Well Go USA Entertainment has acquired North American rights to Triple Threat (aka Makeshift Squad), an upcoming action film by Jessie V. Johnson (Savage Dog) that’s best described as a martial arts-themed Expendables (via Deadline).
Here’s what you can expect from the film’s plot, according to THR: After a billionaire’s daughter becomes the target of a mercenary cartel. Her only protection are two down-on-their-luck fighters and a third who has vowed revenge against the others. Jaa, Uwais and Chen are the protagonists, while American thespians Adkins, Bisping and White are the villains.
Look out for a U.S theatrical release in early 2018.
Updates: Watch the film’s 1st Teaser Trailer below:
On August 29, 2017, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is releasing the DVD for Asura: The City of Madness, directed by Kim Sung-Su (The Flu, Musa: The Warrior).
Detective Han (Jung Woo-Sung of The Divine Move), who for years has been secretly doing dirty work for the corrupt mayor (Hwang Jung-Min of A Violent Prosecutor), is now pressured by a ruthless prosecutor (Kwak Do-Won of The Wailing) to cooperate in his investigation against the mayor.
Feeling trapped, Han persuades his young partner Sunmo (Ju Ji-Hoon of Along With The Gods) to take over his work for the mayor, but things start to get tangled in unpredictable ways.
As fellow COF writer Paul Bramhall points out in his recent review for Savage Dog, action filmmaker Jesse V. Johnson (The Last Sentinel) seems to have found a new muse in the form of martial arts sensation Scott Adkins (Eliminators).
The two are currently busy on The Pay Up, an upcoming actioner that’ll mark their 4th feature together (5th if you count 2005’s Pit Fighter). Details for the film are scarce, but it is confirmed that David William No (Mr. Nice Guy) and Louis Mandylor (Martial Law) are also part of the cast (via FB).
A new Hollywood film revolving around Bruce Lee titled Birth of the Dragon will finally be making its way to theaters on August 25th. The fable-based movie will take a look at the life of legendary martial artist, using disputed bout with Master Wong Jack-Man as the centerpiece of the story.
At the helm of the project is George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau) with a screenplay by Christopher Wilkinson (Ali) and Stephen J. Rivele (Nixon). Noted Hong Kong action director, Corey Yuen (Kiss of the Dragon, No Retreat, No Surrender II) has staged the film’s fight choreography.
Rising Hong Kong actor Philip Ng (Wild City, Sifu vs Vampire, Zombie Fight Club) stars as Bruce Lee. Co-stars include Yu Xia (Dragon Squad) as Wong Jack-Man, Billy Magnussen as Steve McKee, and Jinging Qu (Journey Through China), who’ll be playing Steve’s love interest.
During early screenings of Birth of the Dragon, many critics and fans were upset that the character of Bruce (Ng) took a backseat, while the “white” character of Billy (McKee) was front and center. Due to this backlash, the film’s U.S. publicist has reached out to inform SA: “The version shown at TIFF was unfinished and it has been recut. The character played by Billy is a minor character – not the lead – in this cut, which is what will be shown in theaters. The story is not told from the point of view of the fictional Steve McKee character. It focuses on Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man.”
This isn’t the first time Hollywood has explored the legend of Bruce Lee. Perhaps the most well known example is 1993’s Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, a heavily dramatized biopic from The Fast and the Furious director Rob Cohen that featured Jason Scott Lee (Time Cop 2) in the lead role. And let’s not forget the many Chinese productions, such as 1975’s Bruce Lee I Love You, 1976’s Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth, 1978’s The Dragon Lives and 2010’s Bruce Lee My Brother.
Updates: Watch a New Featurette for Birth of the Dragon, followed by the film’s Trailer:
Following the premiere at 2017 Cannes Film Festival, Before We Vanish continued its festival circuit at this year’s 17th edition of Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival. With budget as the one thing that shouldn’t give the organizers any headache, NIFFF had the privilege of welcoming Takashi Miike as the guest of honor this year, with not one, but three of his new movies. Fans have all the reason to look forward to these, while the sequel to Mole Song offers even more wacky action and goofy comedy, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and Blade of the Immortal are some of Miike’s best since Lesson of the Evil. As different directors with their own unique style and vision, it may seem there’s nothing to connect the two, but Kiyoshi Kurosawa, just like Miike, had his share of V-Cinema productions before becoming one of the best known Japanese filmmakers today.
