Indie Kick Review: Blood Ties (2007)

Starring William Kely McClung, Robert Pralgo, Erik Markus Schuetz, Danny Vinson. Vince Canlas

Fight Choreography by Kely McClung

Directed by William Kely McClung
Guerrilla filmmaking, as defined by Wikipedia, is “a form of independent filmmaking characterized by low budgets, skeleton crews, and simple props using whatever is available. Often scenes are shot quickly in real locations without any warning, and without obtaining permission from the owners of the locations.”

It’s a great definition, and you can see it through and through as we follow the adventures of Jack Davis (McClung), a former government operative (in other words, a total badass) who finds himself having to return to action from a self-imposed exile when his brother Jim gets kidnapped while on business in Bangkok, an unknowing pawn in a game between agents within Homeland Security. Jack goes off on tear to kick whatever ass needs to be kicked: strike teams, muay thai fighters, drug runners and finally the threat of Erik (played by Schuetz) who has a surprise I won’t give away. Jack must not only save his brother but finds that by doing so he would also avenge his deceased wife, and the bad guys find out the hard way that the bonds of brotherhood are not so easily broken…

Blood Ties tells a taunt story that is really ambitious, in fact too ambitious for the budget Kely and his crew had to work with. This film is cut from the same cloth as the Bourne films, but with a lot more fighting. It evokes Tony Scott circa Man on Fire and Domino vibe with the looks and scene changes (even though this film was made before either one). There were scenes involving Homeland Security that was a little confusing to follow, but overall the story flows smoothly, and the locations are impressive, from Washington DC to Miami, and Thailand. The Guerilla nature of the film meant that they couldn’t keep the camera stationary for too long as it would have been nice for the camera to stay still for a while, but I was still able to get a good sense of location.

McClung is good as tough guy Jack, and plays him with the refreshingly badass manner that seems to have gone extinct in current Hollywood actions films (being tough is more than having big muscles, Sly) and his fight scenes are believable, and McClung pulled them off convincingly. McClung also worked on American Ninja 4, so he knows his action. Robert Pralgo (Vampire Diaries, The Blind Side) also does a good job as Jim, who spends much of the film getting his ass kicked again and again by his captors, but his strength comes from within while much of Jack’s come from his physical self, and he proves he’s tough enough to survive his situation. Erik Markus Schuetz is also just the right mix of batshit crazy as Erik. The other actors are a mix of okay to terrible, but all of the principles carry the load.

The fight scenes are varied and tightly edited, and have different styles to each fight. There is a little more quick cut editing and I was wishing for some of the fights to pull back on the camera so I could see the full motion for the kicks, but I was never lost in any of the fights except one fight that was tonally different, and it was a fight at a Muay Thai gym, which had comic book style panels for the fights, and the text of sounds to go with it. It was a stylish scene, but it made following the action in that scene difficult, not to mention a but jarring. The final action beats are impressive as McClung kicks so much ass using a combination of martial arts and guns, and in a moment that is my favorite, Jack going into battle with a katana, and dammit not a lot of action heroes use one anymore.

Director and star William Kely McClung had one hell of a vision for this film, and I would love to see this story get remade with a larger budget and the same stars, but as it is, it shows what guerilla filmmaking can accomplish, and give viewers the type of American action hero that hasn’t been seen this side of the Expendables.

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