Director: James Mark
Cast: Chris Mark, Daniel Park, Denis Akiyama, Melee Hutton, Jonny Caines, Jennifer Li, Jessica Clement, Jason Gosbee, Reuben Langdon, Alain Moussi
Running Time: 77 min.
By Paul Bramhall
I’ll be the first to confess that, being a reviewer for an action movie website, after a while you become desensitised to the amount of indie action movie screening requests that land in your inbox. Everyone has an epic movie, a jaw dropping spectacle, an intense thrill ride. However usually what these ‘movies’ (I can’t use the term seriously) translate to is – me and my friends practice martial arts, so over a few weekends we got together, turned on our smart phone cameras, and filmed each other. In an age with increased accessibility to recording equipment, combined with a reasonable cost, essentially anyone can pick up a camera and claim to have made the next Police Story. So most of the time they end up in Deleted Items quicker than you can swipe right, but once in a blue moon, an indie feature comes through that captures my attention.
Sure, no indie feature is going to have the greatest acting, nor is it likely to have an Oscar winning script to back it up, but that’s not to say it’s completely impossible to make an entertaining movie. So it was that the trailer for Kill Order caught my attention. Boasting a plot synopsis that explains how David, a quiet high school kid that suffers from intense hallucinations of a demon like figure, taps into a previously unknown strength, and sets off on a journey to uncover the truth of how he got it. Of course, no journey of this variety would be very entertaining, unless he was being pursued by unknown assailants from a shadowy organization, attempting to kill him at every turn. So thankfully Kill Order provides those as well.
Kil Order is basically a passion project for a group of Canadian based stuntmen (most belonging to the Team 2X stunt crew), who decided to get together and show off their stuff within the framework of an action movie. I can respect that. After all, the likes of Broken Path did the same thing for the Alpha Stunts crew, and is one of the most balls to the wall fight flicks of the past 15 years, so as long as the viewer knows what they’re getting themselves into, why not? The man in the director’s chair is James Mark, who also appears as a cane wielding scientist, a stuntman who most recently acted as the assistant stunt coordinator for a number of episodes in the Marco Polo series, having started out as a stunt performer in 2006.
Stunts clearly run in the family for the Mark clan, as the lead role is taken by the director’s brother, in the form of Chris Mark (who also serves as the principal fight choreographer). A look at their respective filmographies shows they’ve already worked together plenty of times, from the likes of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, to Pacific Rim. It’s clear that neither of them are going to win any awards for their acting, with C Mark’s attempts at convincing he’s an awkward high school student consisting of constantly darting his eyes from left to right, mouth slightly agape. Thankfully though these scenes don’t last long, and before 10 minutes in a SWAT team (amusingly led by Kickboxer star Alain Moussi, his face permanently hidden behind a helmet and visor) barge into his classroom, announcing that they need to take him away.
Of course, as is par for the course in this type of story, the roughing up of our docile looking hero awakens something within, something that makes his eyes go all Bill Bixby just before he turns into Lou Ferrigno (but with CGI). Soon SWAT team members are being stabbed in the neck with a pen, and the star of the Kickboxer reboots gets a kick in the face and exits never to be seen again, a relatively light punishment comparative to the crimes of said Kickboxer flicks. For the remaining hour of Kill Order’s remarkably concise 70 minutes, our leading man Mark disposes of the school uniform much to everyone’s relief, and goes on the run from a number of assassins tasked with only one purpose – to wipe him out.
As expected, Kill Order is really all about the action, and to that end, it delivers. As with any fan of martial arts cinema, I’ve come to appreciate the number of shorts out there, performed by various dedicated groups, that usually utilise YouTube as a platform for their talents. A recurring trail of thought, at least for myself, has been how much better it would be, if those involved were to combine however many of their brief clips together, and make them into a full length feature. To a large extent, that’s what Kill Order feels like. In the 70 minutes we get 4 significant action sequences, and while I’ve no doubt each one of them could have stood up admirably as an action short, there’s something about them being incorporated into a bigger picture that really works.
That’s not to say that the plotline is completely disposable. I’ll be the first to concede that if someone was to argue that it is, I wouldn’t have much of a comeback. But the fact that it’s pulled off so poker faced, with committed performances all round, make it at least worth paying some attention to. To summarise, a shadowy organization has discovered how to draw energy from another world, and to fully understand how this energy works on humans, they’re experimenting on a (what else?) group of orphans. Never mind that the details of the other world are non-existent. All we need to know is that our hero Mark recognizes his humanity, leading to a narrative with heavy overtones of Universal Soldier: Regeneration. The only difference is that instead of a miserable Jean Claude Van Damme, we get a baby faced Chris Mark.
It pays not to focus too much on the talk of brain augmentation, and rather concentrate on the action, which usually involves Mark being subject to, and also dishing out, some grievous bodily harm of the highest order. The first real action sequence takes place in the apartment he resides in, with a double katana wielding Jonny Caines looking to off him as early as possible. Caines, a Capoeira practitioner, may not get to show off many off his trademark moves, but his appearance does mark the first lengthy one-on-one at 20 minutes in, with the whole apartment being completely trashed. So the walls are made out of MDF, who cares. The impacts that each opponent has on the other are satisfyingly conveyed, with hits sending the recipient flying several meters through the air, effectively emphasising the superhero like powers the subjects have.
The highlight goes to a sequence that takes place in a park, which has Mark initially taking on stuntman Eric Daniel, in an empty handed duel that delivers plenty of impact and power. The fight then segues into a two-on-one, with Mark facing off against both Jennifer Li (the stunt double of Kelly Marie Tran in Star Wars: The Last Jedi), who unleashes a barrage of kicks reminiscent of Ken Lo in Drunken Master 2, and Adrian Persad, armed with a pair of steel baseball bats. The flow and speed of this fight is perfect, even if a little undercranked, but it matches the abilities the participants are supposed to be equipped with. Similarly, the powers they have allow them to take a ridiculous amount of punishment, which allows the fights to take on a larger than life aesthetic, helping to disguise the lack of budget.
The only downside is that the sequence in the park is so good, the finale, which sees Mark take on a number of faceless attackers, before squaring off against an upgraded model (to use Drive terminology) played by Eli Martyr, doesn’t quite live up to it. Sure, Mark gets to go aerial with a series of spinning trick kicks in slow motion, but call it personal preference, I like to see actual exchanges rather than money shots (plus Scott Adkins has the slow motion spinning trick kick market cornered). Despite the absence of any intricate choreography, it still provides a worthy finish, and at only 70 minutes Kill Order can never be accused of outstaying its welcome. It knows what it’s there to do, and does so effectively. With an ending that leaves things open for a sequel, if we do happen to get a Kill Order 2, then I’ll certainly be checking it out.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6.5/10