Hard-boiled crime films seem to be emerging from the South Korean cinema scene at an alarming rate these last three years or so. Whether they by revenge dramas like those helmed by Chan Wook Park or John Woo inspired crime noir tributes like A Bittersweet Life, South Korean directors just seem to have a knack for this type of material for whatever reason. That being said, there are a lot of them and not all of them are masterpieces.
The film follows a crystal meth dealer named Sang Do who peddles his dope to the needy citizens of an impoverished town called Busan. He doesn't indulge in it himself, but he'll sell it to anyone who has the money regardless of the consequences. Sang Do has it fairly easy around town as no one seems particularly interested in stopping his narcotics trade except for one man, a sleazy police detective named Ho. Since Ho's partner was shot dead by a drug dealer some time ago, he's been on sort of a Paul Kersey kick and although he swore to avenge the poor guy's death, he's not nearly as interested in bringing his killer to justice as he is in sleeping with the foxy widow he left behind. Sang Do tends to be on the receiving end of Ho's frustrations on a fairly regular basis. He pimps him for information and has him rat out other dope dealers in the area, although Sang Do is okay with this as the more dealers Ho gets off the streets the less competition he has.
One night, Ho sets up an operation and tries to catch a dealer, Sang Do's boss in fact, in the act but it goes wrong and the man ends up dead with he and Sang Do in the hot seat. At this point, Ho finally starts to get his act together and he and Sang Do work their way up to the largest dealer in the city to prove his guilt and take care of some unfinished business once and for all.
Borrowing elements from The French Connection and Death Wish this film brings very little to the table in terms of originality. We've been here before and we've done this a few times already and as such, the story really isn't all that interesting. The performances are sufficient in that everyone looks cool at all times but that's not enough to really make us care for the characters, particularly when the hero of the story, Ho, is a bit of a jerk. That being said, this movie is still definitely worth a look just because it looks absolutely fantastic. The editing gets a little out of hand in some scenes in that it just cuts too fast and too often but the stylish portrayal of the Korean underworld that Bloody Ties offers up is truly a thing of beauty. Like the crime noir films it borrows elements from, its story unfolds in a world of shadows and smoke using neon lights and seedy locations to bring a rich atmosphere to the forefront of the picture. The narration, courtesy of Sang Do, is also another noir element that the film borrows and it's used well here to make us care a little bit for the character even if, seeing as he's a meth dealer, we probably shouldn't. He's much more human than Ho is and he's easier to relate to because of that.
In the end, Bloody Ties tries really hard to be cool. Thankfully, it works. You won't get much out of this if you're looking for a new twist on an old theme, as this is really just a few old twists on a few old themes sort of tossed in a blender but it sure looks fantastic and while the story is derivative, it's also fairly well paced and well acted. It's a very artificial world in the same way that Sin City is, but like the Rodriguez/Miller vehicle it's always fun to look at and as unrealistic as it is, it's a very entertaining place to hang out and kill some time.
Bloody Ties is presented in a very strong 1.851. anamorphic widescreen transfer with very deep blacks and strong color reproduction. While there are a few tiny mpeg compression artifacts this is otherwise a very satisfactory transfer with only a hint of grain and no major print damage to report. If you look for some shimmering you'll find it but edge enhancement is held firmly in check and skin tones look lifelike and natural. With so much of the film taking place indoors and/or at night, it's key that sharpness and detail levels stay strong and thankfully this transfer delivers in that department and leaves us little to complain about.
Tartan supplies original Korean language audio tracks in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 Surround Sound flavors with optional subtitles provided in English and in Spanish. Opt for the DTS track if you've got the hardware to make that happen as it's a nice, bass heavy experience that uses the surrounds quite effectively to build momentum in a few key scenes. The Dolby Digital track is close in terms of quality but as you'd probably have guessed, the bass response isn't quite as strong as its DTS counterpart is. Subtitles are clean, clear and easy to read and there weren't any obvious typographical errors to detract from the experience. Channel separation is strong and both tracks and dialogue remains strong and very audible throughout.
Supplements are light on this release. Aside from the film's theatrical trailer and previews for other Tartan Asia Extreme DVDs, all we're treated to here is a fifteen minute on camera interview with Kim Sang Mon, the man who served as visual effect editor on the film. He talks about how he and Ho Choi tried to get a very deliberate look down for the film and what they did to make the movie stand out in a visual sense. It's moderately interesting and if you enjoyed the movie, this will likely add a little bit to your appreciation. Animated menus and chapter stops are also included on this disc.
While it's very much an exercise in style over substance, Bloody Ties is a fast paced and stylish crime thriller with grit to spare and a few stand out moments. The movie isn't reinventing the wheel in that it treats some very familiar ground but it's certainly a great looking and entertaining movie that fans of crime dramas should enjoy quite a bit. Tartan's disc is light on extras but it looks and sounds quite nice and this disc comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.