‘Blood In Blood Out: Bound By Honor’ Celebrates 30 Years As Crime Epic Classic

Sometimes movies only appeal to a certain demographic. It’s hard to make a movie that everyone will like but filmmakers try to appeal the general public. Sometimes they’re a success. Sometimes they’re not. Yet, by the time Blood In Blood Out: Bound by Honor appearred in theaters, no one “in the heartland” was really interested. Bill Clinton had just been sworn in as President which a good portion of Americans didn’t like. There was a standoff at the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas.

And the conservative pundits had turned their attentions from Japan to south of the border following the end of the Soviet Union. As the beginnings of NAFTA were being discussed, conservatives who had used undocumented immigrants for work were now growing angry at Democrats for their failure “to secure the borders.” So, it was no surprise that Disney released the movie in the dull winter/spring months of 1993 which were one of the most dismal periods not seen until Covid shut down theaters in 2020. No, seriously, a movie making $6-7 million at the box office on its opening week put it at the top spot. It was a harsh time for theaters. Comprised predominantly of a cast consisting of Latinos, mainstream America stayed away. While the “Growing Up in the Hood” movies were popular, Blood didn’t seem to appeal mainly do to a line Miklo Velko (Damian Chapa) says that it’s like a whole different country between Los Angeles and East Los Angeles.

Miklo is a half-white, half-Mexican who feels out of place in East L.A. with his blue eyes and lighter toned skin. Beginning in 1972, he’s 17 and a high school dropout coming back from Las Vegas following a falling out with his racist father. His youth and niavete when he arrives finds himself being passed around. His mother, who is happy to see him, doesn’t want him to stay because she won’t get her government assistance money. His aunt, who is happy to see him, doesn’t like that his mother has dumped him on her family.

His cousins, Paco Aquilar (Benjamin Bratt) and Cruz Candeleria (Jesse Borrego), are part of the Vatos Locos gang and Miklo finds himself part of the gang following a surprise attack on a rival gang, Tres Puntos, when they are spotted in the wrong neighborhood. But the gang assaults Cruz while he is with a woman following a celebration where he gets a plaque and scholarship to attend art school. Injured and doctors uncertain how things will go, Paco, Miklo and others attack the Puntos but Miklo is shot in his stomach but does shoot the Puntos’ leader, Spider (Ray Oriel).

As Paco tries to drive him to the hospital wildly, they attract the attention of the police who arrest them when they crash. Miklo goes to San Quentin (presumably for manslaughter or second-degree murder of Spider) where he is targeted for his youth as well as his skin tone. The Latino gang La Onda initially shun him because he looks too white. The Aryan Vanguard, a white supremacy gang, wants him to join because he’s young and can be used for sex, and the BGA (Black Guerrilla Army) don’t like him either way. Eventually, he works his way into La Onda under the leadership of Montana Segura (Enrique Castillo) by killing an Aryan member discovering a money scam they were running with the prison guards. He eventually earns a spot on their Council because of this.

On the outside, Paco joins the Marine Corps and becomes a narcotics cop. Cruz recovers from his injuries but becomes addicted to heroin and ruining his reputation as a rising artist in the area. His association with his old gang members also hurts his chances as they crash an art show. Things get worse when Juanito (Noah Verduzco), Paco’s younger brother who admires Cruz, does a heroin shot while Cruz and a friend, Chuy (Raymond Cruz) are passed out and dies. This causes bad blood between Paco and Cruz for years.

Miklo eventually gets a G.E.D. and is paroled in the early 1980s after nine years but finds life on the outside as an ex-felon hard. His boss is a gambling junkie who deducts money from his paycheck to pay off debts. He ends up staying in an apartment that is actually full of La Onda members who have been paroled but are doing illegal activities. All this results in a botched armored car burglary that Paco and his partner, Rollie McCann (Thomas F. Wilson), are tipped off about. People are killed and Paco shoots Miklo in the leg resulting in it being amputated.

