AKA: The Whole World at Our Feet
Director: Salamat Mukhammed-Ali
Cast: Karlygash Mukhamedzhanova, Armand Assante, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Bolo Yeung, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Peter O’Toole, Michael Madsen, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Aleksey Frandetti, Nurlan Altaev, Serik Bimurzin
Running Time: 100 min.
By Paul Bramhall
As a candidate for the cinematic oddity of 2017, Diamond Cartel is certainly a strong contender for the prize. The Kazakhstan production was originally titled The Whole World at Our Feet, with filming and editing spread across 3 years from 2011 – 2013, and a domestic release eventually finding its way onto local screens in 2015. Skip forward another 2 years, and it was picked up for US distribution by Cleopatra Entertainment, before being re-cut and re-dubbed into English (from Russian) to create Diamond Cartel. This isn’t the first time such a practice has taken place in recent years, with Thai director Wych Kaosayananda’s 2012 crime drama Angels being re-cut (and even having new scenes filmed) to create the 2015 action flick Zero Tolerance. In both instances the original version of the movies is all but impossible to come across, with only the new edits available to pass judgement.
The question is of course why would a movie from Kazakhstan, a nation engraved into people’s memories due to its unfortunate but hilarious portrayal through comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s character Borat, be of any interest to an action movie fan? The answer is a perplexing one, but one that’s as equally entertaining as it is bewildering. For reasons that remain unknown to this reviewer (believe me, I did my research), first time director Salamat Mukhammed-Ali managed to bring on-board a veritable smorgasbord of internationally known names to feature in his movie. The screen time of each varies considerably, from substantial roles (Armand Assante and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa), to a couple of minutes (Bolo, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, and Peter O’Toole), to mere seconds (Michael Madsen and Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister).
How did Mukhammed-Ali, a guy who’s done everything from being the lead singer of one of Kazakhstan’s most successful rock bands, to being personally head hunted by the countries President to direct his outreach commercials, manage to get these stars onscreen together!? There’s clearly something in the Kazakhstan air, as Mukhammed-Ali’s fellow countryman Erken Ialgashev brought together a similarly ridiculous cast for 2016’s Beyond the Game (which at the time of writing, has yet to have an official release), many of whom also turn up in Diamond Cartel. However none of these actors are the star of the show (despite what the posters would have you believe), instead the main character is played by actress Karlygash Mukhamedzhanova. Clearly dubbed, there’s no doubt she brings a visual appeal to proceedings, and was probably the reason why Vinnie Jones can also be found in a Kazakhstan production, when they appeared in 2011’s The Liquidator together.
Mukhamedzhanova is the focal point, and narrator, of Diamond Cartel’s rather muddled and often incoherent plot, which vaguely resembles a kind of love triangle version of Kill Bill. The main problem is that there are actually 2 main plots vying for attention, when what would have made the most sense is for one to be a sub-plot of the other. Firstly, Mukhamedzhanova takes a job at a casino run by gangster Armand Assante (who spends the whole film in a suit jacket minus a shirt underneath), and as she catches his eye, he tricks her into being indebted to him, training her to be one of his black leather wearing female assassins (think Naked Weapon). However she only wants to be with her one true love, a pure of heart but penniless handsome young man played by Aleksey Frandetti.
This setup results in an abundance of unintentionally hilarious dialogue, which manages to be as equally cheesy as it is stilted. Mukhamedzhanova and Frandetti were childhood sweethearts, however Frandetti has always had to compete against the richer and more powerful love rival, played by Nurlan Altaev, who by pure chance, is now Assante’s main henchman. As the training to be an unthinking assassin sees her disappear off the map for a number of years, it’s only when she comes across Frandetti by chance that she seizes the opportunity to get her life back. The pair go on the run (after she explains how she’s been murdering people during the time that she disappeared), chased by Assante (who wants his assassin back) and Altaev (who still wants her to only love him). Confused? You should be. Oh, and I mentioned there’s a 2nd main plot as well. So Assante is trying to get his hands on a huge diamond, which the loved up pair inadvertently end up in possession of.
