Everyone knows that there are a number of great Hollywood directors such as Quentin Tarantino and even Martin Scorsese who are very fond of Asian cinema, and they have good reason to be. NO BLOOD NO TEARS (2002) is one of the true testaments to that claim and a welcome tribute to pulp noir films. Whoever said that Asian directors cannot keep up with the big-shots of Hollywood deserves a SPIDER FINGER JAB in the face. This film is proof as to why Korean cinema has been growing, Ryu Seung-Wan's (City of Violence, Arahan) latest film is so full of style, dynamic chemistry between its characters that meshes a lot of substance. Ryu Seung-Wan has been basking in "commercial fame" with the successes of his other films and finally this film is brought to U.S. shores. Korean movie fans have a reason to rejoice; CJ Entertainment is now operating in the U.S.
Soo-jin (Jeon Do-Yeon) is an aspiring singer with a boyfriend from hell named Puldok (Jeong Jae-yeong, Guns and Talks) who manages an illegal dog-fighting ring. One evening, Soo-jin crosses paths with a lady cabdriver named Kyong-Son (Lee Hae-Young). Kyong used to be a hardcore gangster back in the day so she is tough as can be. Circumstances or fate intervenes when the two women form an unlikely friendship and together they hatch up a scheme to steal a duffel bag full of cash. However, clever their plans are, it sure makes things a lot complicated when they are not the only ones after the cash to begin a new life.
"Sisters doing it for themselves" would be the film's major selling point. Asian films haven't been exactly too kind in their depiction and portrayal of women onscreen; women are treated with callous disregard most of the time, they are abused, raped, and treated as sex objects. (oops, Hollywood does that too). Well, the two female characters are definitely poised to turn the tables on their male counterparts. In a way, the film caters to "women empowerment" and I was very pleased that director Ryu Seung-Wan have structured the film this way. Jeon Do-Yeon and Lee Hae-Young have such excellent chemistry onscreen and the viewer will undoubtedly root for them all the way.
Now, despite the fact that I did truly enjoy "No Blood No Tears", I would be dumb to say that it is wholly original. Its style of storytelling is quite similar to other "pulp noir", the sequences jump around from one scene to the next as we witness the schemes and grand manipulations hatched up by the characters, to outwit the other. While other films are more story-driven and about slow-build-up, "No Blood No Tears" is action-packed. The film has quite a number of excellently shot brawls that blends martial arts and pure aggressive attitude. The fight sequences are violent and stays within the realm of realism, NO CGI or wires were used . I have no doubts in my mind that they were choreographed by ace Korean stuntman Jeong Du-Hong, also responsible for the fight scenes in "Arahan" and "City of Violence". Oh, Jeong also makes an appearance as the cold bodyguard of a Korean Mob boss. The fight between ex-boxer Puldok and Jeong's character almost steals the show, the fight is long, violent and very intense.
The delight of watching this film mainly comes from the pursuit of the duffel bag. Of course, the film is further given depth and substance with its array of great supporting characters. No character is underused; each one has an essential role in the film, however dumb they may seem. The trio of idiotic low-life scumbags actually provide some much needed doses of black humor as they scheme as to how they can take the money from the tough as nails bodyguard (played by Jeong Du-Hong). The little and subtle stuff such as a boss named "KGB" (which stands for Kim Geum-Bok) almost had me when I thought at first that the Russians would play a hand in all of this, and the group of gangsters called "United Handicapped Democrats" are a real nice touch (I thought they were a band of politicians). All these may seem insignificant but the doses of humor does help the film's pace.
All in all, I really thought that "NO BLOOD NO TEARS" is a significant entry in the annals of crime noir. Director Ryu Seung-Wan is a great action film director as we've seen in ARAHAN and "City of Violence". He did his homework in the procedures of making a great film and succeeds in an entry for modern noir. Ryu is young and have sometimes been criticized that his films have "commercialism" tattooed on them, but he did manage to grab the viewer by the throat and say to them--"Pay attention, don't talk, don't even blink, you may miss something!" The film is also an exercise of freedom and unlimited potential. It manages to please action-junkies while immersing them is a visual display of grit and a contemporary style. I hate to say this, but it may have out-Hollywood'ed Hollywood itself*.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!! [4+ Stars]
* I say this because while most Korean mainstream films usually have Hollywood's influence, Korean filmmakers have managed to get the good stuff and add their own traditional (if modern) style.
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