Upon this film's North American release, my like for the fantastic Marko Zaror - the only performer currently putting South America on the map of the martial arts market - was overcome by my wariness of spoofs and parodies, as this was said to be a take on 1970s spy fare. Thus, I let this one slip my mind for the better part of the year before finally committing myself to watching it. I truly believe it'll be a long while before Zaror manages to top his excellent performance in Undisputed III: Redemption, and with this mindset, disappointment doesn't come as easily, regardless of the film's other flaws. And while these flaws are indeed there and take their toll on my rating, I was surprised by how much of the film actually works. Its strengths aren't evident on the DVD cover, but they're apparent enough to enjoy for anyone who picks up the movie.
The story: an international assassin (Zaror) tracks down the crime lord who murdered his parents (Juan Aliaga) but in the process falls in love with his daughter (Chilean TV star Celine Reymond).
For starters, let me clarify that this is not an action-comedy, but rather an action film with comedic parts, mostly in the form of flashbacks and references to the hero's obsession with a fictional James Bond knockoff. The production emulates a '70s style, but this isn't done to the extremes of something like Black Dynamite. Cumulatively, the whole '70s aspect could have been done away with without damaging the film, and just exists to give the movie some flavor. Not that it'd be tasteless without it, of course, since the story and script are both surprisingly strong. The plot is an examination of the cycle of revenge, going on where other films conveniently end and showing - however dramatically and unrealistically - that violence doesn't end just because you've killed your version of the bad guy. The acting of Zaror and Celine Reymond stands out in the end, as they prove themselves capable of both lifelike emotion and comic book beef. A remarkably tense standoff in the second half of the film impressed me to no end, and the ending is a breath of fresh air for an action flick...for the most part. Did they really need that twist at the very end?
For those of you unfamiliar with ol' Marko, be aware that he's without a doubt one of the better screen martial artists of our time. Complementing his sound forms are pleasing acrobatics that are all the more impressive for the 6'3" frame of the man performing them. This here's a good enough vehicle for him to showcase his physical skills, but yet, it's not the martial arts movie of the year. Six fights demonstrate a surprising variety of choreography, from the flipping and spinning we expect to a couple of grounded technical exchanges and even a bit of MMA-style stuff. I particularly like that several fights demonstrate that Zaror's character is not invincible: the lack one-sidedness, even against opponents who look less impressive than him, is a nice switch from the action norm. However, none of the fights are what I'd call genuinely dynamic, part of which has to do how they're shot: it's not the maddeningly claustrophobic filming style that I usually complain about, but too large a portion of the fights are filled from the back, therein hiding the strikes of the fighters. Additionally - and I can't believe I'm writing this - but Marko's signature acrobatics look more than a bit out-of-place in this film, especially when the fight is taking place in a cramped corridor. I'm glad the filmmakers did their best to maximize their resources, but moderation would have definitely been more harmonious in this case.
I haven't seen Mirageman, but "Mandrill" here is definitely a superior overall vehicle to Kiltro. Zaror fans oughtn't be without it, and it's good enough for passive action fans to expect a reasonably fun time. I'm pleased to see Marko trying out different kinds of styles, but I think he has yet to find the one that truly works for him.