Bloody Ties (2006)

Jake Meaney

In some ways, I guess, this film’s lack of depth is deliberate, and that is, in some ways, refreshing.

Bloody Ties

Director: Ho Choi
Cast: Ja-Hyeon Chu, Jeong-Min Hwang, Seung-beom Ryu, Eol Lee
Distributor: Tartan Asian Extreme
MPAA rating: Unrated
Studio: Tartan Asian Extreme
First date: 2006
US DVD Release Date: 2007-02-20

Stop me if you’ve think you’ve heard this one before: A rogue cop seeking revenge teams up with a minor meth dealer from the underworld to take down the local drug lord/crime kingpin and a crooked D.A. Loyalties will be loose, moral compasses will be shot to hell, bullets will fly, cars will crash, a young girl gone astray will find redemption, sunglasses will be worn at all times, blood will be spilled continuously and copiously, and certain death will await one or both of our protagonists during a final showdown/standoff.

Taking a page out of the John Woo 101 playbook, it’s readily apparent that Ho Choi’s entertaining but ultimately forgettable crime thriller, Bloody Ties, owes no small debt to the operatic Hong Kong actioneers of the '80s and early '90s. Grainy, gritty but stylistically slick, bouncing along its merry way to an over-the-top '70s horn and wah-wah guitar drenched funk/disco soundtrack , the film does as much to pay homage to its forebears (especially '70s American police dramas) as it does simply to celebrate and revel in its genre trappings.

I was never quite sure while watching Bloody Ties on which side of the pomo/referential divide to place the film, but perhaps by even posing this question to myself I am missing the point. Reduced to a genre exercise and nothing more, Bloody Ties holds up well enough to satisfy most Asian action/cop/gangster junkies.

But, again, Bloody Ties’ ambitions are slight. Sangdo is a small time crystal meth dealer on the make in Busan, South Korea’s second largest city and biggest port. Successful and cocky, he thrives under the protection of rogue cop Doh, who molds Sangdo as a sort of professional police snitch in exchange for wiping out his competition. When a bust goes down badly, though, Doh is suspended and Sangdo is sent away to prison for a year. Both men, returning to their previous domains after months’ long exile, find the landscape they’d grown accustomed to vastly altered.

A hardline D.A. has cracked down and rousted all the old drug gangs, all the while ceding all the drug business to the ruthless kingpin Jangchui, who also turns out to be Doh’s nemesis whom he’d vowed revenge on years ago. Unable to bust the druglord except through an inside man, Doh enlists Sangdo to get a foot in the door and set up Jangchui for the fall. Mayhem, of course, ensues.

Though starting of promisingly enough, Bloody Ties quickly falls apart in its latter third, mostly due to a dearth of urgency, and a confusion of plot points which seem to spring out of nowhere. The baddy just isn’t bad enough, the protagonists’ desperation isn’t desperate enough, the stakes never seem high enough, and various double crossings seem to go down for no other reason than to obfuscate the paucity of plot and/or pad the film out to 120 minutes.

In some ways, I guess, the film’s lack of depth is deliberate, and is in some ways refreshing, compared to some of the heavy lifting and ambition of recent South Korean films (think of the knotty quandaries and meditations of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy, which are thoroughly exhausting for both their moral ambitions as well as their Grand Guignol excesses). Sometimes a cop and gangster movie can be just another cops and gangsters movie, with no winks, no nods, no nudges, and no great arching tragedy, either.

But ultimately, for those seeking some emotional oomph, Bloody Ties seems to be a whole lot of hullabaloo simply for its own sake, with nothing of the sort of necessary cathartic release which attends the bombastic climaxes of Woo’s best films. There is, though, in both direction and stylization, plenty of potential here, and since East Asian cinema has been such a happy hunting ground for Hollywood recently, it would be no surprise if an American remake was in the works somewhere, or Ho Choi was poached to direct the latest Tarantino knock off.

Extras are scant for the Tartan DVD release of Bloody Ties. Aside from trailers for other upcoming home releases, the only feature proffered is a 15-minute interview Kim Sang Mon, the visual effects and sound director for the film. In a way, this makes sense rather than having director Ho Choi interviewed – Bloody Ties key strengths are precisely its flashy lighting stylizations and (as previously mentioned) its bumping, funked-up soundtrack, both of which are instrumental in making the film seem a lot more fun and enjoyable than it is in substance. A word from Choi about various narrative choices towards the end of the film might have clarified some things, but probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference in ultimate effect of this second tier South Korean export.





Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.

Featured: Top of Home Page

Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.


The Charlatans' 'Between 10th and 11th' Gets a Deluxe Edition

Not even a "deluxe" version of Between 10th and 11th from the Charlatans can quite set the record straight about the maligned-but-brilliant 1992 sophomore album.


'High Cotton' Is Culturally Astute and Progressive

Kristie Robin Johnson's collection of essays in High Cotton dismantle linear thinking with shrewdness and empathy.


Lianne La Havas Is Reborn After a Long Layoff

British soul artist Lianne La Havas rediscovers herself on her self-titled new album. It's a mesmerizing mix of spirituality and sensuality.


PC Nackt Deconstructs the Classics with 'Plunderphonia'

PC Nackt kicks off a unique series of recordings dedicated to creating new music by "plundering" unexpected historical sources such as classical piano pieces or chamber orchestra music.


Counterbalance 24: The Doors - 'The Doors'

Before you slip into unconsciousness, Counterbalance has put together a few thoughts on the Doors' 1967 debut album. It's number 24 on the Big List.

Reading Pandemics

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism's insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.


'Tiger King' and the Post-Truth Culture War

Tiger King -- released during and dominating the streaming-in-lockdown era -- exemplifies in real-time the feedback loop between entertainment and ideology.


Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".


Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"


'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.