The Blood Rules (2000)
Directed by: Marco Mak
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The unit of hired killers, consisting of Mike (Michael Wong), Jean (Suki Kwan), Shoot (Lam Suet) and Q (Jackie Lui) succeeds at their latest mission but continues to dream for a better life far away from the blood and guts. A last assignment under the watchful eyes of Uncle Lam (Wong Tin-Lam, Wong Jing's dad) goes terribly wrong however and the sacred code, that consists of the "no traitors" rule, is now being broken by people within the circle...
Veteran editor turned director Marco Mak started light and dark in 2000, first with Love Correction (starring Nick Cheung and Athena Chu) but began setting a tone as to what genre he would venture more frequently in his debut The Blood Rules. As I've gone back and forth between Mak's directed films, it's hard not to notice that he's not really progressing. His works have been largely workable genre excursions but The Blood Rules represents a different perspective as it was only another movie away from his masterpiece if you will, the off-beat and highly stylish A Gambler's Story (starring Francis Ng). Since that rare jump in quality, he seems to be stuck in decent-ville which doesn't mean Mak is offering up the most shameful Hong Kong cinema though (I even liked Xanda!). The Blood Rules sees him firing on his visual- and audio cylinders in a way to hone his skills in the various departments and largely, it once again is workable.
You might initially think you've stepped into a Milkyway production due to the casting of Wong Tin-Lam and fan favourite Lam Suet and there are definite comparisons that can be made to many Johnnie To produced films at Milkyway. I say there are because Mak's film probably is more well-timed with the critically acclaimed efforts from To's production house rather than being a straight on copy of The Longest Nite or Expect The Unexpected. No, Mak plows pretty much his own road here, starting with a very arresting, visuals-wise, opening credits sequence that will be reprised throughout the film as it symbolizes, quite well, the character journeys and desires. But first and foremost, this is action-thriller entertainment where screenwriters James Yuen and Andy Law takes the cliché template of the last job before retirement-plot line but infuses admirable character into the film. Now, this isn't an A-list movie by anyone's imagination so one could really argue if complex thematic's should even be attempted.
However Mak does prove to have well honed character instincts to a pretty decent extent. Even though he's not as adept at combining outrageous and quirky visuals in combination with character depth as Japan's Takashi Miike, Mak strikes an admirable balance. The fish symbolism is clear and arguably unexpectedly successful as characters want to break free from their dirty lives and live clean ones within a border that is beautiful and safe. Considering the main plot, of course this will be awfully difficult and all cold blooded killers have a code to live by that in the end must be fulfilled first and foremost. All this resonates better in some actor's hands than others. Suki Kwan and Lam Suet manages to bring nuances akin to affecting in their plights concerning life vs. honor while planks like Michael Wong and Jackie Lui shoot acting-blanks. Truth of the matter, Wong for instance puts in a less bothersome performance that within the framework of a movie like The Blood Rules is bearable but he's still working with a better written thematic than most action movies and it's here that Wong's awkward delivery and very limited range can't really enhance much. His other half, Pauline Yam comes off better as the devoted wife so in that regard, it's a shame she gets little to work with. Wong Tin-Lam also combines fun and menace to fair effect as the heavyset triad boss while Steven Au is an all too broad inclusion as the cop trailing Mike and company.
Moving on then to Mak's now trademark visual sense, there are many wild ideas put forth that combines audio and images (particularly the bloody ones) to entertaining effect. Initially, Mak threatens to let each and every "cool" moment of his play out in slow-motion but quickly begins registering some fairly original visuals within Ma Yuk Sing's action directing that also leans towards a welcome quirky nature. I would've welcomed a more steady view of the gunplay but it's acceptable coming from an era where it was basically only Yuen Bun at Milkyway who gave us any form of heroic bloodshed.
The Blood Rules represents Marco Mak's first steps into establishing a fairly respectable reputation as a decent visualist within the gangster genre of Hong Kong movies. Despite not being a movie from and with the top talent in the business, he's received a good theme to work with that is decently turned into an action-thriller where the emotions run more high whenever Lam Suet and Suki Kwan are on screen. However with Michael Wong in the lead, a weak link clearly exists but director Mak makes the proceedings easy to get through and doesn't put any shame on the genre whatsoever. It has to be said also that any movie where Michael Wong only utters about 10 lines in English in between his Chinese is definitely worth a look for that shock factor alone!
Universe presents the film in a 1.77:1 aspect ratio approximately. A fairly clean and sharp presentation.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track has good separation for score and clear dialogue while sound effects such as gun shots sounds awfully manufactured. A Mandarin 5.1 dub is also included.
Several errors crop up in the optional English subtitles but it's a serviceable translation despite. Other subtitle options are Bahasa (Malaysia), Korean, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.
Extras include Chinese- and English language Star's Files for Michael Wong and Suki Kwan. Wong's is surprisingly informative, talking about his struggles as an American born Chinese in the Hong Kong film world while Kwan's is more light on info. Trailers for The Blood Rules, Resort Massacre, The Temptation Of Office Ladies and Conspiracy are also included.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson