There's always a Next Big Thing in the world of martial arts films, but outside of Steven Segal and Jean Paul Van Damme (and to a lesser degree Michael Dudikoff) it's normally someone of Asian descent, like Jet Li or more recently Tony Jaa. You'd have a hard time finding anyone who expected one to hail from the South American outpost of Chile, but now we have Marko Zoror, the street-fighting star of Kiltro.
Zaror is an impressive figure, looking like a bulked up Criss Angel, but despite his size, he moves like lightning, with agility that's not aided by wires. To see his leaping kicks and acts of quickness is to be amazed at a human special effect. No one's going to hand him an Oscar any time soon, but he's actually not bad when he's not swinging fists, portraying an introspective tough guy who is misunderstood by the people around him; a momma's boy who can do a bit of physical comedy.
The story at the film's core is an old-school quest for vengeance, as Zami (Zaror) tracks down the mysterious villain who beat the crap out of him, killed his gangmates and kidnapped the girl he loves and her Tae Kwon Do-teaching father. As is often the case in this kind of story, Zami is talented and driven, but extremely raw. With a bit of help, obviously from an old, wise master, he can find his destiny and get prepared for a final fight for all the marbles. That's really just the final third of the film though.
Before we get to the exciting climax, we need to get to know Zami and his obsessive love for Kim, and the secret past that ties them all together, a mystery that unravels through bits and pieces of flashbacks. Though there are certainly fights throughout this section, including a brawl between Zaror and 20 Tae Kwon Do students, it's more of a romantic drama mixed with a spaghetti western than kung-fu, with a good deal of laughs and nods to other genre classics peppered here and there. The introduction of the bad guy is so classic that you'd swear you saw it when it was in Once Upon a Time in the West.
It's not a matter of first-time writer/director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza stealing from old films, though. He's brought an on-the-ground style to a genre that's traditionally been shot with tight choreography, and blended in beautiful landscapes, gritty urban settings and dramatic angles to create an epic feel. It's not all perfect though, as there are some parts of the visuals, namely the over-the-top blood sprays, that distract from the in-the-moment experience and bump up the more cartoonish elements. Plus, it's hard to not wonder what the hell is going on when Zami is running full-speed down the street, punching the air to David Bowie's "Modern Love." These are minor quibbles though, in the scope of the entire entertaining film.
Of course, when you have a budding action star like Zaror and a story like this, you're expecting some serious martial-arts chaos, and in the end, you definitely get it, when Zami goes into full fight mode. Again, the blood spray is cartoony, but a fully-trained Zami is a machine, and you get one of the most brutal one-on-many battles seen in recent history, leading up to the simple, yet exciting face-off with his ultimate foe.
Kiltro has all the ingredients of a cult classic for fight fans, including a Yoda-like mentor, though some may find the first 60 minutes, where Zami yearns for love and the story is put into place, to be a bit slow. Fortunately, there the fights are paced in nicely, and there are some big laughs, often at the expense of Zaror's character, making him even more likable, which may be the most incredible feat he performs, in an era of one-dimensional action heroes.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.