Starring Michael Jai White, Eamonn Walker, Nona Gaye, Julian Sands,
Dante Basco, Bob Sapp, Kimbo Slice, Matt Mullins, Ron Yuan
Fight Choreography by JJ Perry and Fernando Chien
Directed by Ben Ramsey
Michael Jai White is one of those mysteries that Hollywood hasn’t figured out yet, but fans and martial arts enthusiasts have been waiting for “MJW” to finally star in a film of his own, and somewhere out the there martial arts gods were listening to us, and gave us Undisputed 2, which finally gave MJW the starring film he deserved. It was a huge success on DTV, and MJW follows it up with this film. Can he keep the momentum going?
To quote one random line from the film, “That Bones is the truth!”
The film tells the story of Bone (MJW), a man just released from prison, whom we know from the first fight at the beginning of the film that he’s a martial arts badass who can beat the tar out of Kimbo Slice and a group of unfortunate henchmen who weren’t aware that attacking Bone meant losing both their dignity–and their teeth.
He soon arrives at a boarding home, where he is taken in by Tamara (Gaye) and it’s apparent that he’s there for a reason that won’t be explained until much later. That night he attends an underground fight tournament where he sees a fighter named the Cowboy getting his butt whipped by the HammerMan (Sapp), and Bone uses the beat down to get Cowboy’s promotor Pinball (Basco) to get him into a fight, where Bone obliterates his opponent, and brings him , and after a few fights is brought to the attention of The Hammerman’s promotor James, a street kingpin who is looking to move up to a group called the Consortium, of which his boss Franklin McVeigh (Sands) is a member. And yes, they sound like James Bond villains, but never mind that. Of course, I always viewed Julian Sands as a Bond villain. Score one for MJW’s crew for figuring that one out first!
This is what Bone wants, although it will be midway through the film before we see why, which actually helps keep the story interesting. Bone is offered to join James, by fighting in a special bout financed by the Consortium against their best fighter, Pretty Boy Price (Mullins), considered to be the best in the world. Bone has other plans that involves James’s girl Angela, who has a secret connected with Bone that not even she is aware of until later.
Soon all of Bone’s plans come to fruition, and he had foreshadowed this to James earlier in the film when he quoted Genghis Khan:
“I am the punishment of God. And if you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”
Now that is some badass shit to say, ‘cause Genghis Khan was the original badass who said it, and you better be one to use it. Unfortunately James didn’t really put this bit of logic together, else he would have retired early, say, to Siberia.
Bone finally faces off with Price, and James has one last confrontation with Bone, and the results are not what you might expect…
Blood and Bone is a fun film that somewhat hearkens back to the heights of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s popularity, and share some story beats with his own film Lionheart. MJW owns this role, exuding a great deal of screen presence along with some well-acted scenes. He never portrays Bone as some sort of unstoppable badass, but as a very intelligent man who has a plan, and intends to keep his plan and his promise to a friend. He has a spirituality to himself that is shown in his martial arts, as he never applies more force than what’s necessary to defeat his opponent. In a great montage scene of his fights he also shows that he knows Tai Chi, and it is this form he uses to defeat James at the end. Eamonn Walker also does a fantastic job as James. He plays him as a sociopathic street kingpin with delusions of believing that he is above the thugs he employs, but in reality is a worse monster, and there are some really good moments where he states that he doesn’t curse because it makes man barbaric, but then curses a bunch toward the end when things start to unravel. He becomes what he thought he wasn’t. All of the rest of the cast, particularly Dante Basco as Pinball and Ron Yuan (yep, little brother of Roger Yuan (Shanghai Noon)) add some hip-hop flavor to the proceedings.
The fights are stand out here. The first few fights show what is in Bone’s mind, how he sees his opponent, and his fight against the Hispanic gang that won’t pay up is fantastic. The 4-man jump kick was astounding. I don’t know how MJW does it. No one that big should be able to do that, but he can. His fight with Bob Sapp is also good, but quick, which is appropriate given the circumstances and his opponent, and holy crap is Bob Sapp scary! The final fight between MJW and Matt Mullins is fantastic, as each fighter sizes up the other, and the choreography is fluid and smooth, and really allows both men to shine.
Ben Ramsey does a great job staging the fights, keeping the camera at good angles so we can see the action, and not quick-cut editing the film to hell. The film also has some good references for those who love martial arts films. In the final fight look for Robert Wall (Enter the Dragon) as one of the Consortium members throwing MJW a sword as McVeigh yells out his name “O’Hara!” I actually laughed out loud at that scene. Sands does a great Shih Kein impersonation!
Blood and Bone is a fun martial arts film that finally allows MJW to cut loose and show us what he can do, and he puts it all together here, the acting, the fighting, the humor. It’s all there, and well worth watching. Also, watch the credits at the end to see James meet a fate that may be worse than death…
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):
CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) JJ Perry and Co do a great job staging these fights, and they have a good mix of MMA and traditional martial arts. The final fight between Bone and Price is fantastic. Matt Mullins and MJW really get a chance to show off their stuff.
STUNTWORK: (8) Good stuff from everyone involved, especially the other fighters, whom I believe are all the real deal.
STAR POWER: (10) Michael Jai White really gets to put himself out there, and it works. Since then his slate has gotten really, really full, so good on him! Eamonn Walker, Bob Sapp Matt Mullins, Dante Basco, Ron Yuan , Julian Sands and Kimbo Slice all give good contributions to a good film. Hey, so does Robert Wall!
FINAL GRADE: (9) MJW delivers another great martial arts film. I’m glad he’s taken his career into his own hands. Now how about a sequel? Bone did tell McVeigh he would see him later…