In 2016, Creepy was announced as the return of the master – Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s big comeback to the genre that made him famous. After completing Daguerrotype that same year, his first movie shot outside of Japan, Kurosawa returned with another genre piece, this time science fiction. Again, rather than just going by the book, he offers his own unique vision instead; this alien invasion piece is unlike any you’ve seen before.
Though not without his missteps, Kurosawa was able to deliver in any decade despite the change of times, and it’s no different today. Based on a play written and directed by Tomohiro Maekawa, Before we vanish is another fantastic display of Kurosawa’s mastery. It is a story about three aliens that, nested inside their human hosts, prepare for invasion, a story that opens with a bloody family massacre and a cool looking car crash only to continue in a far less exciting tone, as a slow-paced thriller with refined dramatic charge, and a comic flare for good balance.
What makes Before We Vanish unique is, above all, the fact there’s nothing that much scientific or fantastic about it, except the idea and the story itself. Sci-fi fans expecting spaceships, creatures from outer space or tons of special effects could end up quite disappointed since Kurosawa’s apocalyptic vision comes closer to the one seen in his 2001 masterpiece Pulse, only less fantastic. Drive-by audience might find the movie boring and couldn’t be blamed for it, but those familiar with Kurosawa’s body of work will surely appreciate the way how he effortlessly transformed something ordinary into something, well, so extraordinary.
To add just enough spice to it, there are occasional outbursts of action, our teenage aliens taking on special agents that are on to them, or, in one of the best scenes in the movie, Kurosawa’s take on the renowned North by Northwest plane scene, reporter turned “guide” facing the threat from above underarmed. Perhaps these rare exciting moments wouldn’t be as effective had the rest been any more entertaining.
Rather an experience than a memorable slice of cinema, Before We Vanish is all about atmosphere, part of which is the interesting soundtrack seemingly more appropriate for an 80’s Hollywood movie, perhaps something Spielberg would direct back in the days when Dream Factory was still producing magic. Thanks to Kurosawa’s atmosphere build-up and skillful storytelling, two plain looking teenagers and a grown man meeting on the street become three aliens reunited for the first time on Earth, finalizing their invasion plan. The aliens here, using humans as both their hosts and their “guides”, need to learn about Earth before being able to invade. Taking human concepts by a simple touch of the finger is the way to do it.
Before being fully able to understand, they just roam around befuddled, gathering the necessary knowledge. Who better to portrait such a confused character wearing blunt face than Ryuhei Matsuda? This was his first time working with Kurosawa, here without his regular Koji Yakusho, as it was for his two young extraterrestrial pals, Mahiro Takasugi and the great Yuri Tsunematsu in the role of Akira Tachibana. The whole concepts looting idea, often leading into almost philosophical re-examination of basic human conceptions, seems at times naive, but is again quite beautiful in Kurosawa’s delivery. This is best depicted in the scene with Matsuda’s character trying to grasp the human concept of love.
Before We Vanish has Kurosawa written all over it, down to the small touches often present in his films, such as toying with lighting and shadow to accentuate as seen in Creepy, or the interesting slow-motion usage in the simple scenes of characters driving. Unusual, subtle and again, so distantly unique, Kurosawa’s latest directorial vision is undoubtedly a great one. The only question is, how many will see it as such?
Triple Threat: Chuck Norris | DVD (Shout! Factory)
RELEASE DATE: October 10, 2017
Who needs Tony Jaa, Tiger Chen and Iko Uwais when you’ve got Chuck Norris? Shout! Factory presents the DVD for Chuck Norris: Triple Threat, which contains Missing in Action (1984), directed by Joseph Zito (Invasion U.S.A.); Missing in Action II: The Beginning (1985), directed by Lance Hool (Steel Dawn); and Braddock: Missing in Action III (1988), directed by Aaron Norris (The Hitman).
The Missing in Action Trilogy revolves around Colonel Braddock (Norris) and his many adventures in the jungles of Vietnam. Whether it’s rescuing American POWs or saving his wife and son from Vietcong, there’s no stopping this one-man army.
“Kingsman: The Secret Service” Korean Theatrical Poster
Director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) is back with more super spy action with Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, which is based on the comic book The Secret Service, created by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar.
