Miklo Velka is a man of Mexican and Caucasian ethnicity who, before coming to live with his cousins, attacked his father. Miklo has a Mexican accent. However, his Caucasian appearance (fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes) from his white father has made him less accepted among the people of El Pico Aliso barrio, where they have all grown up. It has also earned him the nickname "Milkweed."
On his return from Las Vegas, Nevada, Miklo visits his mother, then goes to stay with his two cousins Paco and Cruz. While talking to his cousin Cruz about getting into the gang, his other cousin Paco tells him that he can't because of the way he looks. Miklo then proves himself worthy for the gang when he performs an attack on a rival gang, Tres Puntos. His assault earns him a placa, a tattoo as a token of his membership in the Vatos Locos mate street gang.
However, the Tres Puntos gang soon takes revenge by brutally attacking Cruz who is a budding artist, and damaging his back for life. When Vatos Locos learn of the attack, they perform a well-planned counterattack ending dramatically with the murder of the rival gang's leader, "Spider". However, Miklo has been shot by Spider before killing him and while Paco tries to get Miklo to the hospital, he and the other Vatos Locos end up being chased by the police. They almost escape from the police, but while flicking them off, Paco crashes into another car at the El Pino tree, and the other Vatos Locos gang members escape before getting arrested, but Miklo and Paco are apprehended by the police and are arrested.
Their three paths diverge: Miklo is sent to San Quentin State Prison for violating his probation, Paco volunteers for military service in the United States Marine Corps as an alternative choice to prison, and Cruz continues his passion for art. He also becomes a heroin addict due to the recurring back pain. His addiction leads to him being disowned by his family after his 12-year-old brother Juanito dies of an accidental overdose on Cruz's heroin supply. Paco becomes an L.A.P.D. narcotics detective after leaving the Marine Corps.
While in San Quentin, Miklo finds trouble adapting to prison life as his multi-ethnic heritage provides him with few allies in a racially-segregated penitentiary. The prison is run by three gangs, all of whom are based on their racial backgrounds. The Black Guerrilla Army is led by an inmate named Bonafide, the Aryan Vanguard is led by an inmate named Red Ryder, and La Onda is led by Montana. Miklo is brought to meet the head of La Onda by a fellow inmate, Popeye, who recognizes his gang tattoo from East Los Angeles. La Onda's members do not initially accept Miklo due to his White appearance, and the Aryan inmates in the meantime are trying to make Miklo into a sex slave. Popeye also tries to rape Miklo at knife-point, but he is saved by Montana. The members of La Onda make it clear that they stopped the rape because they consider Popeye's pimping to be dishonorable, rather than for any compassion for Miklo.
After meeting La Onda's leader Montana, he is told the only way into La Onda is killing an enemy inmate, in Miklo's case a white inmate due to their current war and his White appearance. Miklo agrees to do so and after gaining the trust of gambling lord Big Al, Miklo stabs him to death during a sexual encounter in the prison kitchen and stealing his gambling information from him in the process. The corrections officers are unable to charge Miklo with the crime, as he has threatened to testify against them with information regarding the gambling kickbacks which they had taken from Big Al. Miklo is initiated into La Onda and is then told by Montana to work on his parole while enacting their orders. Based on Montana's mentoring, Miklo is released on parole.
On the outside, he's disgusted by his menial job on which his supervisor (who has a gambling addiction) is robbing him, so he joins in an armed robbery, where he is intercepted by Paco, now a decorated cop. Refusing to surrender peacefully, Miklo runs away. Paco screams in agony and shoots his cousin in the leg, which later has to be amputated. Returning to prison, Miklo is promoted to the Ruling Council of La Onda. When back in prison, Miklo notices the cocaine addictions of several inmates and the Aryan's business in the drug trade. The Aryans are attempting to supply the Black and Hispanic inmates with all the cocaine they wish for as a means of having them kill each other while the Aryans run the prison economically. Montana, however, refuses to allow La Onda to enter the drug trade, saying that the gang's purpose is to protect the Chicano people.
