Being the latest in an ever growing line of low budget action films based around the world of underground street fighting and hustling for money, you’d be forgiven in thinking that Blood and Bone is neither worth a look, nor any different from the multitude of similarly based titles that seem to be appearing on DVD shelves every couple of months, but you’d be wrong on both counts.
The story follows a man known only as Bone (Michael Jai White) who, after being released from prison, moves into an inner city boarding house and immediately inserts himself into the local underground fighting scene, making no secret of the fact that he is looking to fight the best man in town; a juiced up goliath of a man known as the Hammerman (Bob Sapp).
Bone is swiftly made aware that, not unlike the professional fighting circuit, he can’t simply request a shot at the title and expect it to happen; instead he has to begin to earn a name for himself and move up the ranks in order to improve his reputation, a task that he and his newly appointed manager Pinball (Dante Basco) have no issues with undertaking as it allows them both to earn some fast and easy money.
However, Bone’s quest to fight the Hammerman brings him into contact with the Hammerman’s manager, a brutally fierce and short-tempered gangster/pimp that goes by the name of James (Eamonn Walker), and it is clear from the pairs first meeting that Bone has ambitions towards James’ girl, and deeply personal ulterior motives for fighting and specifically targeting James’ fighter; motives that become clearer as the film draws towards its conclusion.
Reading the summary it appears that Blood and Bone is similar to all the other fight films out there, but where it differs is in Bone’s motives for fighting; as it is not just something he’s good at and a way to earn money, instead there is a real reason behind his actions. Also the B-story isn’t simply a cheesy romance between him and some random waitress, but revolves around James’ efforts to better himself, the boarding house where Bone lives and the people who inhabit it; well thought out characters who, despite having little depth, add to the story and serve to attach Bone to a more everyday lifestyle, instead of just being mindless comedy buddies.
The acting is more than apt for the genre, with White excellently portraying Bone’s cool and collected demeanour, as well as his good nature and inner toughness. Dante Basco (who has barely been seen since playing Roofio in Disney’s Hook) is the stereotypical weedy manager come comedy sidekick, whose performance is never bad, but fails to impress for any reason other than making audience members think that Roofio is making a comeback. However the shining performance (although not his best) comes from Eamonn Walker as James, who effortlessly comes across as a real nasty piece of work. With every snarl, every punch, and every cocky little sentence, made in just the right way to make the audience respect, fear and most importantly, loathe him.
But despite the acting talent, and simple yet effective story, the real reason that most people will watch Blood and Bone is for the fight scenes; and they won’t disappoint. There aren’t too many, but when they come they are thick, fast, and the best part, cringe worthy; with multiple Bone breaks, one hit finishes and faces getting turned to pulp, all of which are likely to make viewers with fainter hearts turn away, grimace and utter possibly the most famous fight phrase ever: “oooohh.”
All of the fights are extremely well choreographed, realistic, and actually possible; unlike many other fight films that rely heavily on CGI, wire work, and so called ‘dangerous’ settings in order to enhance their fights appearance; which is abundantly clear when watching White in action, as his acting style is very similar to that of a young Wesley Snipes, but when he gets into the fight circle he shows that he is more like the black Van Damme.
The only real problem with Blood and Bone is the obvious fact that the creators are big Tarantino fans and attempt to recreate two of his most famous scenes (the ‘say what again’ scene from Pulp Fiction and the ear scene from Reservoir Dogs) in a slightly different manner, and never quite reach the same payoff. Also the use of first person camera angles in some of the fights make it clear that punches aren’t always landing, but in a fight film with fights as good as this, and a story that is, for once, worth the effort of watching, nobody is going to care about a such small problems.
The budget and production quality are evident in Blood and Bone’s picture as for the most part it looks extremely flat. Flesh tones are fairly accurate, but colours are generally pale and washed out, with the only noticeable splashes of colour coming from an occasional burst of fire contrasting with the night sky during fight scenes. Being so pale and grainy, and sporting so many visible print errors, it almost looks as if the DVD is actually a pirate copy; it’s obvious that Blood and Bone is a direct to video title, a one that could use some serious cleaning up.
Presented via a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix, the audio for Blood and Bone is at best average. Bass isn’t used to full effect, and on the occasions where it is employed sounds fairly flat and dull, and there is no real usage of the rear speakers; something which would have greatly added to the fight scenes. However, the levelling is spot on, with action scenes and quieter dialogue scenes matching up perfectly, and although not the most crisp track ever, the dialogue is well anchored in the front and centre speakers, and always clear.
Aside from the usual trailer, and a surprisingly informative and easy to listen to commentary track, the only other extra is a making of featurette entitled ‘Breaking The Mould: Behind the Scenes.’
The 15 minute long feature spends the first 11 minutes discussing aspects of the fighting in the film, and how the filmmakers attempted to keep it authentic, from using actors with real fight backgrounds (examples are Bob Sapp and Kimbo Slice) and having crew members with fight backgrounds, and a script written by a former martial arts teacher. There is also talk of how they attempted to make a true to life and engaging story so that the dialogue wasn’t just a way of forcing in the next fight, the dangers of choreographed fighting in such close quarters, how certain camera shots were achieved and the dangers of shooting in downtown L.A.
The making of feature is a surprisingly good watch, and while shorter than many other similar featurettes explains just about everything a fan needs to know, has plenty of interviews with crew members and all of the main cast, and is not only informative but also light hearted and fun to watch. So whilst there may not be too many extras, at least what is here is worthwhile, well made, informative, and suitable for both fans and casual viewers alike.
The Bottom Line:
Blood and Bone is a rare film, one of those movies that comes out of nowhere and really shocks as it has plenty of potential and is infinitely better than anything in the same genre has been for a long time. The story is well thought out and packed with interesting and well made characters, and while not the most original or thrilling narrative ever, it is better than just about every competitor it has had lately. Video and audio quality are fairly poor, but fans of the low budget fight genre will have come to expect this, and with fight scenes as real as the ones showcased here it really doesn’t matter, Michael Jai White is fantastically tough, all other performances are more than apt for this type of film, and the disc has a couple of informative, interesting and easy to watch extras.
It’s not a film that can dream of being nominated for any academy awards, but it is a film that is guaranteed to thoroughly entertain fight fans, and one that is sure to please any action junkies, and even those that like a bit of story with their blood, and bone.