Director: Isaac Florentine
Writer: Frank Dietz
Cast: Gary Daniels, Bryan Genesse, Barbara Crampton, David Sherwood, Isaac Mavimbela, Chris Buchanan, Greg Melvill-Smith, Rohan Coll, Ian Roussouw
Running Time: 89 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Reviewing movies retrospectively is always an interesting exercise. Depending on how much time has passed, what was once considered cool may now be terribly dated, and what was once considered a train wreck may have aged like a fine wine. Just check out the opinions on some Lo Wei directed Jackie Chan movies now compared to 20 years ago. Which brings me to Cold Harvest, a movie I wasn’t aware existed, until I stumbled across it while researching a review for director Isaac Florentine’s (at the time of writing) latest, Acts of Vengeance.
Perhaps like many others, Florentine first appeared on my radar with the 2003 DTV action flick Special Forces, which showcased the talents of a certain fledging British martial arts star by the name of Scott Adkins. While the talent on display led me to seek out Florentine’s previous effort, the 2001 Michael Worth starring U.S. Seals II: The Ultimate Force, I never bothered to venture into his pre-2000 filmography. As it turned out, if I had decided to check out more of his earlier work, I would no doubt have seen Cold Harvest much sooner, as it acts as an action vehicle for another British martial arts star, Gary Daniels.
Daniels was already a solid B-movie star by the time he worked with Florentine, and Cold Harvest would mark his last movie of the 90’s (Florentine on the other hand still had one left in him, with the Dolph Lundgren starring Bridge of Dragons). I confess that my lack of enthusiasm towards 90’s American martial arts movies means that my exposure to Daniels has been limited to his work with Hong Kong studios. He puts in a commendable performance fighting against Jackie Chan in 1993’s City Hunter (despite Chan’s own contempt for the movie itself), and would headline the Seasonal Films U.S. set Blood Moon in 1997, which pitted him against Darren Shahlavi.
While his HK collaborations provided the opportunity to work with the likes of Jackie Chan and Tony Leung Siu-Hung, Cold Harvest comes with a similar draw. Both Florentine and the Alpha Stunts team, a group of martial artists and stuntmen known for their high impact choreography, spent most of the 90’s honing their skills on the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers TV series and its various spin-offs. While the founder of Alpha Stunts, Koichi Sakamoto, had worked wonders with Mark Dacascos in Drive, just a couple of years prior, Cold Harvest brought in its co-founder, Akihiro Noguchi, to handle the martial arts sequences. Providing Noguchi with his first credit as Martial Arts Choreographer, in the preceding years he’d notch up several more as either a stunt, action, or martial arts chorographer on the likes of Black Belt, Ninja, and Everly, to name but a few.
So the million dollar question you’re likely thinking is – is Cold Harvest to Gary Daniels what Drive is to Mark Dacascos? Well, not quite. Arguably the biggest advantage Drive has is that it had most of the Alpha Stunts crew on-board (including Noguchi), however that’s not to say that Cold Harvest is a slouch in any way. Taking place in the not-too-distant future of 2010 (well, if we look at it from the time of production), the world has been hit by a comet plunging it into perpetual darkness, and if that wasn’t bad enough, a plague is wiping out large swatches of the population as well. Rising up from this post-apocalyptic world is a no-nonsense bounty hunter, played by Daniels, who makes his living hunting down wanted criminals and delivering them to law enforcement for a tidy reward.
Florentine shows his first affinity here for employing the twins plot device, one which he’d also use in U.S. Seals II with the late Karen Kim, with Daniels taking on a double role. Far from being a tough guy though, the twin role sees Daniels playing a normal civilian (he has glasses!) en route to the ‘Safe Zone’ with his pregnant wife. His wife is one of only 6 people carrying a gene which could cure the plague, and together they exchange loving glances while talking about their dream of opening a mushroom farm (mushrooms don’t require much light see). Daniels acting in the role of the average Joe twin is laughably horrendous, with every line spoken in a tone that implies he’s yet to hit puberty, and sporting an accent that’s all over the place. Thankfully, as in any action movie that employs such a setup (see also Maximum Risk), it isn’t long before a bullet lands between his eyes.