When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, the Kingsman’s journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US. These two elite secret organizations must band together to defeat a common enemy.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle stars Taron Edgerton, Mark Strong, Edward Holcroft, Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights), Halle Berry (Die Another Day), Channing Tatum (The Hateful Eight), Jeff Bridges (Tron), Vinnie Jones (Midnight Meat Train), Elton John and last but not least, Colin Firth (if you’ve seen the first movie, his inclusion is strange).
Kingsman: The Golden Circle hits theaters in September 22, 2017.
Updates: Watch the film’s New Red/Green Band Trailers below:
On October 10, 2017, North American entertainment company Cinedigm will be releasing the Blu-ray & DVD set for Ip Man: Season 1, a 2013 Chinese television series starring Kevin Cheng (The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake) as the the legendary grandmaster of Wing Chun.
The Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man (Cheng) spends all his life in pursuit of the authentic martial arts realm. Gaining enlightenment throughout his childhood and adolescence, Ip Man undergoes a transformation and becomes a kung fu legend, ascending to the highest ranking of martial arts. After fleeing to Hong Kong, Ip Man deliberately keeps a low-profile, but he is inevitably engaged in conflicts.
The series also stars Cecilia Han (The Golden Doll), Chrissie Chau (12 Golden Ducks), Yu Rong-Guang (Police Story 2013), Yuen Wah (The Bodyguard), Bruce Leung (The Dragon Lives Again) and Leung “Beardy” Kar-Yan (Shanghai 13). Ip Man’s real sons, Ip Chun and Ip Ching, serve as the martial arts consultants on this series.
Ip Man: Season 1 is currently available for pre-order at Amazon.com. Don’t miss the series’ Trailer below:
Australian-born, Hong Kong-based filmmaker Antony Szeto (Wushu), who worked with Juju Chan (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny) on both Palace of the Damned and Fist of the Dragon, may be teaming up with the female action star for a third time in Pepper, a thriller written by Janice Eymann (The Farmer).
Chan is currently in negotiations for the title role of “Pepper” in this Chinese-Australian co-production, which producers are hoping to shoot next year.
According to IF, Pepper is the saga of a secret agent who comes to Far North Queensland in search of her missing brother, a fellow agent.
In Kickboxer: Retaliation, the follow up to Kickboxer: Vengeance, Alain Moussi is back as Kurt Sloane. One year after the events of the first film, Sloan has vowed never to return to Thailand. However, while gearing up for a MMA title shot, he finds himself sedated and forced back into Thailand, this time in prison…
For Kickboxer: Retaliation, Dimitri Logothetis (who directed Moussi in the unreleased Wings of the Dragon) is taking over the director’s chair for John Stockwell (In the Blood).
Kickboxer: Retaliation stars strongman competitor, Hafthor Julius Björnsson (Game of Thrones), Mike Tyson (Ip Man 3), soccer star Ronaldinho, Christopher Lambert (Highlander) and returning co-stars, Sara Malakul Lane and Jean-Claude Van Damme (Second in Command).
Updates: The film releases later this year. Don’t miss its New Trailer below:
Features include: Commentary with Rob Cohen, Archival Introduction, The Making of Featurette, Behind-the-Scenes Reel, Jason Scott Lee Screen Test, Bruce Lee Interview/Photographs, Storyboards, Production Photographs and Trailers.
Cartels | aka Killing Salazar | Blu-ray & DVD (Lionsgate)
Director: Keoni Waxman Producer: Binh Dang, Steven Seagal Cast: Steven Seagal, Georges St. Pierre, Luke Goss, Darren E. Scott, Florin Piersic Jr., Martine Argent, Lauro Chartrand, Bruce Crawford, Claudiu Bleont, Howard Dell, George Ramos, Adina Galupa Running Time: 93 min.
By Paul Bramhall
In Cartels the not-so-dynamic duo of director Keoni Waxman, and his muse Steven Seagal, collaborate once again on one of their countless direct-to-DVD titles. Interestingly Cartels was originally due for release in 2016, however perhaps realising that it would have been the 7th Seagal movie to hit the shelves that particular year, distributor Lionsgate wisely decided to push it back to 2017. Not only did they decide to push the release date back, but they also made the decision to change its title. Originally set to be called Killing Salazar, perhaps sensing that Seagal’s filmography is overly littered with titles that have the word ‘kill’ in them, it was eventually changed to the more simplistic Cartels. That’s fine, with the only detrimental effect being that it ruins the first paragraph of my Contract to Kill review. It’s a legitimate gripe.
