It takes way to long to get to the meat of the matter, but I think it's worth it overall. The use of split screens and skewed camera angles finally makes stylistic sense, and the point of the story is hammered home, while, unfortunately revealing just how unnecessary some of the main characters really are. There's a great ninety-minute thriller/comedy in here somewhere.
Another occasionally gorgeous but interlaced transfer from Tartan. Bloody Ties is sometimes colourful and sharp, but often becomes a muddy mess. Black levels are entirely inconsistent, and are often more blue than black, but when they do work they're some of the richest blacks I've ever seen out of the company. The interlacing creates occasional combing, and made it very difficult to get useable screen caps. It works pretty well while in motion, but the bits and pieces are a mess.
What's going on, Tartan? Bloody Ties has the usual duelling DTS and Dolby Digital tracks, but this time it seems both tracks have over-done the dialogue. It's like someone was overcompensating for the missing DTS dialogue track on Cave of the Yellow Dog by turning down all sound effects and music tracks. It's really too bad because the film's score is a fabulous '70s Blacksploitation throw back. In Goldilocks fashion, perhaps the next Tartan disc will be just right.
Meh, nothing much here. We get the usual press-kit/interview/behind the scenes montage, and a series of Tartan trailers. The press kit is short, and doesn't offer too much in the way of insight, but it looks like the folks involved with the film were nice people.
Bloody Ties is overlong, messy, and not particularly inventive, but takes enough steps in the right direction for me to recommend it to die hard Asian crime film lovers. I'm rating it as a slightly above average six out of ten, but those not burned out on the genre should probably hike that score up to a seven. The film scores extra points for having a car explode with good reason as well.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 20th February 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: DTS 5.1 Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 Korean
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: The Making of Bloody Ties, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Choi Ho
Cast: Hwang Jeong-min, Eol Lee, Ryu Seung-beom
Length: 117 minutes
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