|Dennis Law's films usually look like they're going to be good. But then you actually watch them. Bad Blood is the latest of Law's fanboy-friendly films, a gangland actioner that on paper should appeal to Milkyway enthusiasts and genre movie fans. The cast is equally attractive, with Milkyway regulars Simon Yam, Lam Suet and Eddie Cheung making appearances, plus action-ready actors like Andy On, Ken Lo, Xiong Xin-Xin and new female fighter Jiang Lu-Xia (her debut, Coweb, has played the Mainland but not yet Hong Kong). A storyline filled with blood, betrayal and glowering badasses only ups the ante. Basically, Bad Blood should rock.
But it doesn't rock, so what happened? The answer: Dennis Law happened. The property developer-turned-filmmaker is an avowed movie fan, and it's commendable that he's using his personal fortune to give Hong Kong Cinema a much-needed genre movie injection. The problem: his filmmaking skills are below par. Bad Blood is decently-produced, and Law does put his money on the screen (He blows up two luxury cars - would Wong Jing do that?). Law also chooses good collaborators; Herman Yau serves as his cinematographer and Li Chung-Chi (Invisible Target) handles the fight choreography. Fans should be particularly happy with Li's work; it's hard-hitting and fast, and possesses enough power to offset its few glaring moments of wirework. Picking up a copy of Bad Blood and fast-forwarding to the action wouldn't be a terrible idea.
Correction: it would be a good idea and should be the only available way to watch the film. What's notable about Bad Blood besides its genre-friendly nods is its unnecessary bloat. Whole takes consist of people walking from point A to point B, chatting out of earshot for a few moments and then walking to point C. One scene at a triad meeting features four separate shots of people entering the office in their complete, unedited carpet-treading glory. Banal, extended dialogue about soccer games and (wow!) the weather are used to start supposedly crucial conversations, and one scene involves Andy On making coffee, sitting down, checking out the non-dairy creamer, and then waiting some more. Perhaps Law intends for this realistic presentation to deepen character or create suspense, but the most accurate word for this is boring. Mind-numbing or excruciating are also appropriate adjectives.
Plot for those who require it: Tung Leung Shun leader Andy Lok (Eddie Cheung) gets nabbed by the cops during a failed heist in China. Reportedly, his last wish before execution was for the Lok family fortune to go to sister Audrey (Bernice Liu) and brother Jason (Chris Lai), with family lawyer Peter Wong (Lam Suet) overseeing the whole thing. However, the glowering Funky (Simon Yam) objects, and he's got other Tung Leun Shun employees and/or family members (Pinky Cheung, Ken Lo, Xiong Xin-Xin, Michael Chan Wai-Man) on his side. On the fence is Calf (Andy On), whose status as the son of a mistress – not to mention his large stained birthmark – makes him a black sheep. Calf has a hidden hobby, though; he trains mute orphan Dumby (Jiang Lu-Xia) to kick ass without pity. With Calf and his badass martial arts skills entering the fray, as well as Dumby lurking quietly in the background, the Tung Leung Shun power struggle looks to become even more deadly. Who'll emerge victorious in this bloody battle over family money?
Not the audience, because the film is paced in such a slow manner that it alienates. Only once in Bad Blood does Dennis Law's extended storytelling serve a purpose, albeit still a labored one. Before heading out together, Audrey tells Jason that her panty line is showing and she'd better head upstairs to change. She does, only she takes a zillion years to do so, changing her panties, using the washroom, and generally lazing around her room. Meanwhile, Jason heads to the car where he languidly starts the gas, engages the transmission and even fiddles with the radio. Since there's a deadly power struggle going on, this nearly real-time sequence may lead one to believe that Jason's vehicle is rigged to blow up. Kudos to Dennis Law for matching his storytelling to an appropriate situation. However, Andy On sitting in the pantry watching his coffee boil is not suspenseful unless a ninja is going to suddenly pop out of the microwave and fillet him. Sadly, that doesn't happen, leading to one of the most boring sequences in the film.
The pain-through-bad-filmmaking doesn't end there. Bad Blood also has obvious exposition and laughable dialogue. At one point, Bernice Liu says "I don't want to just survive, I want to live!" That terrible (and terribly delivered) dramatic line is supposed to define her character, but it doesn't register, and neither does Liu's transformation from family good girl to tough-as-nails female fighter. Dennis Law's generic plot could be entertaining, but in telling his story so seriously Law merely calls attention to how cliched it is. Bad Blood needs better style and a smarter tone to succeed at what it tries to do. Otherwise, Law could simply go the eighties Hong Kong Cinema route and portray everything at its most balls-to-the-wall extreme. At least there's one point during Bad Blood that reaches that rarefied air. Think ridiculously evil terminatrix versus grandma and her SUV.
The unintentional entertainment factor partially redeems Bad Blood. Since the film can't convince of its quality status, one can take amusement from Law's inappropriate technique, with giggles aplenty earned by the stilted exposition and the extended scenes of people walking from one side of a room to the other. Sadly, Bad Blood can't transcend its badness unlike, say, Black Ransom, because it's just so damn pretentious. The film ardently tries to be cooler, harder, meatier, and more badass then it really is. Law needs to learn a few more tricks if he intends on selling those ideas to anyone besides himself. As is, the only thing in Bad Blood that qualifies as meaty is Lam Suet's gut. (Kozo, 2010)