The past decade (+) has been pretty abysmal for stunt/martial film fans. Sure, I'll grant that there have been a few blips, be it the forward thinking choreography that Donnie Yen has employed din his recent efforts, David Belle's dangerous "Parkour" urban acrobatics, or Tony Jaa's old school, bone break awesomeness. Still, decreased interest from film goers and increased film expenses have hurt the entire genre film world. We are far from recovering, if we even can, the heyday of the guts and glory spectacles of the 70's and 80's.
So, I'll take my promising new action film stars anywhere I can find them, even if its from Chile, a place not exactly known as a hotbed of action film making. As a matter of fact, I'd venture to guess this is the only martial arts friendly action film to come out of Chile. I certainly cannot recall any other.
Director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and star Marko Zaror apparently gestated Kiltro (2006) while they were going to school together. It is an odd, uneven film, and I wasn't surprised to see that it was Espinoza's proper debut feature. Though I would mark it as a minor success and something to be proud of, it feels like that kind of film, a tad overambitious, and a bit rough around the edges.
Zamir (Zorar) is a red dye streak mulleted, baggy pant wearing, dim bulb street kid who pines for half-breed Kim (Caterina Jadresic), whose Korean father runs a marital art academy. After saving her from some street thugs (apparently her father didn't teach her self defense very well), he obsessively follows her everywhere. Unfortunately his idea of courting is to shadow her and wallop on any guy that makes a pass at her. One of the better jokes around this involves his best friend giving him advice on how to talk to her. He suggests saying, "I saw you yesterday," and when she asks, "Where?" reply, "In my dreams." Zamir gets out the first line and she snaps back, "Of course, you follow me everywhere!"
Enter Max Kalba (that's a villain name if I've ever heard one), the devil goateed, claw cane sporting, deposed member of a martial sect who has come back for revenge against the elders and their offspring. This, of course, marks Kim, her father, as well as Zamir's mother and Zamir becasue his absentee, mystery father was part of the sect. Kalba wipes out most everyone, captures Kim's father, and forces Kim and Zamir into hiding. Zamir is instructed, from a wise dwarf no less, to seek out the remaining elder of the martial sect, Jose Sato, who has become a drunkard living in the desert where Zamir receives the training that will hopefully give him the means to take out Kalba.
The plotting sounds simple enough and honestly it should be. That is one of the finer points of an action film. Like any genre number, from noir or a horror, a simple framework is all you need to lay out, just add action and inspiration on top of it and you can have a success. That isn't quite the case with Kiltro which has some execution issues. Espinoza hangs a few too many disparate elements together, relies too much on flashbacks, and the film feels just a tad overlong. The first third or so plays like a quirky comedy romance and, on that end, it's a bit strange to have you badass action hero puppy dog groveling and even crying to his mother within in the first fifteen minutes. When Kabla shows up, the film suddenly shifts into the all too serious and bleak with bracing shifts into the purposefully cartoonish (obvious fake backdrops, Kalba's army of anime-looking henchmen, etc.) Not to mention, from stolen music cues to Kabla's backstory flashbacks which mirror El Indio's from For a Few Dollars More, Espinoza wedges in some unnecessary nods to Sergio Leone. You can see the capacity Espinoza has as an action helmer if he just had something more solid underneath him. These little rendering problems I mostly mark it up to first-timer growing pains, wanting to play with different styles/tones/feelings, but he ends up with a bunch of odd branches on a hollow trunk.
When it comes to Marko Zorar, likewise, the potential is obvious but he is a bit let down by the slapdash execution and, one assumes, lower budget problems that plague most modern martial films- that is, the films action scenes boil down to handful with only two key finale set-pieces and his fight scene co-stars don't seem capable of matching his skills. Physically he is a big, brutish looking fellow, yet he is capable of some fast, acrobatic movements. Beefcake + Acrobatics + Capable enough acting skills, the guy seemingly has all the tools to be a solid action star. One just hopes he can find the proper vehicles for his talents. Hell, if someone is thinking of another, proper stab at a live adaptation of Fist of the North Star, sign the guy up as the lead. He'd be perfect.
The DVD: Magnolia.
Anamorphic Widescreen. Techwise you'll find some slight edge enhancement. Real problems come about from the source print, and these are forgivable areas you can chalk up to the budget. For instance, you have scenes with heavy grain or slightly lacking definition and the finale features some super slow motion scenes that are extremely flawed, dull contrast, murky, terrible grain, obviously a product of the film makers going out of their way to stylize the scenes but being short-changed with their equipment.
Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 Surround English dub or original Spanish language tracks. Optional English subtitles. Nice soundtrack, dialog is always clear, scoring is mixed with appropriate bombast, and the fist and kickacuffs have a decent amount of thwack.
The subs are extremely bold, well-timed, and get an extra plus for their legibility (maybe I'm just sour because I was watching Paprika OnDemand and found the subs too small and lacking sharpness) .
I am not anti-dub. Gotta' put that out there because every time I rag on a dub, jokers inevitably fire off emails saying I'm some snooty original language only purist. I have many reviews where I actually praise dubs or, for instance, moan over a classic old school kung fu flick not having a dub option. In this case, the English dub is simply terrible, the acting isn't very colorful, and worst of all the guy cast as Amir is far too meek-voiced.
The extras boil down to a few featurettes, Fight Training (5:07), Bloopers (1:33), Deleted Scenes (1:48), Behind the Scenes (5:31), and Storyboards (7:24). These are actually a bit of a letdown. There simply isn't much meat on them- mostly b-camera fly on the wall stuff, the bloopers and deleted material are forgettable, and only the storyboard to scene comparison offers any significant insight.
Kiltro is an intriguing modern martial film. It is certainly very flawed but one can see the cues that could signal the director and lead being new stars on the horizon. The DVD is a bit of a letdown, solid enough when it comes to the feature but short changed on the extras. If you are like me, a martial fan who salivates at anything half-decent and inspired beyond the typical DTV dreck, Kiltro is worth a look. I'll give it an overall recommendation of a rental.