Movie Review: Avengement

Avengement (2019)

Director: Jesse V. Johnson

Writer: Jesse V. Johnson

Stars: Scott Adkins, Craig Fairbrass, Thomas Turgoose

Streaming on Netflix (as of 10/1/2019)

Avengement, the 2019 crime thriller written and directed by former stuntman Jesse V. Johnson, is brutally violent, swiftly plotted, and magnificently entertaining.  At only four minutes in, the movie’s star Scott Adkins, himself a former stuntman and competitive martial artist, dispatches a pub’s two doormen quickly and without warning.  Incidents of savagery such as this occur in nearly every scene in the film, and while this does appeal particularly to action junkies such as I, the excellent script and star-affirming performance of its lead correspond to transform what would be a cheap and gritty B-movie into a genuinely compelling thrill ride.

The film follows Cain Burgess (Adkins), a character who, through circumstances outside of his control, has become an animal.  His face at the beginning of the movie is covered in burn scars, he has a gash in his cheek and he has silver teeth.  All of these things are the consequence of injuries the viewer watches him sustain in one of the movie’s many flashback sequences.  In the hands of a less confident director, this backwards form of story construction might have rendered the film a narrative mess, but Johnson holds the structure together with aplomb, trusting that his star can keep an audience engrossed without exhausting them.

His star and frequent collaborator Scott Adkins holds the film together with an intense, seething performance.  We see as the movie goes along how Cain (Adkins) was transformed from a powerful yet gentle street tough into a hardened psychopath, and each phase of this evolution makes perfect sense.  The story adheres to a structure wherein it transfers intermittently among three periods of time, which could potentially become confusing, but Johnson does a remarkable job of allowing the narrative to direct its own path.  Both Johnson and Adkins grew up in densely populated, urban sectors of England, and their experience with the seedier characters and settings clothes their film in authenticity.

Despite the characters, language and violence which all seem to my American ears genuine, there is no denying that Avengement is a fantasy.  This fantasy is an undeniably brutal, pessimistic one, which allows the filmmakers to patch together some less-than stellar supporting performances with shockingly barbaric violence.  Overall, though I think that Adkins’ remarkable performance gives this bloody tableau a solid emotional footing, it’s primarily a grim, bloody good time in hell.



Movie Review: Avengement

All the world

there is nothing, and nothing ever matters,
because your brain is nothing but sparks and dials and levers
going haywire on a loop
over and over, but what about beauty?                                                                                                        
Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang is a story about friendship
where the two styles merge, choreography superior
fetishistic circus of movement, kung fu inferno
never translated with a meaning, iron eyepatch
villainy inherent, there is always more.                                                                                            
Nothing and more there is always there, behind
all time and space, depending on how you look
through one eye alone, see vapors evaporate
into joyful progress, every day a new door
made of candy, stars bursting chewable
red and blue and purple, but probably not.                                                                                      
That would be madness, panoramic obsessive
without paranoia, you’d be locked up
believing that, there never was tomorrow
in the first place, because all of us can feel
that we are the same, marrow and saliva
leaking out the folds, memories of pain becoming.                                                                               
Shadows receding slowly, clearing your head
of detritus, nothing is ever at all
without a passion, stories die as reborn
becoming all places, characters and statements
at the same time popping a brain out your eyes.                                                                                     
Love is in everything, forever onward
omnipresent dreadfully looming
horrors of the dawn dusk in between and end,
search for a kernel of joy, that’s all there is
when it comes down to it.
All the world

Movie Review: Five Element Ninjas (1982)

Five Element Ninjas

Director: Chang Cheh

Writer: Chang Cheh, Kuang Ni

Stars: Tien-Chi Cheng, Tien Hsiang Lung

Five Element Ninjas is currently available on Netflix streaming

Five Element Ninjas, the bonkers ultraviolet kung fu masterpiece, was made during the slow fade of Hong Kong’s great Shaw Brothers Studio in the early eighties, and easily surpasses even the greatest of its predecessors (Heroes of the East, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, Crippled Avengers) in action, bloodshed, and overall madness.  I call this film bonkers because through my western eyes, everything about it is absolutely crazy.  The film opens with a brief textual explanation that all weapons and costumes in the film are based on ancient Chinese and Japanese designs, but who cares?  The crazy weapons (a huge bladed circle vs. a huge axe) and crazier costumes (threadbare white capes fastened around the neck by a loose-fitting silver chain) only serve to give the impression that the action is not taking place in reality, but in the opium-addled mind of kung-fu fantasist Chang Cheh.

I should state here that I have no direct knowledge of any opium abuse, but given Chang Cheh’s filmography, I am given to assume he must have been on something.  Between the years 1966 and 1988, a scant twenty-two years, he directed an astounding 84 films, many of them classics of the genre (Vengeance, Shaolin Martial Arts, One-Armed Swordsman).  This prodigious output suggests that the director’s heart probably wasn’t always in the films he made, which is undoubtedly true, but in Five Element Ninjas, every fight scene seems painstakingly choreographed, making each and every one of them a joy to watch.

Having been a long-time fan of kung-fu movies, one of my biggest complaints about the genre is the way that one fighter can defeat an entire army, as they seem to have agreed to fight him one by one, in sequence.  I watch a fight scene in Legend of Drunken Master, Jackie Chan and Lau Kar-Leung’s own masterpiece, and I cannot help but notice the crowd of fighters simply watching the fight, and I wonder why they don’t try to help.  Five Element Ninjas does not have this sickness, and watching one man fight crowds of enemies single-handedly becomes ludicrous and beautiful.  Opponents do not take turns, attacking in true unison, but the one fighter always seems to be a step ahead of all of them, flipping, turning his back, and falling on the ground, making the fight scenes more akin to underwater ballet than an actual physical contest.

When considering the plot, and what actually happens in the film, it seems obvious that the director, Chang Cheh, did not like women.  The few female characters are all treacherous and villainous betrayers, but these elements, like every part of the plot, seem secondary to the action.  In this review, I’ve described none of the plot of this film because in all honesty, every plot development is truly just filling the gaps between fight scenes, of which there seem to be more than I would have thought possible.  Five Element Ninjas is in its bones and at its heart the most joyous celebration of the fight scene I have ever watched.  If you are the type who can get lost in these sequences of outrageous violence (at one point a fighter is literally pulled into four pieces) and beautiful swirling movement (the training sequence is a masterpiece), then this is a film for you.


Movie Review: Five Element Ninjas (1982)