Wednesday, September 9, 2009


BLOOD TIES is an independent, raw, beat-‘em-up from filmmaker Kely McClung. The hand to hand combat that this film showcases is a definite strong point. But the plot harnessed underneath it all is also ripped and muscular. It drives the action, beatdown to beatdown, with subtle and not so subtle revelations of what is really propelling the ass-kicking machine known as Jack Davis.

The movie opens with Jack Davis (Kely McClung) walking in a David Banneresque loner fashion through Roanoke Valley in West Virginia. Heavily armed military operatives are tracking him. Fists pummel faces and boots spin heads on necks. There are bullets, knives, two compound fractures, and a broken neck. For an opening scene before the credits, it is quite apparent that this film isn’t going to follow the standard linear action-movie arc. BLOOD TIES takes many turns in its plot, all while heavily dosing the viewer with some of the most dizzying fight sequences you will ever see in an independent film.

The relationship between Jack and his brother Jim (Robert Pralgo) is the foundation that supports the savagery of the fighting sequences. When Jim is kidnapped, the force of Jack’s will to save him is unstoppable. The disturbing genesis of this sibling dedication is explained through flashback. Their connection is unshakeable as is their commitment to one another.

The motivation behind Jim’s kidnapping is explained in a series of sparse, fragmented scenes of exposition. We are given few narrative details to go on. A twenty million dollar military investment in Jack and his disappearance fuel the mystery. Jack has a deeply buried military past. He is an elite killing machine. Someone killed Jack’s wife, and he left the program. Jack is literally “the turd in the punchbowl.” He is a mess that needs to be cleaned up and flushed. The military’s mission to find and detain Jack is so completely broken that they resort to having Jim kidnapped in Bangkok in order to entice Jack out of the country.

Jack takes the bait and proceeds to put in work, hammering his way through bodies as he makes his way towards the fight with his final antagonist, Markus (Erik Markus Scheutz), who is just as “off the books” as Jack. Scheutz, a champion Thai boxer, comes to this film with a role in the modern classic ONG BAK under his belt, and he is straight-up formidable.

Although it is an action film, BLOOD TIES is beautiful to look at. While grounded in some reality, the surreal elements that have been introduced keep us on our visual toes, Tony Scott style. Bangkok looks alluring, cluttered, and dangerous. All of the necessary Bangkok touches are in place, including a slugfest at a dojo and a Tuk-Tuk chase sequence.

All of the extra touches to this film really make it stand out. It is broken into four separate parts each with witty titles. The film is fun. The direction is playful at points, even borrowing from (and definitely topping) the old BATMAN fight sequences on television (Blammo!).

Kely McClung plays Jack the way he needs to be played, stoic, with a dash of humanity. His reunion with his brother-in-law is particularly raw and real. But when it comes time to handle business, boots, fists, and anything he can wield as a weapon are used with concussive precision. McClung brings a black belt rank in a half dozen karate systems to the table. He also was the International Full Contact Stick Fighting Champion of the World. Robert Pralgo as Jim puts in his work too. He is tied up and beaten for the entire film. He manages to quip one-liners between crushing blows to the head and the rest of his body. The pounding that Pralgo’s Jim takes is really something to behold. He may not be a trained killer like his brother, but he is obviously made of some of the strongest stock available.

It is no wonder that this film has earned so many awards (Best of Festival at Indie Film Fest and Action Film of the Year at the Action on Film Festival for example). BLOOD TIES is the kind of action film that we need more of. The plot is subtle, but thick, and to follow it, you must pay close attention. Facts are relayed through sharp, jargony dialogue, and the film has deeply embedded twists and turns that demand a second viewing.

The action sequences are forceful and fast. They are well-edited, quick, and ruthless. This isn’t some of that Steven Segal “show the same punch three times from three different angles” stuff. This film is on some “don’t blink or you’re gonna miss it” type action.

BLOOD TIES is still on the independent festival circuit run. It has more guts and heart than most mainstream action films. It is refreshing to see an indie film push as hard as this one does.
-Mediasaurus Rex