To spend any more time on the plot would be a fruitless exercise, as on-screen it plays out as a dizzying mess. Extended flashbacks, bizarre double-crosses, characters that come & go with no rhyme or reason, completely misguided melodrama, and hyper-violent action scenes all get thrown at the viewer with merciless abandon. Songs used as a soundtrack start in the middle of scenes in which they make no sense, the voice performer dubbing Mukhamedzhanova provides a narration that’s reminiscent in both style and tone of Sarah Connor’s in Terminator 2. And at one point, Bolo says “Yeah.” However, somehow it all remains entertainingly watchable, although let’s be perfectly clear, it’s for all the wrong reasons.
Michael Madsen, playing a character called Mr. Mike, appears for a few seconds then gets shot in the face. During one action sequence a guy is set on fire, and the camera keeps cutting back to him running around in flames and screaming, but he’s so energetic it’s hilarious instead of horrific. Armand Assante has a quartet of blind folded violinists who play in a stable while he’s interrogating those who he thinks double crossed him. Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa sits at a table which has a chained man in a cage next to it, who is never explained let alone utilised, he’s just part of the furniture. A character even comes back from the dead that rivals Nick Cheung’s so-called death scene in The White Storm, and that takes some topping. Some of the native English speakers are also dubbed, most glaringly Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, his new voice providing him with the performance of his career. Everyone else seems to have been dubbed by the guy that used to narrate trailers in the 80’s and 90’s, meaning every time someone says something, no matter how trivial it is, it sounds epic.
Assante and Hiroyuki-Tagawa seem to have been spared the dubbing treatment, however their performances alone provide enough entertainment. Assante in particular, in one scene during which he realises he’s been tricked, goes for the over-acting performance of the year, as he flips out in a way that makes Nicolas Cage at his most manic look like he’s on Valium. Hiroyuki-Tagawa deserves points simply for going to the effort of speaking in a Russian accent, an effort that must have been appreciated enough to be maintained. Then we have the elephant in the room – Peter O’Toole. Yes, the same Peter O’Toole from Lawrence of Arabia, here clocks in his final performance before his death. O’Toole’s appearance is almost as baffling as when Charlton Heston showed up in Jean Claude Van Damme’s 2001 DTV movie The Order. As a boatman that plans to help the couple escape the country, he appears onscreen for less than 2 minutes, mumbles some incomprehensible lines, and is gone. An interesting end to an acting career spanning 60 years.
Matching the craziness of the rest of the movie is a couple of equally crazy action scenes, both of which involve heavy duty machine gun fire and the bodily damage it entails. The violence is completely over the top, with knives lodged in mouths and through the back of heads, torsos ripped apart by mini-guns, shovels impaled in chests, and fingers shot off of the hands they belong to. Even Bolo gets a brief, poorly edited fight scene, which bizarrely keeps cutting away to a random kitten wandering around aimlessly. It was only while I was researching for this review that I read the kitten was Bolo’s idea, as he wanted the fight to be a homage to the Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris confrontation in Way of the Dragon, in which a cat also watches the fight. Let’s just say that here it didn’t work, and leave it at that.
While Diamond Cartel’s intentions are clear – it wants to be an epic tale of how true love conquers all (a message which its original title more fittingly conveys, as it’s a meaningful line actually spoken in the movie) – its delivery is so over-enthusiastic and incohesive that it’s impossible to take seriously. However, I also find it impossible to be too harsh on the production, just because its full-steam ahead approach and unapologetic over-the-top nature does result in a bizarre form of entertainment. While audience’s mileage will vary, taken as a kind of modern day incarnation of Samurai Cop or Miami Connection, there is a lot of fun to be had with Diamond Cartel. But if you’re expecting to find the answer as to why Mukhammed-Ali was personally head hunted to be a director for the President of Kazakhstan, then the answers are probably best found elsewhere.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10