Lionsgate // 2010 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // February 18th, 2012
"Everyone who is a threat to me has to die."
King of Triads, which also goes by the title Bad Blood, attempts to blend high-kicking martial arts action with a crime thriller, with decidedly mixed results.
When the head of a Hong Kong crime family is executed following a botched heist, a power struggle emerges amongst his siblings who all believe they have a right to lead the organization. With the entire family reuniting to elect a new heir, tensions rise, especially when the new boss begins extorting money from the others. As resentment toward the new crime boss grows, the entire family finds themselves the target of a mysterious assassin, seemingly hell-bent on wiping out every last one of them.
Opening with the fallout of a heist gone wrong, in which a crime boss is spectacularly apprehended by the police, King of Triads hits the ground running. A breathless 15 minutes, in which we are treated to some truly exciting martial arts action, sets expectations high; those expectations are brutally smashed once the film proper begins.
Lacking even a hint of mystery, King of Triads follows a narrative that is glaringly obvious, rendering all the histrionics and attempts at scene chewing by its cast null and void. It's not that the basic premise, which sees an unknown assassin taking down the bosses of Hong Kong crime family, is bad; it's more a case of it feeling overly familiar and rarely reaching to attain anything new. Even worse, writer-director Dennis S.Y. Law fails to find a good balance with his large central cast, meaning several characters fail to make any impact at all, while those that are given sufficient screen time are far too one dimensional. There's also an annoying tendency for the film to fixate on incidental details, when time and effort would have better been spent fleshing out the characters a little more.
King of Triads is prone to lengthy exchanges of dialogue that really sap what little energy the film has. It's very hard to care about any of the characters in the film, as none really do anything to earn our sympathies with their constant backstabbing of each other, and so it becomes aggravating having to listen to them deliver lengthy -- not to mention inconsequential -- monologues. The cast is solid, though rarely exceptional, with each generally faring much better during the action scenes.
Should you manage to stay awake through the more laborious moments of King of Triads, you'll be rewarded with some really quite exciting action. Choreographed by Chung Chi Li (who also worked on the Rush Hour franchise), the actions sequences really do bring the film to life -- albeit momentarily. With each of the cast showing more than adequate skills, the martial arts, if not of the caliber of Ong Bak, certainly excite with their fast-paced nature and daring use of blades. Surprisingly, the one-on-one fights generally work better than the mass brawls that are a frequent element of the action, with a weapon-based bout in a dojo standing out. Beyond the mere bloodshed, the action scenes are also notable for how they feel like they are ripped out of another movie, perhaps a videogame adaptation -- a good one, mind -- as they feature dynamic camerawork coupled with some interesting stylistic choices and amazing feats of skill. Though initially jarring, this shift in style proves a refreshing break from the monotony of the film's supposedly dramatic moments.
The DVD sports a sharp 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, which contains vibrant colors allied to rich black levels. Detail levels are very good, as is evident even during darker scenes. The DVD release offers the choice of a Cantonese or English 5.1 soundtrack. Having tried out both, I'd urge you stick with the Cantonese track. In terms of extras, this single-disc release only features a selection of interviews (carried out during the shooting of the film) and a selection of trailers.
With only the briefest moments to quicken the pulse, King of Triads fails to deliver as an action movie and lacks the intrigue to work as a thriller. Despite my gripes, the film is watchable, and shot with a decent level of craftsmanship, but really does too little to warrant either your time or money. Avoid.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Cantonese)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R