AKA: One Million Klicks
Director: Alex “The Z” Padrutt
Writer: Mike Moeller, Marco Theiss
Producer: Ruediger Kuemmerle, Mike Leeder
Cast: Mike Moeller, Martin Baden, Bartholomaeus Kowalski, Volkram Zschiesche, Sabine Steinbach, Li Yan-Long
Running Time: 98 min.
By Paul Bramhall
I have a confession, and it’s likely one that won’t be very popular. I’m not a fan of the many indie martial arts movies and shorts that crop up with an increasing frequency. Yes, I get it, it’s amazing to watch two highly skilled martial arts performers go at each other in a room / forest / insert other generic location here, however that’s my problem – too often that’s all I can see, two highly skilled martial arts performers. Kung fu talent has become so thin on the ground in recent years, that it seems the acceptance level for what we consider entertainment has been lowered to a point that being able to throw a punch or kick is all that matters.
For me though, that’s never been the only reason why I enjoy watching kung fu movies. Kung fu movies should feature kung fu stars – Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, the list goes on. All of these guys are highly skilled martial arts performers, but just as importantly – they have charisma and screen presence. Even if they’re not the best actors in the world, they have that special something that endears them to viewers, that makes you want to root for or against them, and that’s what being in a movie is all about. In an age were any Tom, Dick, or Harry can pick up a camera, movies like the Thunderkick trilogy are what give indie martial arts cinema a bad name.
Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, Eric Jacobus and The Stunt People immediately spring to mind, an independent group of martial artists who always put just as much time into creating an engaging premise as they do the action. Mike Möller is another martial artist who’s been looking to make a name for himself in the indie martial arts movie scene. A German native, Möller got his career off to a good start by working as a stuntman on an episode of the Donnie Yen choreographed German TV series, Der Puma. Since then he’s worked as a stuntman on many German and Hollywood productions, however he’s perhaps most recognizable as one of the hip-hop fighters that squares off against Jiang Luxia in Coweb (aka Ninja Masters).
Four years after Coweb, Möller arguably bit off more than he could chew by directing, writing, and starring in 2013’s Urban Fighter (aka Arena of the Street Fighter). A kind of ultra low budget German post-apocalyptic fight movie, much like the complaint I started off this review with, it featured plentiful fight action, and little else, unless mediocrity and bad acting are counted as worthwhile traits. Thankfully, the fight action was so good that when a veteran of the Hong Kong film industry, Mike Leeder, and German producer Ruediger Kuemmerle, got together to create the production company Silent Partners, they signed Möller up to star in their first movie, One Million K(l)icks.
Read any plot description of One Million K(l)icks, and indeed it sounds like one million other low budget martial arts flicks. Fighter with a heart of gold is dragged into an underground fight tournament that’s streamed on the internet. It’s practically a sub-genre by itself. However this description doesn’t really do the plot justice, yes it involves fights being streamed on the internet, but there’s no underground fight tournament, at least not in the typical way you find in these types of movies. Möller is a guy who has the moves, and is one day caught being recorded on someone’s mobile phone when he gets involved in a fight with some thugs at a bar. The pair of friends behind the recording decide that potentially there’s money to be made by putting the clip on the internet, and convince Möller to try and get involved in more fights which they can film, paying him a cut.
The bar scene kicks off the movie, and the opening credits are incorporated into it, which take the form of an animated fight scene. This quirky opening provides a refreshing start to One Million K(l)icks, and immediately brings to mind the similarly styled opening of Contour, the first full-length feature of the previously mentioned The Stunt People group. We’re introduced to Möller as he cockily strolls into the bar, however this impression is quickly laid to rest, as he proceeds to be shot down by every girl he tries to talk to. At only a couple of minutes in, One Million K(l)icks does its first thing right, by giving us a likeable main character. More importantly, Möller has that vital ingredient – screen presence. Thankfully, this aspect of the production is the first of many things that it gets right.
The production values themselves, while obviously still low budget, are a world away from Urban Fighter, with the cinematography and camera angles all showing a clear understanding of how a fight scene should be filmed, and there are plenty of them. The pair of friends decide to find opponents for Möller to face off against, with the condition that they have to be able to fight, then go to wherever the candidate is most likely to be found and attempt to instigate a face off.