This causes a rift in La Onda and Carlos, one of the main members who wants to deal cocaine, leaves the gang to work with the Aryans, doing this causes other members to leave as well. Miklo knows that the Aryans are just using Carlos and when they are done with him they will eventually stop protecting him. Carlos deals drugs for the Aryans murdering a B.G.A. soldier named Pockets and then contacts his brother, Smoky, on the outside who bombs a B.G.A. hangout called Cheap Times. After all of this happens, Carlos' usefulness has come to an end and the Aryans drop their protection of him allowing the B.G.A. members an opportunity to kill him.
Meanwhile, Montana and Bonafide meet in the prison yard to discuss what has happened and they agree not to go to war because the only people who would benefit are the Aryan Vanguard. So the warden has a talk with Montana and he is sent to Chino and Folsom Prison to talk to the leaders of La Onda at each of the prisons. On the outside, a hit is put out on Smoky, for his role in the bombing of Cheap Times, but he escapes with his life and he calls Paco and tries to get protection in return for information on La Onda. As Paco arrives at the church, where he is to meet Smoky, he finds that Smoky is already dead.
While Montana is visiting Folsom and Chino, he leaves Miklo in charge of La Onda in San Quentin. Montana is granted a special request, and he gets to stay overnight at Delano penitentiary where he can see his daughter. On the morning of the visit, Montana is stabbed to death outside his cell by a member of the Black Guerrilla Army (B.G.A.). Believing that the Aryans sent forged orders to the hitman, Paco arranges a peace conference between La Onda and the B.G.A. However, Miklo, La Onda's new leader, manipulates the peace talks in order to build an alliance with the B.G.A., letting Paco believe that the conference has been successful.
Later, as the celebrations for The Day of the Dead explode through East L.A., enforcers for La Onda and the B.G.A. sweep through the walls of San Quentin, brutally slaughtering the leaders of the Aryan Vanguard. After the killings are done, the leader of the B.G.A. suggests that if they continue their alliance, they can rule San Quentin. Miklo announces a change of plans and his men promptly exterminate the Black Guerrilla Army as well.
As the mass murder makes headlines, various police officers such as Paco's partner Rollie (Thomas F. Wilson) are pleased with the violence as the death between inmates has caused taxpayers to save money. Paco, however is enraged that his own cousin has played him for a fool and angrily confronts Miklo in the prison visiting room. Miklo responds that he has attained his destiny and found La Raza. Paco angrily retorts that La Raza has nothing to do with the gangsterism of La Onda and everything to do with honest Mexicans trying to raise their children in peace. Paco leaves his cousin in disgust, disowning him forever.
The members of La Onda hold a final gathering after the warden vows to split the council up by using interstate compact where convicted felons from out of state are exchanged for those who are residents of the State of California. Two members of the La Onda council are from out-of-state (one from Arizona, and another from Texas) and Miklo plans to expand La Onda to other states and other cities with Hispanic communities despite the warden's orders ending their dominance.
Later, Miklo's cellmate, "Magic", gives Miklo the mold which they used to send the forged orders to the B.G.A. hit man. Miklo sobs in grief over Montana's death, "I loved him!" Magic responds,
We both loved him, but we did what we had to do for La Onda. You were right.
As Miklo destroys the mold, Magic tells La Onda's new boss,
I give my life to you, Jefe.
Back in East Los Angeles, Paco visits one of Cruz's murals after the family re-accepts him to see a portrait of his former life which none of the gang members have marked with graffiti. In a pep talk with Cruz, Paco realizes that by ordering Miklo to go after Spider, who they were charged with murdering, Paco is responsible for all of the things that have happened to Miklo. This causes Paco to feel guilty for his actions and ultimately forgive Miklo and Cruz.
