What are some of the things a person could do with two million dollars? At this moment you could buy roughly 3,013 shares of Apple stock. You could put a nice down payment on a 2013 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse, or, if you're writer-director Greg McQualter, you could spend that amount of money making one of the most incoherent, tedious, and unpalatable films in recent memory. As far as creating a semi-lucid, remotely enjoyable action flick, 'Blood Money' isn't merely a misguided attempt at filmmaking; it is a horrific failure akin to some of the most egregious crimes ever committed against moviedom.
Billed as a martial arts film starring "the next Bruce Lee," Zheng Liu, 'Blood Money' more closely resembles the disjointed narrative of most rap videos – and seeing as how rapper Pitbull has a 30 second cameo as himself, wherein he sounds off on the virtues of dealing cocaine in Miami, it's no surprise that the film's aesthetic aspires only to ape from that particular field of entertainment. Curiously, despite his blink-and-you'll-miss-him appearance, Pitbull receives second billing on the film's cover, nestled comfortably between Zheng and Gordon Liu ('Kill Bill' and countless other kung-fu movies dating back to the '70s). So really, Mr. Bull's appearance is the equivalent of product placement that may or may not encourage impressionable youths to pick the Blu-ray up when they would otherwise pass by this dreary-looking cover box.
If you agree there is nothing inviting about the film's exterior, you would be wise to judge this particular book by its cover, because McQualter doesn't bother with such tiresome conventions as setting up a plot with actual characters to pass the time between the stilted and inelegant fight sequences. At nearly 30 minutes into the picture it's still anyone's guess what 'Blood Money' is about, until half the cast winds up being killed off.
Apparently, McQualter's unsmiling film is actually about a group of Colombian drug dealers embroiled in a bitter feud with some of Hong Kong's Triads, because the Colombians want the Triads to sell their drugs for them – how lazy is that? After wiping out a group of Italians, and what was apparently an American drug dealer in Miami, the two groups seem to have only one another left to deal with. The Triads, run by the Ho family, refuse the Colombians' demand to sell their product and a blood feud the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Capulets quarreled with the Montagues is born.
What follows is a grim, deeply misogynistic story, replete with characters lacking any kind of redeeming qualities that meanders back and forth between hunter and hunted, while throwing in a series of unnecessary twists that, in all likelihood, were comprehensible to McQualter alone. The director takes no pleasure in his characters' villainy; instead he seems intent on making them as unlikable and indistinguishable from one another as possible. There is a time and a place for sadism in movie villains, but such an attribute is typically tempered by the opposite qualities existing elsewhere in the film. For 'Blood Money,' the object for every character appears to be to present themselves as nasty and bloodthirsty as the next. Sure, Gordon Liu's Shaolin Monk is a good guy, but his effect on Zheng Liu's laconic hit man, Zhou, is dubious at best.
It's not just that 'Blood Money' is a dumb film, it's that most of the time it is also downright childish. McQualter has as little concern for creating compelling images on screen as he does for drafting intelligent dialogue. For a martial arts movie, the fight sequences are unconvincing, to say the least. Most shots are finished off with the kind of jump cut popularized by 'Xena: Warrior Princess,' while the wire work makes the women of McG's 'Charlie's Angels' look like gifted acrobats.
As an example of how amateurish the screenplay and the actors are, here is a snippet of actual dialogue from the film: "I kill both of you, in front of his eyes, ear-to-ear." Now, either the actor in question, Alex Castro, inadvertently flubbed the line and no one noticed, or McQualter is convinced "ear-to-ear" is a manner in which you kill people that does not require any specific sort of action to come first. Additionally, despite a litany of illogical occurrences, there is one instance in which Zhou interrupts a jewelry store robbery, killing the armed robbers by firing four shots in succession from a double-barreled shotgun. Normally, questionable ammo consumption is a trifling concern, but this example speaks to the outright laziness on behalf of the filmmaker.
By and large, when a movie is as free of redeeming qualities as 'Blood Money,' the viewer can find some delight in the execrable nature of it all. Somehow, McQualter manages to leave that possibility out, as well – so he at least earns high marks for sinking so low. 'Blood Money' is violent for the sake of being violent, deplorably misogynistic in its depiction of women, and unrelentingly monotonous to boot.
McQualter shot 'Blood Money' on RED and the Blu-ray has been mastered with a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 codec, but still the image comes through as uneven as the film itself. Fine detail is high in close-ups, but quickly lost in wider shots. There is little or no clarity in objects captured at a distance and contrast levels seem to shift with the editing – adding to the already jumbled nature of the movie.
Having been shot digitally, the picture is mostly pristine. There are no artifacts present or noise during the presentation. On occasion, colors are lively and vivid – especially when capturing the neon signs of Hong Kong's harbor – but mostly the image is awash in an ever-shifting lens filter that saps the natural luminescence of the film's multiple locations. Black levels are a problem, too, as the much of the film takes place at night and nearly all of the image's detail becomes lost in shadow.
Unsurprisingly, this is a substandard transfer for a very low-budget film that simply doesn't warrant anything better.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track somehow also manages to come up short. While there are the occasional bright spots (like Pitbull's performance), little in the film bothers to utilize surround sound in any compelling way. Front channels adequately push the film's repetitive musical score, while the center channel handles most of the dialogue. There is no issue in terms of clarity, but what emanates from the speakers comes out sounding lifeless and somewhat tinny.
Sound effects fare slightly better, punches land with a solid thud and directionality does a decent job of pinpointing the destruction of various environments, fleeting footsteps or shattering windows. Gunshots could have been pushed further; they sound soft and lack the aggressiveness home theater owners have come to appreciate in their action films.
In the end, the sound here is as feeble as anything else offered by the disc, so again they score points for maintaining a consistently passionless presentation.
If you were hoping for a commentary track, or behind the scenes featurette that somehow explained how 'Blood Money' came into existence, you'll be left high and dry. There is nothing offered in terms of extras on this disc beyond the film's own trailer.
Instead of watching 'Blood Money,' you could go for a walk, write a letter to your grandma, clean your basement or press your face onto a hot waffle iron. Any of these activities will leave you with a greater sense of accomplishment and love for life than viewing this film. If 'Blood Money' is intended to herald the arrival of the next Bruce Lee, then pity must be given to whoever is shackled with becoming the next Zheng Liu. Surely, he had intended to make his motion picture debut in a more auspicious manner than this. Thankfully, outside of a handful of reviewers, not many people will bother to watch, so Liu's burgeoning legacy will likely survive. With an underwhelming Blu-ray presentation that skimps on picture, sound and extras, there is little to tempt anyone into paying for a rental, much less ownership of the disc itself. Do yourself a favor and skip it.