This leads to the crux of the plot, which has Daniels the bounty hunter team up with his brothers widow (played by Barbara Crampton), and go on the run from a group of mercenaries who plan to ransom her (well, her genes anyway) to the government. A post-apocalyptic world. A widow on the run. A bounty hunter looking to avenge his brother. It’s solid B-movie stuff. It’s also worth noting Florentine appears to have believed that, by 2010, wild-west fashion would have made a massive come-back. It may be a post-apocalyptic world, but if you didn’t know any better you’d think the comet struck in the late 1800’s. Florentine’s fondness for the western genre, despite it not being given any explanation whatsoever, does give Cold Harvest a distinct look, with six shooters (capable of unloading much more than 6) and Stetsons featured liberally.
Of course being a post-apocalyptic tale, amidst the wild west themes we still get the prerequisite dune buggies, motorbikes, and dwarves, showing that Florentine was clearly paying attention to all of those Cirio H. Santiago 80’s post-apocalyptic flicks with Richard Norton. Despite most of Cold Harvest playing out on what are obviously the same small number of streets (re: sets – there’s a reason why its permanently dark), being re-arranged a little for each change in location, there’s a charm present that’s sadly lacking in many of the same calibre productions today. No doubt this is due to the zero reliance on CGI that today’s action B-movies come with, instead relying on actual explosions (impressive ones at that), blood squibs, and set design. Going back to my first paragraph, I miss real in-camera effects, which today have been replaced by cheap CGI created in post.
The action occurs frequently, a mix of vehicular (mostly motorbike) stunt work that we have Stunt Coordinator Tyrone Stevenson (Mad Max: Fury Road) to thank for, and the aforementioned fights choreographed by Noguchi. The fights have the Alpha Stunts stamp all over them – a mix of hard hitting blows usually finished off by a kung fu power pose, Daniels is more than up for performing the choreography, and does so with aplomb. Just as much as Daniels though, the stuntmen on the receiving end also deserve equal credit, as Cold Harvest delivers some truly painful looking falls. Bodies go crashing through tables, thrown into walls, and are knocked off elevated platforms while crashing into inanimate objects on the way down. As a showcase of how to perform a wince inducing fall, Cold Harvest is a masterclass, usually captured in sparingly used slow motion.
The head mercenary is played by Bryan Genesse, another action B-movie stalwart best known for his kung fu fighting role in the Street Justice TV series, which ran from 1991 to 1993. Here he keeps his martial arts chops hidden, saving them for a final confrontation with Daniels that has them busting out the ‘shoot at each other from opposite sides of a wall’ move, lifted wholesale from John Woo’s Hard Target and Face/Off, before agreeing to go at it “man to man”. It’s a satisfying fight with plenty of high impact blows and falls, and one which makes you wish they’d had the opportunity to go at it a couple more times throughout the movie. As it is though, their throwdown provides a worthy exclamation mark to proceedings.
While Cold Harvest is a lot of fun, it’s also far from perfect. Florentine knows how to film action, but he’s never been a strong director, and in his earlier efforts those weaknesses especially show through. There are moments of unintentional comedy which could have been avoided, such as a scene which has Daniels suggestively cleaning the barrel of his shotgun while watching Crampton bathe topless (non-gratuitous, for those wondering). I also realized that any name which needs to be yelled in slow motion should only be 1 syllable, otherwise it sounds ridiculous, like when Crampton has to yell the name Oliver (“Ohhhhh…..leeeee……verrrrrrr!”). But these gripes are overall forgivable, and for those that want to see Daniels unleashing some high impact choreography, this is definitely the right place. Now I just need to know exactly what Cold Harvest is referring to.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6.5/10