As a martial arts film fan with a scholars devotion to the genre, one of my standard rules is: Beware all martial films made outside of Asia. Now, this doesn't mean the right combo of choreographer, star, or kitsch factor cannot produce a decent martial flick outside the Eastern territories. The Transporter's, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Revenge of the Ninja, and the Gymakata's of the world, for different reasons, manage to hold their own and are entertaining exceptions to my rule. But, when I pop in a flick touted as a Scottish martial arts film (yes, you read correctly- a martial arts film, from Scotland), well, I've seen enough kung fu films to know that the odds lean towards it being a potential disappointment.
As a matter of fact, the only real thing The Purifiers (2004) has going for it is that it is another film I can use to prove my rule. In a premise totally ripped off from the 1979 Walter Hill classic The Warriors, the film presents a world where gangs vie for little plots of turf and rumble in the back alleys with fists and feet. Only, in Scotland, which isn't exactly as colorful as 70's New York. The biggest gang is lead by the business attired Moses, who calls a truce meeting where he proposes that all of the gangs unite their territory and manpower so they can rule the entire city.
John (Gordon Alexander, who was also the film's fight choreographer), the leader of the Purifiers, doesn't want any part of the merger because the deal also includes the gangs seizing control of drug distribution, something he formed his gang to stop cold on his turf. Anyway, this means Moses and the other gangs are gunning for John and his crew. So, as they make their way back to their home turf, the Purifiers will have to fight against all of the other gangs that are out for their blood.
Lack of originality doesn't bother me, but being bland sure does. The Purifiers ain't no Warriors and the rest of gangs are pretty lame. The Eels, The Angels, The Wolves, and The The Pumas couldn't hold their own against the Turnball A.C.'s, the Gramercy Riff's, the Baseball Furies, and, hell, even the Orphans would wipe the floor with any of them. To make matters worse, the limited scope of the film has each gangs maximum number at six people. Apparently, in Scotland all it takes is three guys and three girls with some moderate kung fu skills to control and dominate a couple of city blocks. But, then again, like I said before, it ain't exactly New York.
Our hero, as played by Gordon Alexander, is pretty stiff. He's a good looking, milk fed specimen with an impossibly perfect facial structure that makes him appear to be a bit of a hominoid. While he can throw a few decent punches and kicks, his charisma never really registers. Gordon Alexander, you sir, are no Michael Beck. As the villain Moses, Kevin McKidd is your typical really, really, evil guy. He manages to chew away scenery while standing still, silent , and smirking, so you can imagine how over the top he gets when gesticulating while sneering out an egomaniacal speech. Castaway hobbit Dominic Monaghan has a supporting role as "the betrayer," and lets just say his role is lank and his acting chops don't elevate the cliched character very much. Still, he gets the most DVD cover exposure, as is his right, being the most recognizable face in the film.
At first, I felt bad for the makers of The Purifiers. I thought things like, their hearts were in the right place, they had budgetary limitations, and made excuses for them like the old- nobody sets out to make a bad film. But, after the film was over, I changed my mind. They clearly just didn't have the talent to make a decent martial film and shouldn't have bothered. I feel bad for saying that, but it is the truth. The world has enough subpar martial arts films. They should have known better than to make another one.
The bottom line is, all they had to do was look at any number of decent films and emulate them, from Police Story, to Fist of Legend, to The Matrix, to so many more. Storytelling and acting stumbles aside, a martial film can succeed on its fight scenes alone. Take, for example, Ong Bak which came out the same year. Ong Bak has terrible storytelling execution and pretty bad acting but the film is a fucking martial masterpiece. The action in the Purifiers isn't particularly thrilling and the choreography comes across as pretty simple and limited. Not surprisingly, Scotland proves to be a place lacking in decent martial arts stunt performers. The action direction appears clueless and unable to provide good framing and cuts to slow motion every three shots or so which only emphasizes that not much is going on... and it is going on... slooooowwwwly. The action is all tv quality, hovering somewhere between your average episode of Walker Texas Ranger or Highlander.
The DVD: New Line
Picture: Fullscreen or Anamorphic Widescreen. I will say this, they at least attempted to make it look pretty good and tried for a slick look that no doubt belied their minor budget. The look is intensely dark due to the films nighttime setting, so the details are pretty scarce and set amongst bible black shadows. you never get a real sense of the city geography or scale. Colorwise the pallette has a urban veneer with the choice of some blue and amber filters/lighting. The film has Adobe After Effects written all over it. Technically the transfer is fairly crisp and faithful, though it has some compression issues from splitting up the film into two ratio options.
Sound: DTS Surround, 5.1 Surround, or 2.0 Stereo
It doesn't matter how many whoosh fx you put behind your onscreen physical motion, a poor kick is a poor kick, and a useless flip is a useless flip. Still, the audio is pretty good. The fx and scoring cannot help but be a tad lacking when compared to pricier big budget action flicks, but for a low budget film it gets some decent mixing and response.
Extras: Trailer, plus more New Line trailers.— Commentary by director Richard Jobsen. The former punk rocker turned BBC tv director makes his case, but not a very good one. He comments on the fact that his actors and stuntmen were pretty limited in terms of what they could do and that he was aiming for "balletic" fight choreography. He gets a little self aggrandizing when he states that he thought the films stock cheeseball villain was representative of a "modern malaise."
Conclusion: A martial arts film made by people who don't watch or want to emulate a good martial arts film. Lame action. Thin plot. Cliched characters. Scotland doesn't prove to be a very good place to produce a good action film. You'd be better off renting The Warriors and pausing it every now and then so you can watch a fight scene from Enter the Dragon.