Black Scar Blues (2015) Review

"Black Scar Blues" Theatrical Poster

“Black Scar Blues” Theatrical Poster

Director: Leroy Nguyen
Writer: Leroy Nguyen, Edmond Shum
Cast: Leroy Nguyen, Edmond Shum, Jen Barnard, Donald Williams, Daniel Sim, Mahdi Eltigani, Aaron Emmanuel, Collel Massey, Cullen Cook III, Raymond Gwynn
Running Time: 80 min.

By Jeff Bona

Sorry folks, no Kris Wu lookalikes here. In other words, if you’re expecting skinny jeans, sleeve tattoos, DJ counter culture or any of that other now-pretentious bullshit, then Black Scar Blues is NOT the film for you. It’s more honest than that. It’s a film that goes against what Millennials would expect from a flick about smalltime, Asian American hustlers. The characters here aren’t influenced by urban hip-hop; they’re influenced by the types of people most of us have come across in real life.

Black Scar Blues follows a couple of young hoods named Roy (Leroy Nguyen) and Eddie (Edmond Shum) who stomp the streets of Baltimore. Roy is the reckless, quick-tempered tough dude who has dreams of rising to real power. Eddie is the calm, level-headed nice guy who sees their antics as a phase than life-long profession. But when the two get on the bad side of their ruthless boss (Donald Williams), their friendship, loyalty and trust come to a violent conclusion.

Black Scar Blues is written, directed by and starring Leroy Nguyen, who is the co-founder (along with Ron Suriyopas) of Rising Tiger Films, an indie movie company whose forte is filming and choreographing fight sequences. But judging from Black Scar Blues alone, Nguyen’s true love for cinema stems more from Martin Scorsese than say, Jackie Chan. At least, that’s the way I see it.

It’s important to note that Black Scar Blues was made in a non-conventional, almost experimental approach. Nguyen himself has stated that the film’s narrative was practically built around its center action piece, which resulted in a 6-year-long production that had its share of countless edits, script re-writes and on again/off again shoots. If I understand completely: the concept was there, but for the most part, Black Scar Blues was essentially a “make it up as you go”-type project, which isn’t out of the ordinary for an indie film with a low budget.

Very few sensible crime thrillers benefit from great fight choreography, but for the most part, a well-choreographed fight scene can take away from its realistic structure (imagine watching Scorsese’s Mean Streets with Sammo Hung-style choreography thrown into the mix). This is one of the main gripes I have with Black Scar Blues. Although I appreciate Nguyen’s awesomely staged action sequences, they feel out of place at times – but not because they’re fight scenes – but because the style in which they were filmed. Let’s just say they’d feel more at home in a movie that’s specifically marketed for a fight-based or martial arts film, but here’s the thing: it is marketed as a fight-based or martial arts film. That said, Black Scar Blues has somewhat of an identity disorder (again, see my comment about Mean Streets above). I realize it’s a martial arts film first and foremost, but I have to be honest, I was getting mixed signals.

Without a doubt, there’s a great film waiting to be made by Nguyen. Yes, he’s superb at filming action, but he’s also capable of making a character-driven drama, and that’s saying something. It would be interesting to see him apply these styles separately to two different films: a fight film and a crime drama. Very few directors can mix the two and come out with a harmonious final product. Gareth Evans (The Raid, The Raid 2) is one filmmaker that comes to mind. Soi Cheang Pou Soi (SPL 2) might be another. Nguyen definitely has the potential to get it right with some growth, which is inevitable if he keeps at it.

In the context of being a film that cost $5,000 (that’s basically zero), the good definitely outweighs the bad for Black Scar Blues. But don’t listen to me, because the proof is in its numerous awards earned at various film festivals, which include Best Fight Sequence, Best Actor (Nguyen), Best Martial Arts Feature Film, and Best Actor in a Martial Arts Feature Film (Nguyen).

One thing that entices me about Nguyen is his unique taste (even his production company is branded with a playful 1970’s vibe). Black Scar Blues has an arthouse quality to it, but still keeps that gritty overlay that I personally love in cinema. Even when it comes down the soundtrack, he utilizes his talented friends (all music was written, composed, and performed by Aaron Emmanuel, who also appears in the film). Just watch the the film’s Trailer and you’ll find yourself thinking: “This looks fucking cool!”

Black Scar Blues is available for streaming and digital download on Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, VUDU, and PlayStation Store right now. Give it a shot.

Jeff Bona’s Rating: 7/10

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3 Responses to Black Scar Blues (2015) Review

  1. Andrew Hernandez says:

    I liked the review. I find it intersting when a movie seems “too realistic” to have elaborate fight scenes. I kind of felt the same way about Tiger Cage where is seemed like a regular cop thriller with out of place fight scenes. The sequel felt more appropriate.

    I guess there might be a right way and a wrong way to do it. Unleashed comes to mind as a “realistic” movie with elaborate fights. But something like Mean Streets wouldn’t work.

    • JJ Bona says:

      Andrew…. you’re right, UNLEASHED was another one that got it right. Thanks for checking out the review. COF doesn’t really cover a lot of indie films, but after seeing the Trailer for this one, it was too hard to ignore. 🙂

  2. Leroy Nguyen says:

    Jeff nailed it when calling out the elaborate fight scenes not matching up with the vibe and realism of the film. Essentially, we were all going for (and still going for) an action movie with characters and a story that actually mattered, unlike almost anything that came out of Hong Kong in the 80’s (or now, for that matter).

    UNLEASHED, THE RAID 2, SPL, those films got it right, although I still feel the fights were a bit overly-choreographed for their tones. A film like A BITTERSWEET LIFE really nailed it though, as you can see from how people remember that film and how it was reviewed (as a film first, action movie second).

    This really was an eye-opening experience for all of us, and we hope with our next project, we can get even closer to making the type of film we would want to watch ourselves.

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