Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bullets, Blood and a Fistful of Cash (USA, 2006)

"I was in love with a girl once… she’s dead now. I only ever been good at two things, killing people is one of them…"

The engagingly titled film Bullets, Blood and a Fistful of Cash, a low budget independent production from Seattle written and directed by Sam Akina, is one of those types of film that you want to like more than you do, and perhaps even end up liking more than you should.
The debut (and to date last) feature-length film of Akina is ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Ronnie Sorter’s 1996 film Ravage, only much better. Sorter once claimed that he made his film because he had seen so much bad low budget trash that he decided he could surely do better. While a similar statement is not known to have been expressed by Akina, when one watches his violent and over-the-top revenge drama Bullets, Blood and a Fistful of Cash one gets the feeling that although low budget trash may have indeed been an inspiration, the main source that he was attempting to emulate was Quentin Tarantino.

Well, Akina did well enough that the source can be recognized—particularly in the editing, intermixing of temporalities, convoluted plotting, extreme violence and over-the-top characterization—but Akina is hardly an equal to the Hollywood master in his pop dialogue or camera work. But to give the kid a break, Akina made his, uh, (to date) masterpiece with an initial budget of only $25,000—it’s doubtful that Tarantino could even make a decent short with that budget or, for that matter, with Akina’s final, full budget of $50,000 (the additional money was achieved after the rough cut was produced).

The plot of Bullets, Blood and a Fistful of Cash is deceptively simple for a film as convoluted as it is. Basically, some big, muscular and not-too-bright dude (Tom Doty) named Cash—his first name is his last, his last name is his first—who never gets naked is released from jail after ten years and beelines to the big city (Seattle) to seek revenge on those that both double-crossed him ten years earlier and also raped and killed his wife. The fragile truce between the various crime rings unravels due to both the trail of bodies he leaves in his wake and a series of misunderstandings that he indirectly causes. One by one most of the kingpins fall—including Bill Nguyen (Toan Le), the boss of the Vietnamese mafia; Tommy Two Toes (Dex Manley of Bloody Mary [2006 / trailer]), the Italian mafioso; and Pablo Valdez (Rodrigo DeMedeiros of Tex: Vampire Hunter [2010 / trailer] and Son of Terror [2008 / trailer]), a Columbian drug lord—until Cash finally confronts his most hated enemy, Hector Gonzales (Jerry Lloyd of Creatures from the Pink Lagoon [2006 / trailer] and The Thing on the Doorstep [2003 / trailer]), a cold-blooded strategist out to rule the city.
As the title implies, there is a waft of Spaghetti Western in the entire proceedings, underlined by such things as the occasional use of Morricone-inspired music, the continual twirling of guns, and the ease with which everyone walks around in public bearing arms. But the Western is just a light spice in the events; first and foremost the film is a hardboiled revenge drama, something Jim Thompson—or maybe Hemingway—might have spit out had they written violent, bloodily camp, low budget films. Perhaps the plot tries too hard to be clever, and perhaps the tweaking of the narrative timeline is a bit too cute, but truth be told, not only does Akina do a good job at keeping everything under control but it is exactly these and other quirks—like the over-the-top, consciously campy violence—that makes Bullets, Blood and a Fistful of Cash fun to watch, that makes the film ever-so-slightly different from all the normal crap out there.

The flaw in Bullets, Blood and a Fistful of Cash which makes it almost impossible to recommend is that there is seemingly no full version of the film in general release. According to imdb, the only version that Akina views as being approval-worthy is an unreleased Director’s Cut of 2 hours and 6 minutes. The versions currently available on DVD, however, range from 104 to 115 minutes—which means that they are missing between 22 and 11 minutes of material. And it’s noticeable: more than once the cut is so jerky that continuity is almost lost, and little in the film is half as bloody as the bloopers underlying the end credits would lead to believe it should be.
In the end, the experience is comparable to the 34 double-D you finally get home only to discover that from A to D is just Kleenex. It’s fun anyways, especially since personality does go a long way, but something is still missing.

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