Director Denis Law seems committed to returning the Hong Kong martial arts movie to the glory days of when they had awesome stunt and fight choreography and were terrible in just every other way, but we forgave them because of the action scenes (or did you watch Iron Angels for the writing?). Bad Blood is the perfect example of Law’s approach to film making. The story is the sort of ridiculous, convoluted, half-assed sort of affair you’d expect from an early 90s actioner. It also stars Simon Yam as a guy named Funky, and that counts for a lot. Unfortunately, his wardrobe is subdued. My feeling is that if you are going to cast Simon Yam as a guy named Funky, then he should be sporting the insane sort of crap that he was wearing in Looking for Mr. Perfect.
Mostly, though, this is another chance to see Mainland China’s Jiang Luxia in action. She’s not as front and center int his movie as she was in Coweb, but pretty much any Jiang Luxia is good Jiang Luxia. The story goes thusly: a gang of Hong Kong criminals botch a job in China. During the ensuing foot chase in which the Chinese cops absolutely refuse to pull and use those guns they’re wearing, the head gangster is captured, though his associates (including Simon Yam, Xiong “Clubfoot” Xin-xin, and Wai-Man Chan) manage to get away. Some time later, the gangster is executed, and his criminal fortune is inherited by his offspring, including his daughter Audrey (Bernice Liu) and son (who gets blown up before he makes any impression, so who cares?).
Simon Yam and the other gangsters think that the money rightfully belongs not to the kids, but to the organization as a whole. In fact, that was the agreement in the first place, but Audrey soon decides that she has much more of an appetite for power and murder and money than anyone initially anticipated. She decides pretty quickly to cut her hair, put on a bright red dress, and become a bloodthirsty femme fatale. Canadian born Bernice Liu does what all Asian-American stars in Hong Kong films do, which is pepper her Cantonese delivery with lots of random English (Gallants seems to be the only movie to point out that when they do this, no one else can understand a damn word they’re saying). Her acting is, I think, a bit shaky, but when she goes into murderous ice queen mode, I gotta say, she sort of scared the hell out of me. So there’s potential there.
Filling in the cracks are Andy On as Calf, a disfigured martial arts powerhouse who is both a member of the gang and enjoys killing them, and his best friend, Dumby (Jiang Luxia), a mute girl who enjoys prowling the streets with her friend, looking for thugs and punks to kick the shit out of. When one of them is involved in the fighting, the movie fires on all cylinders. Dennis Law can’t make a good movie to save his life, but he can direct the hell out of an awesome fight scene, and we get a few of them here. Andy and Luxia are both up to the task, and watching them throw down is indeed a glorious throwback to the days before CGI and pop idols with no kungfu ruled the martial arts world. Luxia in particular is completely awesome. If you stopped paying attention to kungfu movies during the last decade, she’s a good reason to resume your interest.
Unfortunately, the film also tries to pass off some obvious non-fighters off as martial arts experts. In theory, this isn’t anything I find particularly distressing. After all, many of the best fighting stars of the 80s and 90s didn’t have martial arts backgrounds, and I was more than happy to see anyone from Maggie Cheung to Richard Ng appear in a kungfu capacity (though I hear Ng’s snake fist is devastating). But Dennis Law and his team don’t pull it off quite as successfully. For Simon Yam, this is familiar territory, and he and his stunt double perform convincingly enough. But attempts to pass off Bernice Liu as the most powerful martial arts bad-ass on the planet fall flat. She doesn’t have the stuff, though I don’t doubt that she was giving it her all, and putting her in the same movie as Andy On and Jiang Luxia only makes attempts to foist her off as an expert all the more transparent. Dennis Law tries to compensate for this by making her wear the most ridiculous pair of pants I’ve seen in a long time (this movie is a throwback to the 80s and 90s in more ways than just action choreography), but that doesn’t quite do it.
What’s worse, the film decides that the final fight should be between the absolutely incredible Jiang Luxia and the not nearly as incredible Bernice Liu. There’s just no way to convince yourself, no matter how gamely you play along with the movie, that Liu is a match for Jiang, but that’s what the movie begs us to accept. It just doesn’t work, and it makes for a finale that is considerably more anti-climactic than the fights that took place throughout the rest of the movie. Bernice can probably get up to snuff if she decides she wants to undertake the same level of training that, say, made slight but athletic dancers into Michelle Yeoh and Moon Lee, but she’s got a long ways to go yet.
But that said, the rest of the movie does make the rest of the movie worth watching. For the most part, it’s a good mix of old pros and promising newcomers. Andy On and Jiang Luxia are the best thing to happen to kungfu movies in a decade or more, and it’s exciting to think of a future full of them kicking ass. On throws down with veterans Xiong Xin-xin and Chan Wai-man (or, actually, probably Chan’s stunt double, though it isn’t obvious since they decided to kit him out in a weird silver wig to begin with). On and Jiang both take on various gangs of thugs for sort, then tackle Chan’s entire entourage of gangsters. It’s all pretty great stuff. Bernice Liu isn’t up to snuff as a fighter, and she’s not a particularly good actress, but she pulls off the femme fatael aspect of her role believably. And Simon Yam? It’s fucking Simon Yam. Do you even need to ask?
If you liked the hilariously dumb, questionably plotted, but wonderfully choreographed Hong Kong action films of the early 1990s, then like me, you’ll probably be able to roll with Bad Blood and be relatively entertained. If nothing else, consider it an opportunity to watch Jiang Luxia, the woman who seems like she might single-handedly save the Hong Kong martial arts film, or at least pry it out of merciless iron grip of Donnie Yen.
Release Year: 2010 | Country: Hong Kong | Starring: Bernice Liu, Ken Lo, Andy On, Tian-lin Wang, Xin Xin Xiong, Simon Yam, Luxia Jiang, Wai-Man Chan, Pinky Cheung, Siu-Fai Cheung, Amy Chum, Woon Ling Hau, Lok-yi Lai, Suet Lam | Screenplay: Dennis Law | Director: Dennis Law | Cinematography: Herman Yau | Music: Tommy Wai | Producer: Dennis Law | Original Title: Mit Moon