AKA: The Price of Success
Director: Fabien Garcia
Writer: Fabien Garcia
Producer: Laurent Buson
Cast: Fabien Garcia, Laurent Buson, Didier Buson, Jess Allen, Dave Vescio, Adelyne Liu, Xin Sarith Wuku, Jose Rosete, Gray Michael Sallies, Davis Chong, Michael Antonio, Aoni Ma, Xango Henry, Marcus Natividad, Nico Johns
Running Time: 110 min.
By Kyle Warner
Found footage films quickly went from being the hot new idea to being the same old thing. This is largely thanks to filmmakers looking to duplicate the thrills found in earlier successful films instead of presenting new and intriguing takes on the concept. And while many others are willing to write it off as a gimmick that’s run its course, I still think there’s life to the sub-genre. What found footage films lack in cinematic flourishes they make up for with visceral thrills. So, when I heard that Die Fighting was something of a ‘found footage martial arts film,’ I was curious.
The film follows four friends who are trying to make it in Hollywood as martial artists. They’ve formed a group called the Z Team and they’re waiting for their big break… but making it in Hollywood is harder than any one of them expected. Worth noting is that the four lead actors are essentially playing dramatized versions of themselves and that the movie is produced by Z Team Films. Very meta, man.
The plot gets moving when Fabien Garcia (who also serves as Die Fighting’s writer, director, and editor) is told over the phone that his wife has been kidnapped. At first Fabien and his friends think it’s a prank, but when they see video of his wife tied to a chair they realize the threat is all too real. The man on the phone says that if they want to see her alive again they must perform a series of tasks. First: rob an armored truck. Of course the men are tortured with moral questions, but when the time comes they pull off the robbery and escape with the money.
The man on the phone is the mysterious Filmmaker and he’s tapped into hidden cameras spread out across the city. He’s decided to make Fabien the leading man of his new action movie that’s to be filmed on the streets of LA, with real blood and bullets. The Filmmaker puts his cast of heroes through one bloody test after another, leading them into encounters with the mob, karate dojos, and gangbangers.
Essentially, the film exists to be a sort of highlight reel for the Z Team’s martial arts skills. They move from one abandoned looking warehouse to the next, beat up the bad guys in extraordinary fashion, then rage against the man on the phone before moving to the next location to do it all over again.
The acting is pretty weak all around, but the basic dialogue doesn’t exactly give the actors much to work with. Whatever failings Fabian Garcia has as a dramatic actor and a writer, he largely makes up for with his skills shooting action. Behind the scenes, Garcia and cinematographer Tarina Reed put the camera in all the right places to best show off the cast’s skills, and manage to make the most of a modest budget.
The reason you’re going to consider watching the movie is because of the fights and I’m happy to say that Die Fighting has some very good ones. Garcia and co-stars Laurent Buson (Merantau), Didier Buson, and Jess Allen show off their considerable fighting skills throughout the film. A couple of the fights are some of the best ever filmed in an American martial arts flick. Excellent, jaw dropping stuff. And the shootouts aren’t half-bad either.
However, a collection of impressive fight sequences just aren’t enough to make Die Fighting a good movie. The plot is an assortment of borrowed ideas from a dozen better films. Because of the mysterious figure putting the men through acts of violence on an assortment of dank sets, the film feels sort of like a martial arts take on the original Saw, complete with a twist ending. However, unlike Saw, which featured a few decent performances and a compelling plot, Die Fighting has some great fight scenes but not much else. In that respect, it’s similar to the Saw sequels: all blood, no brains.
Is Die Fighting worth your time? It’s not a bad way to spend a couple hours. If you want to watch some good martial arts, you could do a whole lot worse. However, I don’t think you’ll remember the film for very long once the end credits roll.
The core members of the Z Team trained at the Shaolin Temple before receiving further tutelage at some of China’s finest martial arts institutions. Their first feature film as a team may be lacking in many places, but it’s impossible to deny the physical talent and martial arts prowess on display. There is potential here. With an improved script and some better acting, this could have really been something special. The Z Team’s background proves they are focused individuals and are willing to go big to improve their craft. I believe we’ll be seeing better things from them in the future.
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 5.5/10