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No Blood No Tears

Genius Products // Unrated // August 26, 2008
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted September 16, 2008 | E-mail the Author
Ryoo Seung-wan gathered up some intrigue after his blitzing flurry of a flick City of Violence was noticed by both Korean domestic and international crowds. He found a great rhythm between dialogue and stylized action sequences, something that can take a few off-the-mark films to achieve. One of such "broken eggs" is No Blood No Tears, a bland and uninspiring early film for the director. It's worth seeing for Jung Doo-hong's sparse solid choreography (not to mention his performances as the silent enforcer) and some other assorted exercises in brutality, though you'll have to sift through some hit-and-miss efforts at style and kitsch from the HK-enthusiast director to actually get to its few strong points.

The Film:

Taking influence from some of the tense mechanisms within the Wachowski Brothers' film Bound -- six years No Blood No Tears senior -- we're introduced to two troubled women from aggressive pasts. One of which is Kyeung-seon (Hye-young Lee), a weathered cab driver with a trigger-happy attitude that sticks out more than it should through her otherwise stone-like exterior. She makes ends meet while dodging phone calls from underground debt collectors, making it evident that she's both knee-high in dirty mob attention and seemingly deserving of their concentration. The other is a sassy little girlfriend (Do-yeon Jeon) to dangerous and abusive mob-underling Dob-kul (Jae-yeong Jeong), an ex martial arts guru transformed into an illegal dog-fighting kingpin. Much like the Tilly / Gershon dynamic in Bound, they are both very different entities with desires to break free from their tainted lives riddled with chaos. Which, as can be imagined, results in their gravity towards each other to screw over their collective "superiors" for a load of dough.

Following this introduction, prepare for a barrage of shaky-cam aesthetics and questionable editing techniques, ones that can be mildly headache-inducing and strangely intriguing in the same shot. Imagine brash and colorful pop art infused on the screen with a handful of strong yet unorganized and disjointed fight sequences, arranged by Ryoo seung-wan's regular conductor Jung Doo-hong. They make very little cohesive sense with the rest of the narrative: one, for example, takes place as merely a demonstration of male superiority between Dob-kul and a few twenty-something guys trying to pull him off of and protect his girlfriend from unrelenting battery. It has personality, yet it takes up much more time than it really should and distracts from the film's central plot points. A few others pop up later on that hold a little more thought behind their construction, but make no mistake that they feel injected into certain points just to add a little spice to a meddling and unoriginal story. What doesn't sit well is the overwhelming amount of one sided guy-on-girl beatings ... and how long they last. It helps some of the feminist-endurance concepts along that the film half-heartedly conveys, but ultimately they stretch much too long for enjoyment's sake.

This unfocused wavering seems to be a recurring setback for No Blood No Tears, especially once the core relationship is built between the two women and a screw-job against their enemies starts to assemble. It transforms into a very vanilla film that tries to chock full of brutal energy, even with loud palette schemes in both acidic and earthen shades and meddling little dramatic dynamics abound. That's just No Blood No Tears' problem: it's adequately assembled, serviceably conceived visually, listlessly acted, and overall just lacks the right mix of spices to create an engaging enough tempo. Thinking back, it's hard to imagine a film that has rustled up more of an apathetic feel -- especially considering that it involves growling dogs, flying kicks, and mob politics surrounding aggressive feminine characters. The dynamic between the two women, containing little to no chemistry, seems like a diversion from vigorous experiments with style and flash instead of as the humanizing cornerstone that it alludes to early on.

Looking at No Blood No Tears and City of Violence side-by-side, it's easy to see where Ryoo Seung-wan improved over a four-year span. One of the strongest and most concentrated points here is the presence of Jung Doo-hong on-screen as a silent man dressed in black, something that Ryoo took a step further when he made his choreographer even more focal as a moral-torn detective in the latter film. He also harnessed the right balance between battle scenes and language for his "style" of film, whereas with No Blood No Tears you're left with too much fat in the dialogue. If the differentiation between these two films is any indication of the efforts to come from the young director, then we've got quite a number of solid films ahead coming from Ryoo Seung-wan in the next few years. Take No Blood No Tears for what it is -- a misfired attempt at a twisty mob drama / martial arts hybrid with kid-in-art-class experimentation in visual techniques -- and you'll find something to like. Part of me wishes it were more cohesive, yet part of me is glad that the director learned from a few bland mistakes so that he could / can throw together much stronger genre cinema afterwards.

The DVD:

Genius Products have presented No Blood No Tears in standard keepcase offerings sans the slipcover that they have become accustomed to issuing.

The Video:

Sporting a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio, No Blood No Tears doesn't look too bad -- though, I do think it should look better on a disc with little else than the film on it. Heavy grain is pretty apparent, as are a few visible instances of edge enhancement. Also, blacks get a little blocky and crushed at times, rendering very noisy shadings across the board. However, detail stays pretty solid at most points, while color saturation in solid masses and flesh tones stand quite strong. The film looks fine in its loud visual presentation, but could've come across with a bit more polish.

The Audio:

Dynamic properties instead come over to this Korean 5.1 Dolby Digital track, which happens to be a strong display of directional rendering. Surround channels are utilized quite well, wrapping the viewer into a aural capsule filled with cars screeching by and crowds noisily chattering. The lower-levels don't receive too much in the way of bass, but the mid-range sound effects like the crashing of boards of metallic clangs ring out well. Optional English is the only subtitle choice available.

The Extras:

Unless you consider a Scene Selection an extra feature, then there's nothing to supplement the movie.


Final Thoughts:

Whether it's seen as a martial arts film or as an attempt at gritty crime drama surrounding strong female entities, No Blood No Tears lacks enough volume in the action area and enough suitable delivery in the theatrics realm to keep our attention locked for nearly two hours. There's not a lot to criticize about its conception, which is generally solid and attractive, but the lack of proportionality that it takes with those and pieces manage to slow its flow greatly. It's worth a Rental for the aggressive choreography from Jung Doo-Hung and the flickers of interest in the primary female lead, but it holds little to no return value because of some awkward design and tone choices. If you haven't already, go grab Ryoo Seung-wan's City of Violence after watching this to see how well the filmmaker has acclimated to his own unique style.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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