Blood and Bone is a 2009 American direct-to-DVD martial arts movie, but unlike its many wayward DTV brethren, Ben Ramsay’s street fighting salute to Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a refreshingly decent effort. Featuring the ever-capable and highly underrated action star, Michael Jai White, this knuckle-busting fight flick is packed to the brim with awesome brutality, complex characters, colourful casting (such as that of Rufio from Steven Spielberg’s Hook) and snappy dialogue. Blood and Bone is high-octane roller coaster ride, peppered with memorable scenes that will revisit you long after the end credits roll…
Jai White stars as the reluctant hero, Isaiah Bone and Eamonn Walker as the psycho-schizo mob boss, James, bring much charisma and style to the narrative. Walker is clearly the most experienced thespian on set (with the obvious exception of Rufio), and eagerly sinks his teeth into the manic personality of his oddly likeable villain. However, the character doesn’t make much sense, as he seems to be virtuous in all other regards apart from his sadistic desire to torment torture and murder innocent people. Jai White’s volatile vagrant is a broken soul, which is pretty tired territory, but the venerable martial artist brings his usual panache and stamina to the role, which proves immensely entertaining. Dante Basco portrays fast-talking fight promoter, Pinball in much the same way as I imagine he’d play a grown-up Rufio – with a great deal of arrogance and a large helping of profanity. Michelle Belegrin as Angela Soto performs the hackneyed damsel-in-distress role with a seductive swagger, but looks in danger of falling asleep throughout the entire film. Honourable mention goes to Ernest “The Cat” Miller, who stages a bizarrely entertaining cameo as an underground fighter billed as the “Homicidal Homosexual”.
Isaiah Bone, a mysterious con with a score to settle, kicks off Blood and Bone with a bang by beating the tar out of JC the lumberjack and a group of unfortunate henchmen who weren’t aware that attacking Bone meant losing both their dignity – and their teeth! Bone, soon after being paroled from the penitentiary, moves to Los Angeles where he quickly finds accommodation. Tamara, his landlady, takes an instant dislike to her new tenant and warns Bone not to play up. Bone then descends upon the underground street fighting circuit, seemingly in search of some easy money. After witnessing the gigantic Hammerman pummel an opponent into the earth, Bone approaches local fight promoter, Pinball to organise a fight with the bulging behemoth. Bone also presses him for information on the identity of James’ (Hammerman’s boss) girlfriend, to which Pinball begrudgingly relinquishes. Pinball explains that the woman, Angela Soto, was previously married to “Choirboy”, who was subsequently framed for triple homicide by James. Pinball reveals that Angela then developed a nasty drug habit after James forced her to undergo an abortion and took her for his own.
Shortly after, black market arms dealer, Franklin McVeigh assigns James and his thugs to murder a junior executive at McVeigh Industries for running his company into the ground. Upon the job’s bloody completion, James learns of Bone’s unrivalled fighting abilities via his bodyguard, Teddy D. Meanwhile, back at his apartment, Bone is beginning to bond with Tamara and her adopted son, Jared over Taijichuan and makes friends with an elderly gentleman named Roberto over chess. Pinball and Bone roll down to the underground fight club (which is staged in a rather public setting) to challenge the best that rival fight promoter, Tattoo, has to offer. Bone makes short work of Tattoo’s top fighters and proceeds to overwhelm countless opponents in subsequent fights. By now, Bone has established himself as a force to be reckoned with and makes Pinball a rich man. On the other side of town, Roberto witnesses James and Teddy murder a prostitute.
The time arrives for Bone’s clash with the undefeated Hammerman, which ultimately proves to be a mismatch of epic proportions. In fact, Bone was challenged far more by his preceding montage-mix match ups than he is in this anticlimactic battle. After toying around with the gentle giant for a while, Bone manages to pull off an amazing Street Fighter-inspired flash kick (seemingly without the aid of camera trickery) to put an end to the farce. James resentfully hands over Pinball’s winnings and invites the two to attend a party at his home. There, James tells Bone of the “Consortium”, an exclusive international fight club run by McVeigh. James asks Bone if he’d like to square off against Pretty Boy Price, McVeigh’s reigning champion. Bone tells James he will think about the offer. James then orders Angela to get “acquainted” with Bone in private, wherein Bone discloses to her that he and her late husband, Danny were cellmates before the latter was brutally murdered by JC. Angela reveals that, shortly after Danny went to prison, she gave birth to a son, but lost custody of him and remains unaware of his whereabouts. Bone promises to unite Angela with her son, but sends her to a drug rehab clinic until she’s ready for parenthood.
The next day, James offers McVeigh US$5 million to arrange a fight between Bone and Price. That night, Bone discovers that Roberto has been mauled to death by James’ dogs because he witnessed the prostitute’s murder. Bone declines the proposal to fight for James; as a result, James orders his minions to hunt down Bone, Pinball and Angela. Hammerman is gunned down by a trigger-happy Bone in a strip club, while Teddy, arriving at the clinic in which Angela is supposedly rehabilitating, is greeted by a trigger-happier Pitbull. Bone and Pitbull then track down James at the Consortium’s retreat, wherein our powerful protagonist is made to exchange pleasantries with Price. The two square off in an epic chess game of groping grapples and martial arts manoeuvres. Bone and Price seem evenly matched until the latter loses his suit – and his martial mojo along with it! However, Bone taps out voluntarily just to annoy James, leaving Price winner by forfeit. Understandably angered by the unexpected turn of events, James runs at Bone with his katana sword, but only manages to cut off his own hand. After the police raid the Consortium’s retreat, Bone escapes to reunite Angela with her child, who turns out to be Tamara’s adopted son, Jared.
