Review for No Blood No Tears
I deserve a gold medal in procrastination! Not that I’m a particularly sport oriented chap. But you know that you’re a lazy get when you count time in Olympiads. I was kindly gifted a handful of early Third Window Films DVDs as an alternative to the prospect of wall-to-wall sport. That was during the London Olympics. With one exception, I’m only now getting around to watch them, two Olympics and nine years later. I really should have taken a look at this one in particular a lot earlier. No Blood No Tears is actually the first Third Window Films release to my knowledge. The catalogue number is TWF001, and it’s the first film listed on their website. It will be interesting to see if they started off the way they carried on, quirky and individual.
I was comparatively late to Third Window Films, only catching up a few months later, when they released their first Japanese films, Memories of Matsuko and Kamikaze Girls, 9 and 10 respectively. The first films that Third Window released, with the exception of Johnnie To’s PTU (recently released on BD by Eureka) were all Korean, back when that particular film industry was really taking the world by storm thanks to Park Chan-Wook. No Blood No Tears isn’t a revenge movie; it’s more a heist/con movie, although this is as far from Ocean’s Eleven as you can get.
Soo-jin is a gangster’s girlfriend, with all the perils that come with that position. Her boyfriend, a former boxer now runs an illegal dog-fight for a gang boss, and has headaches trying to rake in the gambling money his boss expects. He tends to take his frustrations out on Soo-jin, which ensures she wears shades, day and night. Kyeong-seon is an ex-con trying to go straight, now driving a taxi. She gets grief from the cops, who don’t believe that she’s turned over a new leaf, and on top of that, her husband ran up a gambling debt before running off, leaving his creditors leaning on her to pay off the debt. When Soo-jin and Kyeong-seon meet, a plan is born, but this is a world where backstabbing and double-crossing are a matter of course.
No Blood No Tears gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (with slight pillarboxing) with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Korean with optional English subtitles. The image is pretty good for an NTSC-PAL standards conversion, and you’ll rarely notice any ghosting, or sense that the image is overly soft. Detail levels are fair, and colours are strong and consistent. This is a dynamically directed film which makes the most of its action sequences. The audio is really quite good, with Prologic giving the film some serious surround presence, elevating the film’s music. That music varies between cool and snappy heist movie music and some punk sensibility for the fight sequences. The dialogue is clear, but the subtitles could have used some work, with a few typos, but more detrimentally there are timing issues, with captions shifted to link with the next line of dialogue, or not being on screen long enough to read. There was a fair bit of pausing and skipping back for me in No Blood No Tears.
You get one disc in an Amaray case. The disc boots to an animated menu, and when you select the Extras Menu, that’s where you’ll find the subtitle toggle.
One the disc you’ll find the film’s trailer. Blur’s Song 2 makes an appearance.
There are also 14:40 of Interviews with the cast of the film.
Finally there are Third Window trailers for Say Yes, Guns and Talks, Wild Card, Peppermint Candy, PTU, and Kick the Moon.
No Blood No Tears isn’t an easy film to get into. Its first act is a rambling mess, slow to get to the point, and feeling like it’s throwing in new characters at random, kicking off more and more subplots, and it’s easy for the mind to start to wander, to lose the wafer thin investment in the film to that point. It’s worth sticking with it though, as once Soo-jin and Kyeong-seon meet, the various plot elements start to fall into place.
It’s also not an easy film to watch when it comes to content. That there is violence towards women is obvious; it’s there in the premise and the trailer. But there is also a kid that gets battered, and there are those dog-fights that are central to the plot. This isn’t a film that stints on the violence or the blood. It’s one of those occasional films that turn up where you feel that the BBFC rating is justified.
No Blood No Tears has a dark sense of humour to it, which works well with its plot and characters. The haphazard first act with its overdose of character and story arcs comes good once the main characters get together and form their plan to steal the take from the dog fights. Soo-jin just wants to get away from her abusive boyfriend, while Kyeong-seon needs to pay off that debt. But it turns out all those other characters, the cops and the gangsters, the creditors and the informants, all have a vested interest in getting their hands on that money. It’s almost a comedy of errors trying to figure out who has actually stolen the money, and who is betraying whom. Naturally all these various characters wind up in the same room, and guns are pulled.
Where No Blood No Tears really impresses is with its stylish direction and dynamic editing, most felt during the action sequences. The fights have a brutality and impact that it would take John Wick another fifteen years to catch up to, although the car chase sequences can seem a little messy as a result. Either way, the visual aesthetic of this film stays with you long after its rather familiar plot washes from the mind.
Third Window Films first release was perhaps a little generic when came to the story, and it does take an age to get going. Certainly it lacks the quirky individuality that would come to typify the label with films like Memories of Matsuko, Kamikaze Girls and beyond, but in terms of style, No Blood No Tears is Third Window Films down to a tee. As you might expect after all this time the DVD is out of print, but there is enough retail stock still out there to make it worth looking up.