No Blood No Tears (피도 눈물도 없이, Ryoo Seung-wan: 2002)

Su-ji is an ex-criminal who drives a taxi to make a living. When the girlfriend of a local gangster crashes into her car, Su-ji finds herself dragged into dealing with both people from her past life and that the young girlfriend – Kyeong-seon – won’t leave her alone…

After the visual spectacle of The City of Violence many reviewers compared director and actor Ryoo Seung-wan to Quentin Tarantino, due to his tendency to continuously reference and ‘borrow’ elements of other films that he admires. Ryoo is a director whose films are completely self-aware in terms of placing them within cinematic genres and the likes of Arahan and Crying Fist showed an interest in playing, to a degree, with the expectations of their own particular types. For his sophomore effort though – the follow up to his successful low-budget debut Die BadNo Blood No Tears finds itself given comparisons to the work of director Guy Ritchie. With twisting and intentionally mis-stepping plotting – and because it deals with a large cast of characters ranging from the underworld to the police, all of whom are shown to be as shady as each other – the Ritchie comparison works if we’re talking about Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. However even this maybe misleading as the tones of the two films are very different, and No Blood No Tears is more of a darker effort. What No Blood No Tears can be seen to show is a director happy to embrace genre and push around within the boundaries, something that he has continued to do since.

The reason for the clunky talk of comparisons is because No Blood No Tears is a difficult film to describe accurately in a few sentences without giving away too much of the plot. It’s the type of film where two individuals – in this case Su-ji and Kyeong-seon – are thrown together in unlikely circumstances, and who decide to work together in order to escape from the people around them who are controlling their lives. With No Blood No Tears you get the impression that you’re coming into this one halfway as director Ryoo is happy to trust his audience to think about what they’re watching, without the need to always spell out exactly what is happening – and why – confident that this will all make sense to his audience in due time. And it does.

Action is a big part in all of the films that Ryoo Seung-wan has directed, and No Blood No Tears is no exception. The very first action scene feels a bit jarring when compared to the gritty opening scenes, the stylised choreography gives the first indication that the main concern is in spectacle and weaving a story rather than a documentary-style drama. Whether this is an intentional tonal mis-step or not, it’s at this point that No Blood No Tears starts to hit its stride. A surprisingly large number of characters continue to be introduced – each notably with their own selfish intentions – right up until the halfway point when Su-ji and Kyeong-seon appear to have put together a scheme to make a lot of money and change where they are in their lives. The second half of the film is concerned with how this scheme unwinds – and it’s no big surprise to reveal that things don’t necessarily go quite to plan. If it sounds like we’ve seen these types of films too many times over recently – anything from those Guy Ritchie films to the Oceans Eleven films, then be relieved to know that No Blood No Tears does have a few nice twists of its own. It’s never entirely clear how it’s all going to end and Ryoo knows exactly when to hide his cards and when to reveal them. If you catch my drift.

Along with the action and the playful structure, No Blood No Tears has an excellent cast. Lee Hye-yeong is excellent as Su-ji, and she gives a strong performance as a washed up, down on her luck middle-aged woman who is struggling to regain some control of her life. This was also clever casting for Korean audiences, who saw the star of eighties and nineties cinema returning to the big screen as an older actress after a seven year absence. Sort of like Pam Grier re-emerging in Jackie Brown. Oh, there’s another Tarantino reference. Jeon Do-yeon (currently impressing audiences in The Housemaid) is also very good as Kyeong-seon – the slightly unhinged abused girlfriend of  gangster Dok-bul, menacingly played by Jeong Jae-yeong (Welcome To Dongmakgol) who carries a lead role easily. Then there’s Jung Doo-hong (The City of Violence) who gets a memorable role as a kick-ass heavy – and gets to pile into a couple of really impressive extended action scenes – and the rest of the excellent large cast which includes the likes of Ryu Seung-beom, Kim Yeong-in  and Lee Yeoung-hu.

No Blood No Tears is a solid little film with little to criticise it for within its crime / heist / action thriller blend. It is very violent – towards women as well as men, which may be ‘equal opportunities’ violence (!) but either way it’s pretty brutal – so steer clear if you dislike bloody action, but in terms of the script and performances its very well put together. The cinematography and editing add a huge amount of charm to the whole thing – the time-scale unwinds in different ways, including jumping back in time to explain something or showing possible scenarios before giving us exactly what has happened, but it all works well. Big, showy editing techniques (split screens, multiple points of view, cartoon wipes) are used to help keep the energy moving, and No Blood No Tears really does roll along very quickly. There’s really only one thing which the film can be faulted for – the soundtrack.

Whether it was due to budget concerns or just a ham-fisted attempt at a mixing different sounds onto the soundtrack (there’s lots of snippets of songs), No Blood No Tears is awful in the music department. Songs are quickly faded up and then just as quickly faded out, which works against scenes as it’s so noticeable that you can find yourself momentarily pulled out of the film. Despite Ryoo’s fascination with ‘cinema’, I’m sure even he never intended to make the soundtrack process this noticeable!…

No Blood No Tears comes highly recommended for anyone looking for an energetic, noirish-action-heist-thriller. And who isn’t. It may not have a whole lot of depth, but it scores highly in the entertainment stakes and once again shows Ryoo Seung-wan to be a confident and accomplished filmmaker.

피도 눈물도 없이 (No Blood No Tears)
Directed by Ryoo Seung-wan
Produced by Kim Mi-hee, Kim Seong-je, Kang Woo-suk
Written by Ryoo Seung-wan, Jeong Jin-wan
Starring Lee Hye-yeong, Jeon Do-yeon, Jeong Jae-yeong, Jung Doo-hong, Ryu Seung-beom, Kim Yeong-in, Lee Yeoung-hu

No Blood No Tears Image © Cinema Service