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by Jay Seaver

"Martial arts action, Chilean style."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: There's an opening for someone like Marko Zaror in the action world, especially for martial arts movies: All the guys who hit it big in the eighties are getting older, and there doesn't seem to be much of a next generation around (a man can't live on a diet of Tony Jaa and Wu Jing alone). Chile may be an odd place to find the next martial arts star, and Zaror's acting could use some polishing, but the guy can fight.

His character in this movie, Zami, fights a lot; he's got a crush on Kim (Caterina Jadresic), a half-Korean girl he saved from being raped a few months earlier, and tends to lay out anybody who touches her. Annoyed, she tries to get him off her back by having her father's entire tae kwan do class fight him; he tells Zami that though his father was a great fighter, he is little more than a brawler. Still, Teran (Man-soo Yoon) and Kim will need his help when Max Kalba (Miguel Angel De Luca) returns to town: Kalba has a grudge against Teran and other members of his martial arts sect that goes back seventeen years, and he's looking to collect. He wipes the floor with Zami in their first encounter, but that just pushes him to head north to be trained by master Jose Soto (Alejandro Castillo) before coming back to kick some ass.

First and most important things first: Marko Zaror's got some chops as a martial artist, even if he's still very raw as an actor. He won awards as Duane "The Rock" Johnson's stunt double in The Rundown, and though he's got about the same build (a little over six feet, built like a truck), he's extremely quick and agile for a guy his size. He can (and frequently does) get up in the air and move quickly enough to take on multiple opponents. Zaror also handles the fight choreography, and my only real complaint with it is that the fight scenes tend to be too short; except for the finale with De Luca (Zaror's original teacher), they are, by and large, mismatches. The flip side of that is that they do look like actual fights, rather than something staged for the camera.

(Interestingly, the producers said afterward that they were precisely blocked while the action in Zaror's new movie, Mirageman, is much more improvised. I wish I'd had time to see that!)

So, Marko Zaror's a find. I strongly suspect that if he makes the jump from Chile to the big leagues in Hollywood or Hong Kong, he might wind up taking Ernesto Diaz Espinoza with him. Zaror and Espinoza were friends in high school, and Espinoza wears several hats behind the camera - writer, director, co-producer, editor. This is his first work listed on the IMDB, but the film is polished enough to make me wonder. Kiltro is a spaghetti western in spirit, and he'll frequently reference them visually. He's also got a sly sense of humor, and knows how to use the tools at his disposal to to show it: Rather than having Zami make quips, he'll do it with editing (as with a ten-second montage of Zami knocking out four guys who got too close to Kim) or holding a homage shot for a few seconds before showing us what really happens after that passionate, silhouetted kiss.

The story is a bit basic and doesn't always make the most sense (so there was this secret society of Zeta Fighters who... what, exactly?), but Espinoza and Zaror execute well, with little touches that should make action fans smile. Max Kalba uses a nastily versatile walking stick, which not only unsheathes a sword but whose bladed handle is ideally constructed for ripping out throats. Zami, toward the end, gets a set of shoes with blades on the ankles that can be pretty nasty considering how well he elevates. Much CGI blood flows during the fight scenes. The characters are kind of familiar, of course, but Zaror makes Zami a well-intentioned mutt and Jadresic is charming as well. Miguel Angel De Luca isn't a professional actor, but the villain role suits him.

Zaror and Espinoza make a good team, and early reports have their second film together as even more impressive. I don't know if they're quite ready for the big time yet, but they're not far away from doing something that makes the world sit up and take notice. In the meantime, they're doing some cool stuff down in Chile.

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originally posted: 07/18/07 12:28:17
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2007 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2007 series, click here.

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