Redeemer (2014) Review

"Redeemer" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Redeemer” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
Producer: Guillermo Prieto, Noah Segan, Marko Zaror
Cast: Marko Zaror, Noah Segan, Loreto Aravena, Otilio Castro, Smirnow Boris, José Luís Mósca, Nuñez Nelson, Mauricio Diocares, Mauricio Raab Sanz, Pablo Raab Sanz
Running Time: 90 min.

By Martin Sandison

For my money, the end fight in Undisputed 3 – one of the best martial arts flicks of recent years, which pits Scott Adkins’ iconic Boyka against Marko Zaror’s extravagant villain Dolor – is one of the greatest fight scenes in history. Both men prove themselves as two of the best screen fighters working today.

Zaror is most well known for this role and his small part in Robert Rodriguez’s debacle Machete Kills, but his filmography stretches way back. He studied Karate, Kickboxing and Taekwondo from the age of 6, and got his break doubling Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson in 2003’s The Rundown, for which he won a World Stunt Award.

In 2006 he collaborated with first time director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza on Kiltro, the first Chilean martial arts movie. A success in theatres and DVD around the world, this was followed up by Mirageman and Mandrill, again small scale successes. Mandrill was made in 2009, and since then, Espinoza has worked as an editor on Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno, among other projects. Fans of Zaror and Espinoza’s earlier films waited patiently for their next collaboration, which has come in the form of Redeemer.

Looking through the pages of the Edinburgh Film Festival brochure, I didn’t spot Redeemer until my friend told me about it. One of only two martial arts films on in the Festival, of course I had to see it. As a fan of the earlier films, I immediately became excited. The film sports a stronger plotline and characters than the previous efforts, as well as a dash of humour and higher production values. The plot features Zaror as a kind of avenging angel, the ‘redeemer’ of the title. He punishes bad guys for being bad, basically, and is searching for one who it seems did him some wrongdoing. His motivation is not revealed until late on in the film, and the construction of the narrative around this is pretty well put together.

There are basically two plotlines going on at the same time. One featuring Zaror’s character and two friends he makes as they hide out from the villains. Another concentrating on a drug lord, played by American Noah Segan – this is where the comic relief comes in. Almost a direct reference to Hong Kong movies post 70’s – the inconsistency in tone due to the silly, humorous antics of Segan, compared with the brutal violence and sombre tone of most of the plot – is evident from the outset. The way the different narratives come together is well done, and the pacing allows for plenty of what Zaror does best: high impact martial arts.

The fights come thick and fast, and for those hoping that the action is amped up to a higher level than the previous films of Zaror and Espinoza, you won’t be disappointed. Kiltro and Mirageman have action that certainly delivers in its high impact style; but aspects such as fluidity, inventive exchanges and crisp editing were missing at times. From the first fight scene on, Redeemer shows a marked improvement, with Zaror moving like a seasoned pro and the stuntmens reactions on point. There is a good mix of group and one-on-one fights, with Zaror exercising each of his formidable skills. His kicking especially is of the highest level, as he alternates more modern tricking styles with powerful hook kicks.

The group fights feature Raidstyle 360 camera moves and intricate choreography, although some of the exhchanges are a little unconvincing. There are three notable one-on-one fights; two in the middle and at the end. The longest fight is with one of the lackeys who is a good fighter, and contains a mix of MMA-style grappling and 90’s HK kickboxing. Unfortunately, the grappling slows down the fight and isn’t integrated that well, not reaching the heady heights of Donnie Yen’s masterful end fight in Flashpoint.

The other mid-film fight features some inventive use of environment, with the fighters crashing through wood. Zaror’s opponent here is not a great martial artist, but a good brawler. The finishing move is something to behold, as Zaror references another Donnie Yen masterclass Ip Man as he unleashes Wing Chun-style chain punching finishing with a deadly uppercut that sees the blood fly. The end-fight sees him face off against the intimidating uber evil bad guy played by Jose Luis Mosca, a skilled martial artist and good actor. Despite being a bit of a let down compared to the previous two one on one fight scenes, the location on the edge of a cliff and the pacing creates drama and tension.

There are tasteful references throughout the film, especially to Westerns, HK flicks and Tarantino-esque scenes featuring Segan, and Espinoza weaves these together without sacrificing narrative logic. One fault that is unusual for a viewer like myself is the incredibly brutal violence, which seems a little unnecessary. At one point Zaror puts a hook through a guys mouth that comes out of his eyeball, and is shown in graphic detail. Being a low budget production, the CGI on show is poor and takes the viewer out of the film slightly, but this can be forgiven.

The religious symbolism is at times heavy handed, as can be seen with the title and the positioning of Zaror’s character as some kind of vigilante avenging angel. These faults don’t ruin what is a very solid modern martial arts film, that has enough innovation in its fight scenes to entertain even the most jaded of fans.

Martin Sandison’s Rating: 7/10

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3 Responses to Redeemer (2014) Review

  1. Paul Bramhall says:

    Great review Martin! I’m a fan of Zaror, but for me his movies so far have just missed having that special ingredient to make them action classics. This sounds like it’s a step in the right direction, so I’ll definitely be checking it out.

  2. Thanks Paul! I would highly recommend the film, even if you didn’t enjoy the earlier ones.

  3. Paul Bramhall says:

    I got through watching this one last night, and would agree with most of Martin’s points. For me it’s the best Zaror has looked as a screen fighter (I know many will yell “What about ‘Undisputed 3’!?”, but sorry, not a fan of underground fight tournament movies). In regards to the fight with the lackey, I agree it doesn’t match Yen’s work in the finale of ‘Flashpoint’, but the MMA grappling element was integrated in a much more exciting manner than ‘Special ID’, it at least had a sense of urgency and danger to it.

    I actually enjoyed the brief moments of ultra-violence, I thought they worked in much the same way similar scenes worked in ‘Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning’. While the religious element could definitely be taken to be heavy handed, on the same note I thought it was handled in quite a pulpy way. Like when the guy prays that if he could, he’d grind one of the bad guys faces off with the propeller of his ship, and to answer his prayer, Zaror goes out and does exactly that.

    For me it was only let down with the rather flat and dull sense of direction, I know Zaror’s character is meant to be the silent and mysterious type, but the way it was handled made some of the run-time feel more plodding than it did enigmatic. The score was also an issue, and kind of resembled muzak which seemed to be constantly playing at low volume in the background, even during fight scenes. It was a missed opportunity to add some excitement and impact to the action in my opinion.

    All in all though it was an enjoyable 90 minutes, and definitely didn’t outstay its welcome. Looking forward to seeing Zaror featuring alongside Scott Adkins again in ‘Savage Dog’.

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