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No Blood No Tears
No Blood No Tears (Pido nunmuldo eobshi) is a South Korean gangster movie from 2002 from director Ryu Seung-wan. He's most famous in the West for 2006's City of Violence (you know, the DVD that was marketed to look like Sin City in the hope that ignorant Americans would buy it). This film is very entertaining, especially for someone with the right tastes, but the lack of Wetsern knowledge about these films has resulted in another poor marketing/packaging job.
In the movie, Su-ji is a down-on-her-luck cab driver who owes some small-time gangsters money. Her only goal in life is to get her young daughter back, who was taken by her traitorous husband. Meanwhile, Kyeong-seon is an abused and used young woman who wants to be a pop idol. Her worthless boyfriend, Dok-bul, is busy trying to make it big as a gangster when he isn't manhandling her. A chance meeting at a rough time introduces the two females; they run into each other in a car accident, as if their lives weren't already wrecks. Things deteriorate even more for each of them over the following days, so they finally decide that they can trust each other and steal some money from Dok-bul's dog fighting forum. Of course, various characters get involved in this heist gone wrong, which takes up the last third of the movie, including some police, various gangsters, and the token three stooges.
The DVD cover looks as though it was made for a revenge movie, possibly involving lesbians. It looks like an Asian version of Enough, the Jennifer Lopez movie, only with two fed up females instead of one. If you don't believe me, let me mention that the words "enough is enough" appear under the title on the cover.
In actuality, it is a film about a lot of characters (and believe me, they are characters)who get caught up in a big foul-up of a crime plot. The two main women are, in effect, striking back at their situations, but they don't have some semi-sexual, love bond that inspires them to turn their backs on the world and their men.
The influence of yakuza films, or Japanese gangster films, is very apparent: the film contains ultra violence, a lot of filthy language, and lots of gangsters. Stereotypes that can be tagged to Asian film are upheld. Almost everyone knows martial arts, but the silent, confident man is the best combatant. There are also some uncomfortably long scenes where women slowly get beaten up. Virtually all of the male characters make liberal use of the word "bitch" when referring to any female.
I like Seung-Wan's direction, but the tone of No Blood No Tears is hopelessly inconsistent. Some of it is probably lost in translation. He makes curious decisions, like including some slow-mo special effects, kind of like bullet-time, to suggest that one of the characters can move super fast. This technique is used but once in the whole film, so it feels very out of place. And while a lot of the movie is bloody serious, there is anime-style slapstick and characters that are walking cartoons.
No Blood No Tears comes in a standard DVD case. There are no trailers or anything else extra on the disc. It literally has menus (for subtitles and for scene selection) and the movie. Once you're into the film, you can't select another chapter, which stinks.
The video is good on this DVD. The menus and the movie are enhanced for 16x9 TV's perfectly. The (approximately) 1.78:1 image is bright and colorful, thanks largely to the production design of the movie (bright clothes and décor). There aren't really any serious imperfections to be found, but there's often a good amount of noise that can be seen in the portions of the image that are out of focus. It could almost pass for film grain, but the close-ups and such don't show it.
The audio loses some points on the disc for only having one option, and that's Korean 5.1-surround. At least it's the correct option; gone are the days where you may have had to buy this on VHS in poorly dubbed English. The surround is good, with plenty of ambient sounds to immerse you in the environments. The bass is good and will have your house rocking; there's plenty of rock and hip hop that blares through the soundtrack. A commentary would have been great, but the audio does No Blood No Tears justice.
The only subtitle option is English, and they come on automatically.
There are absolutely no special features on No Blood No Tears, even though it needs them. This is the type of film that we Westerners need help learning about; most of us know very little about the Korean film industry or any of these performers. A behind-the-scenes featurette with subtitles would have worked wonders, as would have a commentary by some English speaking, Asian film expert.
I'm going to take the easy way out to wrap up this review. I'll simply compare No Blood No Tears to other Asian films you may actually have seen because of their prominence on DVD. This is as violent as Oldboy, but it has some of the goofiness of Kung Fu Hustle. Because of the quality of the DVD, I'm going to have to give this movie a "Rent It," but those of you who are into martial arts movies already know you should get this. If you want to discover Korean cinema, start with The Host.