Blood and Bone’s fight sequences, choreographed by the highly skilled team of JJ Perry and Fernando Chier (and in part, by Jai White himself), are incredibly painful to watch, but ultimately triumph in showcasing truly superb displays of skill. Director Ben Ramsay must have learned a thing or two from watching Sammo Hung flicks, as he keeps his camera wide during many of the fights, thus allowing his characters room to breathe. While the entirety of the action is accessible through wide shots, Ramsay also utilises full-contact close-ups to help his audience become intensely intimate with the battles – so close that each punch and kick is felt, which aids in the realism of the contests. On a deeper note, the film does a fine job in exploring not only the “Eastern Warrior” parable, but also the finer points of oriental history and fighting styles. As a result, lots of entertaining karate and Japanese jujutsu -style moves find their way into the film.
Jai White really brings his A-game to Blood and Bone, delivering a knockout physical performance worthy of a much larger audience than this film will probably ever garner. His combatants deliver equally stunning physical performances, particularly Bob Sapp, who plays Walker’s top goon and prized street fighter, Hammerman. Sapp appears so ridiculously strong and intimidating that he looks as if he could crush coal into a diamond with his bare hands. Tragically, the film doesn’t quite know how to use him properly and he’s mostly dispatched before the hour mark passes. The film also features other martial artists/MMA fighters such as Matt Mullins (Mortal Kombat), Bob Sapp (Conan the Barbarian), Kimbo Slice (The Scorpion King 3), Maurice Smith and Gina Carano (Haywire), as well as Ernest “The Cat” Miller (The Wrestler). Things get rough with all these powerhouses on screen, but Jai White outshines them all with some amazingly powerful kicks and muscles that effectively ripple time and again!
The fights are highly stylised in a decidedly 1970s fashion. The combination of 70s-style kung-fu combat, juxtaposed with some of the more trendy sweeps, transitions, and joint locks seen in modern MMA, mesh seamlessly to form a visual experience similar to many other films, but easily distinguishable from all predecessors. It may seem silly at times, especially when Jai White is dropping four extras with a single flying kick and then performing a flying knee bar on the next victim, but Blood and Bone’s action sequences score points for originality, if nothing else. In fact, the combat scenes involve very little in the way of cuts and camera angle changes, instead letting Jai White and the other martial artists perform lengthy pieces of choreography all in one take. This type of shooting is only made possible due to Jai White’s athletic ability and – something which is also characteristic of 70s action films – the star doubling as a choreographer and stuntman.
Jai White’s quick and crisp-looking strikes followed immediately by action hero posing are reminiscent of Bruce Lee’s old performances. The initial prison fight sequence comes as a complete shock to the senses only two minutes into the movie, as we first come to understand the immense power and incredible martial arts skill that Jai White possesses. He seems to hit every body part with intent and precision, knowing exactly where his foes’ weaknesses hide. Often shirtless, Jai White is able to make practical use of his removed attire, whipping his adversaries into shape in exhilarating Indiana Jones-esque fashion. The tournament-style montage sequence in which Bone attempts to make a name for himself is another awesome showcase of Jai White’s all-round abilities as a martial artist. He displays a full range of grappling and kicking manoeuvres, while continuing a worrying streak of breaking his competitors’ arms!
Blending ancient Asian philosophy, fast-paced fight sequences and urban gangster drama, Blood and Bone is pretty solid as a martial arts actioner. However, the film is ultimately a low-budget splatter affair for folks who care more about body counts and orchestrated martial arts stunts than a coherent storyline. (Luckily, we happen to fall under the aforementioned demographic!) The film is a take-no-prisoners production, featuring plenty of balls-out action for the bloodlust niche. Perhaps the most powerful punch this film throws however is Michael Jai White, who makes an extremely convincing case that he deserves future consideration as a major league action star alongside the likes of Vin Diesel and Sylvester Stallone.
- Robert Wall as O’Hara, one of McVeigh’s bodyguards, previously played a character also named O’Hara in Enter the Dragon.
- Michael Jai White holds black belts in various disciplines.
- According to the DVD commentary, the scene that used the song Dance Hall Days by Wang Chung was meant to use ABBA’s Dancing Queen, but “ABBA wasn’t having that”.
- When James is talking to Franklin McVeigh, the hilt of a samurai sword is visible. In the next shot, the sword has disappeared and never reappears.
Pinball: “And the winner, coming straight from the New York City penal system, the Homicidal Homosexual!”
Pinball: “Knuuuckle uuup!”
Pinball: “I call him bone ‘cos that’s what he’s breaking when he hits”
Teddy D: “[The dogs] are looking at me like Chinese takeout”
James: “Profanity is a brutal vice. He that uses it is no gentleman”
Tamara: “I’m not sure I approve of the company you keep Mr. Bone”
Isaiah Bone: “Me neither”
Isaiah Bone: “I had an accident”
Tamara: “What did you do? Fall down and trip on someone’s fist?”
Pinball: “The primate from another climate, the Hammermaaan!”
Pinball: “He’s new on the scene, but he’s stacking much green. The one-technique knockout artist, who’s breaking down pros like they just got started. The brother man with death in each hand. The man they call Bone because, because that’s what his parents named him!”
Angela Soto: “You’re my white knight here to save me from the tower”
Isaiah Bone: “Well I don’t know about white knight”