The concept of good versus evil is a timeless one that’s generated some of the greatest of stories over the years. Call me crazy, but I tend to prefer tales of those whose morals are on the ambiguous side, whose alliances are shifty and not so easily defined. Their uneasy personalities make for more intriguing stories, and for a while, the Korean crime drama Bloody Ties seemed as if it would join their ranks. But once I realized that the film would spend half its time deciding what kind of movie it wanted to be and the other half being the wrong kind of movie, Bloody Ties quickly went from being a flavorful delight to a bland bore.
Sang-do (Ryu Seung-bum) is a brash young criminal who runs a lucrative drug trade in the city of Busan. He’s also a very savvy businessman, and being an informant for the police also ensures that his operations run a little more smoothly. But our “hero” is in danger of being shut down for good when the authorities promise to put a stop to all of the city’s drug trafficking once and for all. To avoid going down with the rest of Busan’s criminal ilk, Sang-do is persuaded into helping grizzled Detective Doh (Hwang Jeong-min) participate in a big sting operation. Of course, things don’t go exactly as planned, and Sang-do ends up shipped off to the slammer. By the time he gets out, he learns that the dealing is far from over, that a mysterious new player has assumed control of his former turf. With nowhere else to go, Sang-do finds himself teaming up with Detective Doh once again, their own separate agendas coming together to form one common, bloody goal.
Bloody Ties certainly got off to a pretty stylish start. After announcing its arrival with an unexpected blast of ’70s-style funk music, director/co-writer Choi Ho doesn’t waste time in diving headfirst into the story’s criminal underworld, accompanied by gonzo camera angles and a healthy dose of the split-screen technique to give the viewers multiple perspectives of the same scene. I got a big kick out of the film’s first few scenes, and I sat back, confident that the rest of the picture would follow suit. But just when things started to look good, as if Ho knew just how to breathe new life into the creaky crime genre, all of those good vibes were sent packing, as Bloody Ties settled into a routine that turned out to be formulaic, confused, and, worst of all, flat-out boring.
Gone is the great dynamic set up between Sang-do and Detective Doh, two men on the opposite side of the law whose ethics bleed into one another’s realm; Sang-do makes sure never to get high on his own product, and Doh is willing to bend or even break the law if it means wrangling in a really big fish. Instead of expanding on the quirks of their relationship, Ho piles on scene upon scene of the guys either yelling at one another, drinking themselves silly, or both. When the time comes for one character’s loyalties to make a major shift, the transition’s jarring not because it’s a shocking character development but because the audience is left wondering what in the world brought it on. Pretty much all of the film’s plot twists work this way, and it can mostly be attributed to an all-encompassing sense of laziness; it almost feels that Ho thinks that just because stuff is happening onscreen, the viewer will be instantly entranced. In short, Bloody Ties spends more time prolonging the plot instead of enhancing it, to the point that you can just about see sparks shooting as the story laboriously grinds forward.
Bloody Ties unfurls into a murkier mess the further it progresses, with the story too boring to maintain your interest and the action sequences too derivative to enjoy. The performances aren’t bad, and the first twenty minutes or so are certainly a crackerjack chunk of running time, but all in all, Bloody Ties makes as much of an impact on the crime genre as dropping a pebble in the Pacific Ocean.