Cartels, as if to set expectations from the word go, opens with an abysmally thought out title sequence. After some pretentious onscreen text about how feared Salazar is and the usual mumbo jumbo, the names of the cast play over various characters that appear onscreen. The issue is, for some reason onscreen text also appears mixed in with this sequence, telling us the name of who the character is we’re looking at. The result is, we have a sequence which reads – Martine Argent. U.S. Marshal Tom Jensen. Darren E. Scott. Figuring out which names are the actual actors, and which names are characters in the movie, makes for a fun game, and while it doesn’t take a genius, the fact is that it’s a sloppily constructed sequence.
Soon we’re introduced to Seagal, adorned in his usual orange tinted shades, continuing with his current flavour of the month were he plays a kind of Special Ops agent. I confess part of my enjoyment of watching Seagal movies is waiting for the part in the script when his character (and therefore, himself) will be described as some kind of legendary operative/agent/military man etc. If I could pinpoint it, I’d say it started with Under Siege, when Gary Busey first discovers who Casey Ryback really is, and built to a climatic epiphany of sorts with Michael Caine’s speech in On Deadly Ground. However in 2016 he’s still going strong, and Cartels has Seagal delivering plenty of self-praise. At one point he declares himself as “the guy they should have brought in when sh*t went sideways.” In another he makes a series of unintentionally hilarious clarifications, my favorite of which was “I was not born in night, I was born on a bright f*cking sunny day man.”
For what it’s worth, Seagal spends almost the whole of Cartels sat down. In terms of the energy he exerts, it surprisingly doesn’t feel a whole lot different to the movies where he’s more upwardly mobile. Cartels is structured in such a way that has Seagal interrogating a Major, played by Luke Goss, as the story plays out through flashbacks as to how Salazar managed to escape their grasp. In this regard you can say that Goss is actually the star of the show, and he brings a welcome presence to proceedings in terms of both his physicality, and his charisma. Goss was a member of a boyband in the UK during the 80’s with his twin, Matt Goss, and re-invented himself as an actor during the oughts. While he’s never made the A-list (probably an obvious statement considering he’s in Cartels), he has built an impressive body of work as an action star, with notable roles in the likes of Blade II, Silver Hawk, and Tekken.
The reason behind the interrogation is because Goss and a group of his military colleagues are assigned to transport Salazar, an infamous drug lord, from Romania to the U.S., in which he’ll be the star witness in a trial against various cartels. However they soon find themselves holed up in a hotel, as various enemies of Salazar look to seize their opportunity to take him out for good, all of which leads to his mysterious disappearance. Events lead to Goss being separated from the rest of the group, which gives proceedings a kind of ‘Die Hard in Romania’ vibe, and his separation results in suspicions being raised into how much he actually knows about what went down. This is the sideways sh*t that Seagal was referring to, and is why he’s brought in.
As per so many of Seagal’s direct-to-DVD movies, Cartels is shot on location in Romania. At this point in his career you could probably take the majority of his post-2000 work, and make a tourist video for Eastern Europe out of them. Cartels fits in nicely with this theory, as while the majority of shots focus on the World Trade Center signage on top of the hotel they’re holed up in, one shot (I’m sure unintentionally) allows us to see that it is in fact the Bucharest branch of the Pullman Hotels chain. Salazar himself is played by Romanian actor Florin Piersic Jr., and he does a good job of hamming up his role as the drug lord everyone has to reluctantly protect, laying on a thick Russian accent. The real villain of the piece though comes in the form of former UFC star George St-Pierre, and after minor appearances in the likes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Kickboxer: Vengeance, Cartels provides him with a decent amount of screen time.
