Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Fist 2 Fist 2: Weapon of Choice (2014)

Fist 2 fist 2 cover 

Tagline:

Whether you live or die depends on your weapon of choice.

Movie Review:

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Jino Kang is a bit of an enigma. He’s a writer, director, producer and lead actor in all of his films - of which there are only three - and his skills as a martial artist have been making themselves quite apparent to appreciating audiences the past few years. His first film, Blade Warrior (2001), was a passion project and a highly independent work but it showed his already well-honed skills of the martial arts and his developing skills in front of and behind the camera. This was followed a full decade later by Fist 2 Fist (2011), a step-up in production quality and on-screen action. And lastly (for now) we have Fist 2 Fist 2: Weapon of Choice (2014) - a film, in the best B-action cinema tradition, only related to it’s predecessor in name only - that demonstrates the best yet of what Jino Kang is all about.

Opening in a sleazy club, a scared man clutching a gift sits down at an adjacent table to the birthday boy and his goons. The birthday boy blows out his candles (which happened to be mounted on the brasserie of a stripper - first time I’ve seen this kind of cake) and a strange figure slinks in past the security. We have just met assassin Jack Lee (Jino Kang), who with great precision takes out every member of the birthday party - including the stripper - but not the late-coming guest. To him he says “Tell your boss what happened here. Make nothing up. Leave nothing out.” Jack Lee is one cool mother-- you shut your mouth! But I’m talking about Jack...

Five years later and Lee has retired. At home relaxing with his twenty-something daughter Jaime (Kelly Lou Dennis), he is attacked in his home by men in masks who take his daughter away from him (we learn she is to be sold to a trafficker). He cripples and kills most of the attackers, one turning out to be a former colleague who reveals in his dying breath the identity of the kidnapper - mob boss Michael Banducci (Douglas Olson). Kang begins his mission to get his daughter back.

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Enter Police Detective Ash Jordan (Katherine Celio) and FBI agent Hap Koehler (Don Williams) investigating the dead bodies in Kang’s apartment, putting together their own pieces of the puzzle. To raise the stakes more, Banducci just hired in an ex-Navy Seal to take out Jack Lee. Eventually catching up with Lee, the law takes him into protection and questioning in a safe house. However, it turns out not to be that safe as a firefight with Banducci’s soldiers ensues and Lee is badly wounded. Ash rescues and flees with him to her brother’s ranch while he recuperates. Meanwhile, Lee’s daughter attempts her own escape from her captors and it’s obvious she’s been paying close attention to daddy’s skills. She manages to get her location out to her father and he comes to get her with determination and force.

Ash: “If I wasn’t a cop I’d be a ballroom dancer.”
Lee: “May I have this dance?" 

Weapon of Choice feels very much like one of the cheaper DTV-era Steven Seagal films. That’s no bad thing because I enjoy DTV-Seagal. The single-focus storyline, the mafia and Asian bad guys and the Eastern European accents of others, the mix of martial arts, gun and sword play and the minor love interest with awkward sex scene. Even the poster art shown at the top of this review - it’s all there. What is done BETTER than modern Seagal is the fights themselves. Let’s be frank here; Steven Seagal has not performed the action pieces of his films at the top of his game for some time now. Jino Kang, however, really nails it. His techniques are true and proficient, and the only stunt double is himself. Hell, Jino Kang choreographed all the fights as well. He really is a one-man-show artist. Kang doesn’t play Lee over the top and loud like an American action star either; he is quiet and contained at all times, which helps add mystique to his assassin lifestyle.

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The acting for the most past passes mustard, but it’s not the key element here anyway. So with that in mind, let’s talk about the action in the film; it’s quite varied as I mentioned above. The martial arts are naturally the main focus and they are quite brutal. Bones are broken, necks are stabbed slowly (like, a ten second push of knife to the jugular), throats are cut. Beatings with a pole arm, wrestling moves that see opponents strangled by Kang’s legs entwined around their neck. Some guy hurls an axe and Lee dodges it. Lee pulls out an uzi and lays waste to hired goons. Arms are cut off, stomachs are shot with close-range rifles. This film is violent and close up. The action is only betrayed somewhat by the budgetary constraints. Squibs are CG and artificial for the majority. Most muzzle shots are CG, with no impact damage shown. It can be a little off-putting.

Some of the accessory characters were not so great. I really didn’t enjoy Banducci’s dopey sidekick at all; in fact he kind of annoyed me in his blaze teenager-like attitude to his boss. I don’t know why I found him so jarring but I did. Then he had that fight with the other mob boss’ hitman which ended up being over a girl. So random. Ash’s brother Oliver the stoner also grated on my nerves, but he acquitted himself with a hilarious attempt at “helping” in a fight - running outside in his full-length red pyjamas waving a hammer over his head and screaming, even though the fight was clearly over. That was a laugh out loud moment.

Where the film really excels is in its passion. Part Taken, part Commando, all heart - Jino Kang is doing this for the love of the craft. It’s obvious. Every shot and set piece is crafted by his design and you can tell a lot of thought has been put into small aspects of the film. In a way, you can look at Kang’s current films as his portfolio. Like all good artists, I hope somebody with a slightly larger budget can help Kang take his vision to the next level, as I would very much like to see how that would turn out.

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Highlight:

(SPOILERS) Like all good action films that follow a tried and true formula, the final fifteen minutes is when all guns come out blazing - and all other manner of weapon and body combat as well. Lee works his way through the warehouse (there’s always a warehouse) taking out bad guys one at a time, then three at a time, in varying and definitely fatal ways. We see some excellent swordplay, so good in fact I wish there was more of it in the film. Limbs are lopped and it all ends with the slicing of Banducci in two - though you knew he was going to cop it from the second you met him!

Trailer:

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