Review: Blood Money (2012)

Starring Zheng Liu, Alexander Castro, Gordon Liu, Jimmly Wong, Pitbull

Fight Choreography by Jack Wong

Directed by Gregory McQualters

Recently there have been a increased production of martial arts films popping out from the USA. Bunraku, The Girl From The Naked Eye, and now we have Blood Money, and like those films introduces a potential new star to the world of martial arts cinema, Zheng Liu, a young Shaolin Master. Add to this the legendary Gordon Liu, and maybe we have a new martial arts classic?

Zheng Liu plays Zhou, an assassin who works for Steven Ho (Wong) , a notorious drug lord, who is engaged in a war with biker gangs, Chinese cartels, and a crazy Columbian drug lord named Cabrera (Castro). The war escalates as several tons of cocaine is coming to Shanghai by boat, and all of them want to control it. Ho sends Zheng to “level the playing field” and he does so, meanwhile Cabrera’s men try to deal in distribution with the brother and sister of Steven Ho. When a young woman staying in their care is kidnapped by Cabrera, and his men kill the brother of Steven Ho. Ho sends Zhou to rescue the girl and kill Cabrera and his men. While on the mission Zhou doesn’t complete his mission, and Ho decides to take him out. With both Ho and Cabrera looking to kill Zhou and the girl he steals away from them, Zhou goes to seek help from a monk from his past (Gordon Liu) and together they defend the girl from Cabrera and Ho. But who is this mysterious woman, and why does Zhou care?

The story takes us into the seedy world of drug trafficking, and the shaolin assassin who walks through this world, just as dirty as the people he has to kill, but we don’t get enough time to spend with Zhou. He does a lot of self-destructive things, like taking drugs, and of course the assassinations, with flashbacks that show that he may have undergone a traumatic moment in his life to cause his behavior, but we don’t get to spend enough time with those flashbacks to really care about the character and his plight, and that is the biggest fault of the script, or it may have been left on the cutting room floor. Zheng Liu is a first time actor, and it shows. He does okay with what he has to work with, but it’s apparent he’s a novice, but he does have something in onscreen presence that with some more acting experience he could be quite something. First time (?) Director Gregory McQualter is sure-handed in his direction, even in scenes that don’t work.

Gordon Liu brings warmth to the film as the monk, but his scenes are far too short. He really needed to be in the film more, as his relationship with Zhou was the best thing in the film, and really captured my interest and disappointment that there wasn’t more of that Master/Student relationship. Castro does an okay job, but really plays Cabrera as any old Columbian drug lord except he knows how to fight. While Pitbull is in the film, he only briefly appears at the beginning but frankly Pitbull needs acting lessons…even to play himself. I didn’t feel that any of the female leads brought anything to their roles to make me care about them.

On that note, one thing that did bother me, and maybe it’s just me, but it seems like all of the women in the movie are damsels in distress in one way or the other, waiting for Zhou to save them (usually from an attempted rape), unable to protect themselves. Would it have been too much to ask to have at least one woman kick someone’s ass? ( One of them does, but it’s at the end, in a moment that didn’t seem too empowering.)

The fight scenes are actually pretty good, and as the film progresses gets better, especially the camerawork. Without a doubt Zheng can fight, and gets to really show his stuff, and camera work does a great job of showing him off. It’s in these moments that Zheng Liu shows the brightest, and does a great job with the choreography. I was surprised that Gordon Liu got a two-on-one fight scene, and while it was short, was shot really well and the choreography was a great moment of old-school kung fu fighting from Gordon. Jack Wong does a good job of mixing it all up. There are a few shaky-cam moments here and there, but the editing of the fights are at least not of the MTV variety that so many Hollywood films ascribe to.

Blood Money does introduce a new star in Zheng Liu and has good fight scenes, but the story just doesn’t instill enough character development to invest in what’s going on, which is a shame as the idea of the modern day Shaolin Assassin is a good idea.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) The fights are good here, and Wong placing Zheng in a position to look really good. There were a few moments that looked like maybe some flips were wire assisted, but what you see is what you get with Zheng as he does his own stunts. Gordon Liu’s fight was far too short, but great to still see he had “it” at the time. Sadly that may be the last time.

STUNTWORK: (7) Zheng Liu did his own stunts, and many of the punches and kicks look like a few of them connected, and that is a testament to the bravery of the stunt men and the acting job they did.

STAR POWER: (6) Gordon Liu gives the film this score, and to a small extent, Pit Bull. It’s too early to see what direction Zheng takes his career in, but hopefully we will see more of him.

FINAL GRADE: (6) Blood Money is a well-made film, and I would like to see what Zheng Liu and Gregory McQualter can do with a more straightforward and linear plot, but the story here just has too many problems to truly recommend.

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