"The Purifiers" is one of several bosom projects of director/writer/producer Richard Jobson (16 Years of Alcohol), but as far as I know, it's the only martial arts-themed film he's done. Ambitious beyond its presumably meager budget, it's practically a retelling of The Warriors with a cast comprised almost entirely of promising young superkickers and is, without a doubt, one of the artsy-est karate pictures I have ever seen. It seems to have gained some notoriety in small circles on the internet, some of which is exaggerated but that's not to say the movie doesn't have overbearing faults. I don't know whether this one will fill a niche for anyone, but I can definitely see why it never made the mainstream.
The story: in a city ruled by gangs and fear, one of them - a six-person ensemble known as the Purifiers, led by an idealist called John (Richard Jobson, Sucker Punch) - refuses to join the crime conglomerate founded by a kingpin (Kevin McKidd, Trainspotting); they subsequently find themselves the target of the other gangs and must attempt to escape the city with their lives.
"Purifiers" does not look or sound like the countless other direct-to-video action movies of the last decade: to differentiate itself from the other schlock, the movie makes ample usage of musical cues, slow motion, narrative voiceovers, post-production inserts, flowery dialogue (e.g. "the moon is like a bullet - silver, smiling, deadly"), select camera angles, split-screen effects, a frequently subdued or absent soundtrack, and at least one dream/memory sequence. While this does make you sit up and take notice of the movie at first, it's all delivered ad nauseum, in such frequent quantities that the style often overtakes the substance of the film and you wonder whether you're watching a movie or a music video with the wrong music playing. Worse yet, none of this is called for: neither the plot nor its characters are creatively-penned or weird enough to make any of this seem natural, giving you the impression that the director was being artsy just for the sake of it.
I must say, though, I really like this cast. With the exception of Dominic Monaghan (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), next to none of the main players have had any recognizable mainstream roles but almost all of them are surprisingly exciting British Gen-Xers with serious physical talent: the worst of them can throw a sweet sequence of flexible kicks, and the best of them do so while flipping and spinning through the air. For a single scene, Silvio Simac (Unleashed) adds his considerable abilities to the bunch. Almost every single one of the eight brawls had the potential to be great, but every single one of them is stunted through sheer overuse of slow motion and repeating camera shots; half of them suffer from particularly grotesque jump-cut editing. The very best of the fights - including the one wherein Richard Jobson and Kevin McKidd go through a long exchange of hand techniques - remain watchable despite these faults, but the disappointment remains. Why o why are filmmakers convinced that a fight cannot be *just* a fight?
I kind of like how editing was utilized to give the first speech of McKidd's character a rapid-fire delivery, but there's no extraordinary acting going on at all, and just about all of the characters are underwritten to the point that you can't even fathom some of their intentions. Personally, I'd love to see the film remade with the same cast but a different director, who won't let aesthetics and flashiness get the better of him en-route to making a potentially sweet martial arts movie. As things stand, this one's at least worth a rent; don't spend the purchase price right away.