Admittedly all he has to do is look intimidating and pull off some of his trademark MMA moves, but he brings a level of intensity to the role that, potentially, indicates he could well make a worthy transition to the world of filmmaking. The rest of the cast bring an equal amount of action talent to the table, consisting almost entirely of stuntmen or martial artists. The leader of the military unit assigned to protect Salazar is played by Darren E. Scott, a black belt in Goju-Ryu Karate who can also be seen facing off against Philip Ng in Birth of the Dragon. He’s joined by the likes of Lauro Chartrand, who aside from acting as the movies action coordinator, also directed the Seagal vehicle Driven to Kill. Other roles are filled by such respected members of the stunt community as Bruce Crawford, Howard Dell, and Sharlene Royer.
No doubt because of the involvement of such experienced professionals, and a lack of Seagal, the action in Cartels is surprisingly enjoyable. It doesn’t break any new ground, but for a direct-to-DVD U.S. production, there’s certainly a lot worse out there. Apart from some worthy pyrotechnics, we also get Goss facing off against a pair of motorbike riding assailants, and a one-on-one against Howard Dell (that pays its dues to The Raid 2’s Hammer Girl), plus Darren E. Scott also gets a one-on-one against St-Pierre. For those that like their dose of butt kicking females, Martine Argent and Sharlene Royer also have a chance to go at it, which deserves special mention for the fact it quickly becomes apparent Argent forgot to use an antiperspirant that morning. However sure enough, Seagal comes dawdling in for the finale, and naturally gets his own one-on-one against St-Pierre.
As per standard for Seagal’s recent fight scenes, he just kind of stands there, and is able to throw St-Pierre everywhere by doing little more than uncomfortably shuffling on the spot. The fight is unique in that St-Pierre does actually get a few licks in, a rare sight hardly seen since Seagal received a double nose bleed in The Glimmer Man. Although technically, the person that St-Pierre hits is actually Seagal’s double, visibly slimmer and filmed from the back. I have a theory that Seagal was probably kept in the dark regarding the fact his character was going to take a hit, so I daresay the scenes with the double were probably filmed without him knowing. Because heaven forbid the idea that someone is able to penetrate the man’s mighty girth and get a punch in.
With a lean 90 minutes runtime, Cartels certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome, and the closing scene even throws in a twist, which in a smart piece of scriptwriting gives significance to a throwaway line that’s spoken earlier. It’s also a twist which could potentially mean we get a Cartels 2, so let’s see if it emerges from the 20 or so movies Seagal will likely release over the next few years. As it stands though, while fans of Seagal may not appreciate his supporting role, he’s still around enough to deliver all his usual trademarks – the self-glorification, the ability to speak every language under the sun with no explanation, and incomprehensibly edited fight scenes. For everyone else, Cartels is a modestly budgeted action flick starring Luke Goss and George St-Pierre, one that happens to also be modestly entertaining for most of the right reasons.
Filipino martial arts instructor Dan Inosanto, who is perhaps best known for being the protege of Bruce Lee, will be the subject of an upcoming biopic that’s currently in development.
The untitled film will be based on a story by Jeremy Gough. Mark Gordon (Murder on the Orient Express) and Matt Jackson (End of Watch) will produce along with Diana Lee Inosanto (The Sensei), Inosanto’s daughter and Lee’s goddaughter.
Although the movie will most likely document Inosanto’s rise to being one of the highest authoritative figures in Jeet Kune Do and various styles of Filipino martial arts, the story will also spotlight his lesser-known successes. As THR reports, “In the mid-1970s, a conditioning coach named Dr. Bob Ward created a stealth program that involved then up-and-coming linesman Randy White, with Inosanto being the key ingredient in the training. Inosanto’s involvement is said to have been key to the Cowboys’ success on the road to the Super Bowl.”
In addition to his affiliation/training with Lee, Inosanto starred alongside Lee in 1972’s Game of Death (due to Lee’s untimely death, the film was completed in 1978 using body doubles for Lee). Other notable film appearances include The Chinese Stuntman (with Bruce Li), Out for Justice (with Steven Seagal), and David Mamet’s highly underrated Redbelt.
We’ll keep you posted on this story as more news arrives. Until then, here’s a scene from The Chinese Stuntman, featuring Insosanto, Bruce Li and the late John Ladalski:
Atomic Blonde and that other female “John Wick” flick better brace themselves, because Confession of Murderhelmer Jeong Byeong-gil (he’s been compared to director Ryoo Seung-wan and that’s saying something…) is ready to unleash The Villainess, an upcoming actioner about a female killer played by Kim Ok-bin (Thirst).
