Sang Do is a small time drug dealer who has a growing business but who also has the problem of being hassled by a wild Detective called Ho. The Detective spends much of his time repeatedly arresting him up and threatening him with prison time if Sang Do doesn’t provide him with information about his rival dealers. When an arrest goes badly wrong, the drug dealer finds himself serving jail-time while Detective Ho is suspended and so on Sang Do’s release from the prison the two try to work together to take down a major drug-lord in order to re-establish their reputations in their own little worlds…
As far as dark, gritty thrillers goes, Bloody Ties is up there with the darkest. Using little of the cinematic flash that we’ve come to expect from these types of thrillers, Bloody Ties takes a lower key approach to the detective and criminal relationship flick than it could have. Potentially material for big explosions and unlikely plot-twists with it’s ‘criminal and cop’ plot, Bloody Ties is largely a character piece that retains only a few editing flourishes and a little self-indulgent cinematography, building into a piece that is refreshingly honest in it’s approach to policing and drugs. It’s the kind of film where nothing is as simple as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and Bloody Ties instead chooses to look at the shades of grey – in both the characters and story as well as the imagery onscreen.
Luckily for us, Bloody Ties is far from the depressingly bleak two hours given its often depressing subject matter. This, along with a group of largely unlikeable characters, is handled with a fantastically dark sense of humour. Central to its success is the ever-brilliant Ryoo Seung-beom. An actor who is seemingly incapable of a giving a half assed performance, Seung-boom manages to take the role of Sang Do (the ‘Drug Dealer’ type of part that’s hardly a far cry from sort of thing we’ve seen a hundred times before) and convince us from the outset that this is a real man with some real depth. Effortlessly earning our sympathy – even though he’s playing what is pretty much just a messed up selfish bastard – Sang Do is a powerful creation. You end up rooting for him even though in conventional terms you shouldn’t be. A big help is the amusingly ironic and blackly humourous narration. Also, Sang Do is rounded out as ‘a man with a tragic past’ – something which can be a dangerously crap way to ‘fill out’ a character – so thank god in Bloody Ties it’s a convincing one.
As much as Seung-beom dominates Bloody Ties, Hwang Jeong-min has a field day trying to give him a run for his money as the Detective who complicates his life. Sadly Detective Ho is a little less developed as a character – it’s more of a staple ‘renegade cop’ role with little in the way of reason to explain some of his more extreme actions other than a couple of weak hints, although Jeong-min never puts a foot wrong performance wise. It’s just a shame then that the character wasn’t written a little more strongly – a stronger Detective would have served to strengthen the whole film and probably managed to push it into even darker territory than it already is.
Of course, every drug story needs its obligatory drug addict and in Bloody Ties that drug addict is Ji-yeong, played by the more than capable Choo Ja-heon. Often just a way to show us the ‘drugs are bad’, Bloody Ties utilises the Ji-yeong character in a way that’s better than most, as she strikes up a convincing relationship with Sang Do. Sure, there’s the moment where the character is used to give reality a slap in the face, but it’s well put together and doesn’t fall into the trap of the clear-cut ‘right and ‘wrong’ preaching.
With strong central leads, Bloody Ties doesn’t slouch on the rest of it’s casting – as well Choo Ja-heon decent turn as Ji-yeong, Kim Hee-ra is also impressive as Sang Do’s uncle.
For the most part Bloody Ties manages to avoid becoming to predictable and cliched, although it is guilty on one or two occasions of fumbling the ball. Perhaps the biggest criticism I can level at it is that it’s climax comes across as a little contrived. Maybe the was pressure to build the film up for a fitting finale and although it still works – it plows through with sheer balls – it does feel a little tidy. Still, this slight change in tone is easily forgiveable as Bloody Ties manages for the most part to be a thoughtful, intelligent thriller that doesn’t just try and take the easy route for its uncomfortable subject matter.
A powerful film with great performances and an intelligent approach to the morality of drugs and policing – which more than make up for it’s occasional plot missteps – Bloody Ties is a superior gritty thriller, and well worth a recommendation.
사생결단 (Bloody Ties)
Directed by Choi Ho
Produced by Shim Bo-kyung, Lee Jong-ho
Written by Choi Ho, Yun Deok-won
Starring Ryoo Seung-beom, Hwang Jeong-min, Choo Ja-heon, Kim Hee-ra
Bloody Ties Image © MK Pictures