I wasn't familiar with The Stunt People before reviewing Contour. They are, name says it all, a crew of martial artists-acrobats running around San Francisco making their own little short films and features. You can check them out here. Filmed in 2006, they first sold Contour through their website. This year it has been picked up for wider release via Indican Pictures.
This is the kind of film where Stunt Person Eric Jacobus gets a lot of credits (star/writer/director) but being a $5,000 film that everyone made during their spare time (according to the extras, literally, being lucky to get peanuts) you can safely say it was a collaborative group effort. That budget is the real key here. The only ambition is to have some fun, entertain, do the best they can with very little means, so don't expect a top notch production. The action, writing, direction, and settings are clearly all very threadbare, but for $5,000 you get more then your money's worth when it comes to the skills on display.
Lawrence (Eric Jacobus), who shortens his name to Law for the cool-effect, is a low level thug in debt to a Vietnamese bookie. Law makes most of his money shuttling people around San Francisco with his half-assed travel tour. Basically the film revolves around Law getting tangled up in a mess involving Alfonso de la Rosario (Ed Kanahana), the spazzed out prince of the fictional cheese exporting country of Uruvia. Factor in an embarrassing stolen tape that could tilt the country into revolution and an underworld figure named Ticker (Dennis Ruel), whom Law has already wronged, and you get the genesis for all of the films action.
It is purposefully pretty silly and the plot is sketched into place purely as a means to hang the fights around. The tour guide hook is completely undercooked, and the film is less fights-and-location/city- travelogue as it is the standard, fights-in-a-warehouse-and-small office rooms. Major bonus points are won for little gags, Law's bookie sells his own self defense tapes, Tae Pho, the art of soup fighting, the girl of the piece, Renee (Tyler Wang), writes for a Christian travel magazine "Where Would Jesus Travel?," and so forth. Fighting/stuntwork is the groups primary strength so the acting is a bit amateurish and intentionally comical and over the top. Jacobus is a real standout with a great Bruce Campellish air of the arrogant loser, tossing off lines like, "The compassionate part of my brain is broken."
I'm a lifelong martial film fan. Breaking down what makes a good action scene is pretty simple: a sense of physicality, elaborate choreography, and character (be it the actors skills and/or direction). Any two, just one, or all three are the elements combine to make a winning action film. Jackie Chan's best, stunt heavy work firmly embraces all three with an emphasis on the first. Lau Kar Lueng's films nail the elaborate side. The Yuen Clan definitely convey the third. Even in HK, most modern martial films, either due to lack of talent, increased expenses, or emphasis on style, scale back fight scenes and rely on directorial panache over performance intricacy. Not so with this group.
The Stunt People's fight choreography echos more wu shu heavy, 80's Golden Harvest style fights with the stress on showy, fast moves, and bruising acrobatics. What they get right that so many modern action films get wrong is letting the choreography breathe, not hiding behind elaborate cutting, fx, multiple angles, etc. Its actually one of the benefits of a low budget, the lack of coverage, so the actors fight in longer, single takes, which in turn lets the viewer really see the action more clearly and appreciate the complexity put into stringing a fight scene together as well as the punishments the actors endure.
The DVD: For this review, I believe I got the original pressing of the DVD, but the Indican release features appear to be the same except for the cover.
Non-Anamorphic Widescreen. Okay, it is basically a home video movie, though these guys have been at this awhile so its not like your dad aiming a camera at a bunch of action. I wont begrudge the disc at all because all of the minus areas, in terms of technical issues, can be chalked up to the low budget production and limited equipment.
English 2.0 Stereo. See above, same story, different senses. Fine for a low budget film but nothing that will amaze.
A Tour of Contour (55:32). A fantastic making of doc with interviews and behind the scenes footage. Watching these guys slave away making the film and hearing about the scrappy production is as enjoyable as the feature itself.-- Outtake Reel (11:30). One word- OUCH.--- Tae Pho Instructional (7:06).--- Complete Urvia Documentary (4:45).--- Four Extended Scenes. --- ‟Stealth‟ Warehouse Practice clip (1;14). --- Countour Practice Session (3:39). --- Stunt People Demo Reel (2:11). --- Trailers. --- Feature Commentary by the Stunt People. Well, it was easy to assume, gather a large group of buddies together for a commentary, and it is going to take on a very relaxed, goofy, familiar air.
I am such a big martial action film fan, I actually almost got teary-eyed while watching Contour. It gave me great joy to see guys putting forth so much effort into the genre I love. That's right, Terms of Endearment wont make me weepy, but a guy doing a front somersault, landing hard on his back, then popping up and taking a roundhouse kick or bat to the face without nary a wince will get me every time, especially knowing that guy was doing it purely for the adrenalized love of it.
Low budget and rough around the edges, Contour more than makes up for it's deficiencies with spirit. The disc delivers for fight fans and an engaging set of extras more than makes up for lack of feature tech polish. Hey, face the facts, the old guard of the Jackie Chan's, the Sammo Hung's, and even the Jet Li's have faded and we need some fresh talent. Get Contour and support some guys who do martial action right.