Bloody revenge is at the heart of this stylish, kinetic action-thriller that gives a welcome shot of adrenaline to the classic femme fatale story. Honed from childhood into a merciless killing machine by a criminal organization, assassin Sook-hee is recruited as a sleeper agent with the promise of freedom after ten years of service – and she jumps at the chance for a normal life. But soon enough, secrets from her past destroy everything she’s worked for, and now nobody can stand in her way as she embarks on a roaring rampage of revenge.
The Villainess also stars Shin Ha-Kyun (Big Match), Sung Joon (Pluto), Kim Seo-Hyung (The Berlin File), Jo Eun-Ji (The Target), Lee Seung-Joo (The Whistleblower), Jung Hae-Kyun (Missing You), Park Chul-Min (The Pirates) and Son Min-Ji (The Legacy).
Updates: Don’t miss the film’s New U.S. Trailer below:
Writer/director Lee Jung-Sub, the filmmaker perhaps best known for co-writing Romantic Island and Perfect Couple, is opening his directorial debut with a bang in Real, an upcoming neo noirish actioner starring Kim Soo-hyun (The Thieves).
Real is the story about a colorful city controlled by the underworld, where a troubleshooter, Jang Tae-yeong (Kim), who is good at dealing with “dark business,” solves all requests, but things change for him after he meets a former detective reporter (via WP).
L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties | DVD (Lionsgate)
RELEASE DATE:September 26, 2017
On September 26th, 2017, Lionsgate Home Entertainment is releasing L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties on DVD, Digital HD and On Demand.
From the visual effects team behind James Cameron’s Avatar and Warcraft, this computer-animated, motion-capture, action-adventure odyssey “stars” Kris Wu (xXx: Return of Xander Cage) and Fan Bingbing (League of Gods) as sorcerers battling an evil traitor in order to restore peace to the kingdom.
Supernatural warriors clash with dark forces of evil in this electrifying fantasy-adventure. In a distant time, seven lords who wield powers beyond imagination share dominion over a world. But when one lord falls from grace, the others summon all their magic to stop an epic war that is ravaging the land — and threatening the order of the universe. Based on the fantastic and epic novels by Guo Jingming
L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties is directed by Guo Jing-Ming (Tiny Times film series) and also “stars” Cheney Chen (The Great Wall), Lin Yun (Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons 2), Yan Yikuan (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom), William Chan (Overheard), Amber Kuo (Sky on Fire), Yang Mi (Wu Dang) and Aarif Rahman (Kung Fu Yoga). Note: Lionsgate will release the film with an English (dubbed) track only.
Acclaimed director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine, Monk Comes Down the Mountain) is putting finishing touches on Legend of the Demon Cat, a period actioner that releases domestically on December 22, 2017.
The team behind the film has decided to transform their $200 million sets into a theme park once they’ve finished shooting. After all, “an entire [Tang Dynasty] city with lakes, rivers, palaces, caves, glamorous buildings, and parks” were constructed (via TMS).
According to Variety, Legend of the Demon Cat sees a Chinese poet and a Japanese monk join forces to investigate the influence of a demonic cat, which has possessed a general’s wife, wreaked havoc on the royal court and killed legendary courtesan Yang Guifei. The film, originally presented under the title Kukai, is adapted from a bestselling four-volume novel about love, death and revenge by Yumemakura Baku.
We’ll keep you updated on this project as we hear more. For now, watch some behind-the-scenes features below.
Updates: Watch the film’s Teaser Trailer below (via AFS):
Director: Jesse V. Johnson Writer: Jesse V. Johnson Cast: Scott Adkins, Marko Zaror, Cung Le, JuJu Chan, Vladimir Kulich, Keith David, Charles Fathy, Matthew Marsden, Sheena Chou, Luke Massy, Aki Aleong Runnning Time: 94 min.