- Damian Chapa as Miklo "Milkweed" Velka
- Jesse Borrego as Cruz Candelaria
- Benjamin Bratt as Paco Aguilar
- Enrique Castillo as Montana Segura
- Delroy Lindo as Bonafide
- Victor Rivers as Magic Mike
- Tom Towles as Red Ryder
- Carlos Carrasco as Popeye
- Theodore Wilson as Wallace
- Raymond Cruz as Chuey
- Valente Rodriguez as Frankie
- Billy Bob Thornton as Lightning
- Danny Trejo as Geronimo
- Luis Contreras as Realthing
- Paulo Tocha as Apache
- Ving Rhames as Ivan
- Richard Masur (uncredited) as Prison librarian
- Thomas F. Wilson as Rollie McCann
- Lupe Ontiveros as Carmen
The three prison gangs in the film are fictional creations of screenwriter Jimmy Santiago Baca and director Taylor Hackford. However, they were all based on actual prison gangs, with the Aryan Vanguard, Black Guerrilla Army and La Onda representing the Aryan Brotherhood, Black Guerrilla Family, and the Mexican Mafia, respectively.
Actor Theodore Wilson died shortly after filming his scenes in the film.
Artist Adan Hernandez was hired to create the paintings the character of Cruz Candelaria was supposed to have painted. All of the paintings that were used in the film were created by him. The mural in the reservoir seen in the film's climax still stands today, though it has corroded considerably. Hernandez made a cameo appearance in the film as the drug dealer Gilbert in the art gallery scene.
The film was shot in and around Los Angeles and East Los Angeles and inside the walls of San Quentin State Prison. Several of the then-inmates appear in the film as extras. In addition, several of the prison staff members also appear as others and some facilitated the production of the film by serving as technical advisors. Many members of the staff were given small lines in the film, with the warden giving an extended cameo in a part that is somewhat integral to the plot. In addition, actor Danny Trejo, who appears in the film as Geronimo, had served time in San Quentin before deciding to become an actor.
The film was initially entitled "Blood in Blood Out" but was retitled "Bound by Honor" before the film's release. Blood in blood out refers to the initiation ritual of having to kill someone to enter a gang and, on the reverse end, not being able to leave the gang unless killed. This is a common initiation in many gangs, including prison gangs, and is also the motto of La Onda in the film. Hollywood Pictures insisted on the name change as the studio felt that it would incite violence in East Los Angeles. In addition, executives at Hollywood Pictures, a subsidiary of Disney, were cautious about the potential effect the film would have following the 1992 LA Riots and the attribution given to Boyz N Da Hood as a partial cause/inspiration of the riots. Director Taylor Hackford has stated that he was very unhappy with this decision as the film's message was the exact opposite of the one that the studio feared would be transmitted.
There were two soundtracks produced for the film. The first was released by Hollywood Pictures and used in the film after its re-titling to Bound by Honor. The second soundtrack was composed by Bill Conti and released by Varèse Sarabande Records. Conti's soundtrack had been commissioned for the film but was cancelled after the Blood In Blood Out title was dropped. Conti's soundtrack is still believed to be in existence, but has never been released.
In addition to prison inmates and staff and artist Hernandez, screenwriter and barrio poet Jimmy Santiago Baca cameos as a prison inmate and member of the La Onda council.
Director Hackford was asked if there's a movie of his that he felt was underrated. He said:
"Blood In Blood Out" (also known as 1993's "Bound by Honor") was an interesting attempt to make an epic Chicano gangster story set in Los Angeles. In the northeast, the gangster stories are always about Italians, Jews or Irish. The whole process of dealing with Mexican-Americans is the right thing because that's the criminal group that grew out of the L.A. area. Jeffrey Katzenberg wanted me to make it. It's the last film you would expect Disney to make. Sure enough, while I was in post, the L.A. riots happened. When I finished, Michael Eisner basically didn't want to release it: "I've got a multi-billion dollar corporation. I don't want to risk opening a film that would create any kind of flashpoint for gang warfare." That was the antithesis of what it was about. I was making a film against that ethos. It never got a proper release. Anywhere in the Southwest states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado, where there's large Latin populations, try to go rent that film. It will always be checked out. It's a favorite in that community, and that pleases me a lot.
- Blood In Blood Out at AllRovi
- Blood In Blood Out at Box Office Mojo
- Blood In Blood Out at Rotten Tomatoes
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