This is the second surprise in One Million K(l)icks, in that it has a genuine sense of humour, resulting in some real laugh out loud moments. For his first opponent, a martial arts loving motorcyclist, they track him down while he’s riding his motorbike, and pull up in their car next to him. Möller attempts to get him riled up by yelling abuse from the passenger seat, but when the biker doesn’t reciprocate with violence, no matter how offensive it gets, his switch from acting like a tough guy, to desperately questioning what he should do to start the fight is particularly funny. Möller’s short stature is also treated as a source of humor, much like Sammo Hung’s girth, only instead of being called fatty, he has to put up with being hilariously referred to as ‘a little man’ and an ‘arrogant fighting dwarf’.
Of course the fight action is really what it’s all about, and One Million K(l)icks delivers plenty of them. Some of the highlights include the first main fight against the motorcyclist, played by André Thaldorf, which is a flurry of fists and feet with a nice dose of acrobatics thrown in as well. Möller also gets to go toe to toe with a Taekwondo master in the form of Cha-Lee Yoon, a fantastic kicker who’s done stunt work on the likes of Skyfall, as well as acting as assistant fight choreographer on the recent Point Break remake. Kung fu fans will certainly appreciate a kung-fu match up, that takes place in a Chinese restaurant no less, against Li Yan-Long. Although the name may not be immediately familiar, Lan-Yong has a prominent role in the 1984 classic South Shaolin Master, and his performance here 30 years on show that he hasn’t lost a beat.
Lan-Yong is the first character to make Möller question why he’s doing what he does, and as the movie progresses the two form a bond that sees the pair take on a teacher and student type relationship. The peaceful Chinese chef taking on the cocky young fighter is an effective nod to the old-school kung fu movie tropes, and is played out convincingly, as Lan-Yong demonstrates some mesmerising Tai Chi techniques, and puts Möller to work in the restaurant kitchen. Of course things don’t go smoothly forever, and the interference from a cop with a love of fighting sees Möller’s new found peace of mind being put to the test. The cop is played by Volkram Zschiesche, who also acted as Möller’s main adversary in Urban Fighter, and here he’s just as much of a ruthless beast who becomes determined to prove that he’s the better of the two.
An early interaction between Möller and Zschiesche in an interrogation room highlights the refreshingly sharp script from Marco Theiss, as the pair exchange thinly veiled threats at each other. I also enjoyed the underlying theme of my earlier reference to being in an age when any Tom, Dick or Harry can pick up a camera and film a fight, which is exactly what the two friends are doing with Möller in the movie itself. It’s these elements which elevate One Million K(l)icks from being just another indie martial arts movie featuring talented martial artists. The plot could easily have served as simply a show reel for Möller, with the rest consisting of filler to move from fight to fight, but directors Alex Padrutt and Oliver Juhrs, here debuting with their first full length feature, ensure things never descend into being on the level of a YouTube fight compilation.
If one criticism can be levelled at One Million K(l)icks, it would be its soundtrack. While it occasionally hits the right notes in more dramatic scenes, the majority of it consists of what can be safely referred to as generic Euro-techno. The tracks do nothing to elevate scenes or distil any tension into them, and their repetitive nature when playing over training sequences or as the backing track in a nightclub are a distraction more than an accompaniment.
However this is a small gripe, One Million K(l)icks is first and foremost a fight flick, and Möller proves that he’s got what it takes to be leading man material in one. Be it aping Bruce Lee, throwing in a Won Jin style double footed flying kick, or harking back to Tony Jaa’s Ong Bak days, his speed and agility is a joy to watch, and the variety and versatility of the fight action on display ensures proceedings never get dull. Germany may not be the first country you think of when seeking out a healthy dose of kung fu action, but One Million K(l)icks should be the one to put it on the map. The mix of hard-hitting fight action, combined with a simple but effectively told plot, doesn’t just make it stand out from the indie martial arts movie scene, it makes it one of the best action movies to come out in recent years.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8/10