Back at San Quentin, things get worse as there is a power struggle over La Onda from an inmate, Carlos (Geoffrey Rivas). Montana fears the Aryan Vanguard want to start a war between La Onda and the B.G.A. over control of the distribution of cocaine both in and out of San Quentin. And the war is spreading outside the prison on the streets of L.A. It’s a very long and complex movie with many characters some of which are played by actors before they became really famous.

One of those actors is Delroy Lindo who plays Bonafide, the leader of the B.G.A. Cruz would go on to costar alongside Bratt again in Clear and Present Danger and other movies and TV shows such as Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. The late actor Tommy Towles, who would be cast in many horror movies, mainly of which directed by Rob Zombie, is Red Ryder, the leader of the Vanguard. Billy Bob Thornton, in one of his earliest roles, plays Lightning, a lieutenant in the Vanguard. Danny Trejo is one of the main Council officials in La Onda. Ving Rhames plays Ivan, an investigator with the Department of Corrections. And then there’s Bratt, who had only been in TV roles and small roles in a few movies but would go on to find success both on the show Law & Order and movies like Demolition Man and Miss Congeniality.

The movie was loosely inspired by the experiences of writer Jimmy Santiago Baca but it would have a more complicated production than Miklo’s life. Originally producer Jerry Gershwin had hired novelist Ross Thomas to write a script in the 1980s but it lagged in development hell until Edward James Olmos was attached to star and direct. However, Olmos quit over creative differences and went on to make American Me, which had a similar set-up, and was in production at the same time as Taylor Hackford was finally brought on to direct. Floyd Mutrux was hired to rewrite to the scripts written by Baca and Thomas.

Production took place in 1991 in East L.A. and in San Quentin with some of the inmates serving as extras. However, the movie lanquished for some time before being released. It didn’t help that the L.A. Riots from April 29 to May 4, 1992 made Disney more apprehensive about releasing it especially after there was criticism that the movies Boyz N the Hood and Do the Right Thing might have actually inspired the riots. So, under the now defunct Hollywood Pictures banner, it was released in limited distribution in Feburary before a wider distribution at the end of April 1993.

Hackford said Disney did little to market it. And the release in theaters was probably just to fulfill a contractual obligation. Made on a budget of $35 million, it barely made $4.5 million at the box office. The fact that it has three varying titles might be part of the reason. Originally titled Blood In Blood Out, Disney changed it to Bound by Honor out of fear the title might be misintepreted.

But as everyone in the 1990s had a VCR in their house, it became a popular video rental in predominantly Latino neighborhoods, which Hackford said is something he is proud of. A friend of mine who worked in a video rental store herself said it was a popular rental. And for a while in 2001, I think Starz aired it at least one a week for several months. Some might even call it a cult classic.

Now, 30 years later, it’s most popular among Latino audiences. Hackford said he turned to Latinos at a nightclub and asked them about it to which they both expressed enthusiasm. It did for Latinos why The Godfather did for Italian-Americans and Scarface did for Cubans depite the negative stereotypes. It was the Latino answer to the hood movies.

But at the heart of the movie is a morality story about choices. Paco, Cruz and Miklo are all petty criminals but each of them take different paths following the gang war. Miklo is like a Latino Michael Corleone where at first he is too innocent and no one expects much of him. But at the end, he is in control of La Onda. Cruz has realized he ruined his artistic opportunities through drug use but it’s never too late to turn around and seek redemption and forgiveness. Paco, even though he turned his life around, admits he was racked with guilt over the events that had them arrested. He initially wanted to kill Spider but Miklo stopped him. Yet it was Miklo shooting Spider that got him sent to prison.

Critcs weren’t two kind. Roger Ebert dismissed with it with just a two star review. Entertainment Weekly gave it B-minus rating citing the San Quentin scenes as the movie’s highlights and Vincent Canby gave a somewhat indifferent review saying that it’s not exactly an epic, but didn’t call it a failure. In the end, the real critics were the audiences who grew up and lived in East L.A. and other Latino communities around America.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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