By Paul Bramhall
The transition from stuntman to director should, by nature, not be an easy one. However recently guys like Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, the pair of stuntmen turned directors behind John Wick, have been making it seem like a walk in the park. One name who many may not be familiar with though, but has been treading the path of being a stuntman, writer, and director for close to 20 years, is Jesse V. Johnson. The talent that Johnson has worked with over the last 10 years is enough to make any Expendables casting agent envious, with the likes of Mark Dacascos, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Darren Shahlavi, Jerry Trimble, and Eric Roberts all featuring in his movies. Despite the names he’s able to attract though, Johnson’s directorial efforts have remained an example of how difficult such a transition is, with movies like The Last Sentinel and Alien Agent largely considered a waste of the talents involved.
In 2017 though Johnson seems to have found a new muse in the form of Scott Adkins. While Adkins forged a hugely successful working relationship with director Isaac Florentine, which saw them work on 7 movies together between 2003 – 2015, in 2017 alone the new pair have already collaborated together on 3 titles. The first one to hit screens is Savage Dog, and at the time of writing Triple Threat and Accident Man are soon to follow. Interestingly Savage Dog is not the first time Johnson and Adkins have worked together, with Adkins playing a small part as a fighter in the movie that brought Johnson to people’s attention, with 2005’s Pit Fighter. Here though he’s no longer a bit player, with a starring role alongside fellow martial arts luminaries Marko Zaror, Cung Le, and Juju Chan.
Savage Dog earns points immediately for taking the chance to set an action movie in a period that’s never really been used before within the genre. Taking place in Indochina in 1959, despite the low budget there’s a nice level of period detail on display that gives the visuals an authentic feel. Adkins plays an Irish prisoner being held by a well off Nazi (played by Vladimir Kulich) and his cronies, which include a sharp suited Marko Zaror, and military man Cung Le. They run an illegal fighting tournament, however when the British government come looking for Adkins to extradite him, Kulich decides to set him free so as not to bring any unnecessary trouble. Adkins doesn’t enjoy his freedom for long though, as Kulich and his crew soon set their sights on acquiring a bar he’s taken a job at. The bar is run by Keith David (yes, Childs from The Thing) and Juju Chan, and the acquisition leads to tragic consequences that see budding lovers Adkins and Chan left for dead.
While the plot of Savage Dog has plenty of potential for intrigue, mystery, and even romance, with his 10th feature length production Johnson unfortunately still hasn’t learnt anything about building up dramatic tension. Important plot points that should have a huge bearing on the events that unfold, such as Juju Chan being revealed to be the daughter of the Nazi, are delivered in a frustratingly clunky manner with zero tension. The whole movie is also distractingly narrated by Keith David, being told in retrospect from beyond the grave of all places, when the plot would have benefitted more from allowing the visuals and actors to tell the story. Instead, the narration frequently delves into pretentiousness, ranging from stating the obvious (when Adkins sneaks into an enemy base, David tells us he’s sneaking in because it’s better than walking in the front door), to channelling Richard Crenna’s colonel from the Rambo movies.
The direction remains painfully pedestrian during this setup, often teetering into boredom, and is only broken up by sub-par 90’s Van Damme style fight scenes, that see Adkins being coerced into bare knuckle matches for Kulich and co.’s entertainment. Much like in Hard Target 2, the fighters Adkins goes up against in these matches are the real deal, from kickboxing champions like Dennis Keiffer, to Muay Thai fighters like Kaden Vu, however the fights themselves lack any kind of thrill factor to pull the audience in. The over reliance on slow motion also detracts from the impact, and again reflects a painfully 90’s aesthetic towards the action, reflecting an era when it was acceptable to have every flying kick take place in slow motion. In 2017 though, we’ve seen it too many times before.
After such a rocky start, at precisely half way through, the tone takes a surprising 180 degree turn, and having been left for dead, Adkins rises up to seek his revenge with an angry looking beard. After 45 minutes of Hallmark TV movie of the week styled plotting, the last 45 minutes of Savage Dog become an ultra-violent blood soaked revenge flick, which almost makes most of what came before seem like another movie. From the moment Adkins strolls up to the bar he used to work at, and proceeds to hack the head off of the guard on the door with a machete, you know that a certain something just got real. For the remainder of the runtime Savage Dog doesn’t let up, as Adkins becomes a one-man army with a machete, shotgun, and a string of grenades for company. For fans that wanted another Rambo movie, this should be the place to check in.
The second half of Savage Dog is a joy to behold, and sees Adkins go on his most entertainingly violent one-man rampage since the finale of Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. The brutality (or should that be ‘savageness’?) of it is fantastic fun to watch, admittedly perhaps enhanced due to the dullness of the first half, however when you have Adkins shooting people point blank in the face with a shotgun, and hacking off limbs left, right, and center, what’s not to enjoy? Adkins is in his element here, because as much as I find him a decent actor (his Irish accent is on the money), like a 90’s era Donnie Yen I find him most enjoyable when he’s in angry mode. That’s what makes Ninja: Shadow of a Tear such a masterpiece, as he’s basically angry for 95% of the runtime, but thankfully in Savage Dog 50% is equally as entertaining.
Frequent Johnson collaborator Luke Fontaine is on fight choreography duty, a veteran stuntman who also choreographed Johnson’s The Last Sentinel and Alien Agent, and in the latter half of Savage Dog he restrains Adkins in the fight department to great effect. Instead we’re treated to a barrage of Commando level gunplay, with Adkins having countless pistol wielding legionnaires dispatched against him, as well as a pair of semi-mounted machine guns. Savage Dog may well hold the record for the number of bullets that can be fired at someone without them getting hit, but far from being a detriment, the excessive nature of it all means it’s never anything less than entertaining to watch. Such a setup also means that, when he suddenly finds himself alone in a room with Cung Le, the fight that follows has the desired impact.
Indeed for the lack of understanding that Johnson has when handling dramatic material, what can’t be argued is that he knows his stuff when it comes to constructing an action scene, including how to work a level of tension into it. The prospect of an Adkins vs. Le showdown isn’t wasted, and the pair go furiously at it for a couple of minutes, that sees plenty of collateral damage and some nice falls. Hardcore martial arts fans may take issue with the way the fight ends, however it fits within the context that it’s taking place in, and for those that were waiting to see Adkins let loose, it doesn’t disappoint. However Savage Dog also holds another treat for action fans, and that’s the promise of a rematch of the finale from Undisputed III: Redemption, with Adkins facing off against Marko Zaror outside of the ring this time.
Personally this rematch was one of the elements I was most looking forward to in Savage Dog, while as much as I enjoyed their fight in Undisputed III: Redemption, I confess to not being a fan of ring-set tournament fight flicks. So to see them facing off in a setting such as the one Savage Dog provides was a thrilling prospect. Thankfully the promise delivers, and while the fight is neither as stylistic nor lengthy as their last encounter, there should be little to leave fans unhappy. Beginning with a blade wielding Zaror squaring off against a spanner wielding Adkins, the fight eventually segues into a raw empty handed slug fest, with Adkins finishing things off in a way that takes a leaf, or more specifically, a bite out of Leung Kar Yan’s performance in Thundering Mantis.
While Savage Dog has plenty of negatives against it, and will likely remain unseen by anyone who’s not a fan of either Scott Adkins or Marko Zaror, it does eventually find its way, and once there never deviates from it. Bearing this in mind, and considering its budget, from such a perspective it’s an admirable effort. It’s baffling that an action talent like Juju Chan was cast in a non-action role, and considering what she’s capable of, it would have been nice to see her be something more than just a damsel in distress. If Johnson can just crack how to effectively direct the dramatic material as well as he directs the action, there’s little doubt that Savage Dog would have been an action masterpiece. As it is, the first Johnson and Adkins collaboration remains a rewarding experience for those that stick with it, so for now, here’s hoping both Triple Threat and Accident Man bring us half the fun Savage Dog delivers, but for the whole of their runtime.
Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival) is currently putting finishing touches on Blade Runner 2049 (aka Blade Runner 2), which has a theatrical release date set for October 6, 2017.
This sequel to Ridley Scott’s ground-breaking 1982 science fiction classic, which will take place some years after the first film concluded, has Harrison Ford returning as Rick Deckard.
Blade Runner 2049 also stars Ryan Gosling (Drive), Dave Bautista (Kickboxer: Vengeance), Robin Wright (State of Grace), Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Jared Leto (Suicide Squad) and last, but not least, Edward James Olmos will be reprising his role as Gaff.
Ridley Scott, director of the original, is serving as one of the film’s producers and writers. Hampton Fancher, who also worked on the original, is back on board as screenwriter. Michael Green (Green Lantern) is co-writing.
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