It’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy watching some mindless fisticuffs.
As a matter of fact, Eastern countries have quite a magnanimous track record in producing some of the best high-kicking action, so it’s especially permissible – if not admirable – to take some measure of pleasure in seeing so many kicks, chops, and leg sweeps. When done well, there’s a visceral excitement that draws the audience in. Plot becomes secondary … but when you stumble across an action film that actually works hard at adding something new or novel to the formula – boy meets boy, boy kicks boy, boy snaps other boy’s neck – then rejoice in that moment – however brief – because you never know when the next bit of quality storytelling will successfully accompany an equally compelling throat punch.
(WARNING: the following review will contain minor spoilers solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who wants a summation solely spoiler-free, then feel free to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If you’re accommodating to a measure of hint of things to come, then read on.)
Long the stuff of street legend, there’s a secret place called the Killing Chamber – a virtually concrete and steel bunker where international assassins are sentenced to fight one another to the death. Killers go in alive, but only one can emerge victorious. Kidnapped and held against their will, Som (played by Ammara Siripong), The Kid (Tim Man), and Gabriel (Johnny Messner) wake up and realize their darkest fears: they find themselves caught in the chamber, all to please some mysterious benefactor’s bidding. Unless they can best the others and work together, they’re destined for death!
Based on the premise alone, KILL ‘EM ALL isn’t destined to be any Oscar contender. Screenwriter Ken Miller plumbs the territory recently brought back to life with the SAW franchise of thrillers (the ‘locked box’ mystery), and, with director Raimund Huber’s attention, it’s a respectable (but probably not ‘respected’) effort. Eight assassins have been captured and placed in the Killing Chamber, and, in between their matches, they try to sort out terms. Why have they been abducted? Are they all linked to the same contract gone awry? Is there truly no hope for escape? Each warrior is put through his (or her) paces, and, while there’s a level of predictability to the fates of some players, the first half the film retains enough life to keep viewer interest.
Sadly, it’s the second half of the film where the rails come off a bit. At that point, KILL spirals off into a slightly different (or modified) direction, and neither Miller’s script nor Huber’s direction are tight enough to fully recover. There’s still plenty of action, but it falls into a more random pattern that defies logic. Suddenly, the villain’s secret identity loses impact as our heroes unite against some masked adversaries never quite up to the challenge they were hired for. Sure, there’s a creative flourish when the puppetmaster is finally revealed, but, at that juncture, the writing descends into some bad mid-sixties characterization that doesn’t complement the better-than-average first half.
At the risk of sounding a bit sexist, I’ll admit to mostly enjoying watching Ms. Siripong’s sweaty abs through most of the action. She’s a fetching star, athletic enough to pull off a lithely muscular lead. Besides, she’s much more interesting to look at than say, Van Damme, but, like I said, I’m all male, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Still, it’s a shame her verbal delivery doesn’t quite match the prowess of her delivering a punch, but as her film resume appears a bit light, here’s hoping she spends some time with an acting coach before headlining her next effort. Who knows? We might just have a new action star in the making.
Yeah, it lacks the narrative polish of, say, THE RAID. It misses the bloody luster of IP MAN. It fails to garner the star power of THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE WEIRD. But it's a fun romp nonetheless.
KILL ‘EM ALL is produced by Epic Pictures Group. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through Well Go USA Entertainment. As for the technical aspects, the film looks and sounds respectable, though there was a curious momentary loss of dialogue on the center track in one of the opening sequences (for some reason, one short exchange was dumped onto the rear right speaker). There’s some grit and grime to sequences shot through the lens of a sub-par video camera, but that’s all part of the magic and spoils. Sadly, there are no (?!?!) special features to speak of, though methinks this probably isn’t the kind of flick that appeals to film schools, cinema nerds, or the like. Maybe Fight Club would watch it. (Get it? Fight club?)
RECOMMENDED for fans of Asian action cinema, and who knows? KILL ‘EM ALL might just be a respectable guilty pleasure some day. No, not all of it makes sense, but, with mainstream fight pictures, very seldom does all of it. There’s a respectable mix of fisticuffs and director Raimund Huber even manages a respectable level of tension with the ‘locked room’ formula. A disappointing ending spotlights a plot twist no one saw coming, spoiling some of the fun. I would’ve liked some further dialogue after the ultimate climax (did you guess? It’s another fight!), but, as they say, it is what it is.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA Entertainment provided me with a DVD screener of KILL ‘EM ALL for the expressed purpose of completing this review.
Anyone who has followed my reviews know that I have a large amount of action films and martial arts movies. I am not saying that I know all that is needed for such a film to work, but I do know what to look for. A competent story always counts for a lot since the action set pieces need to be glued onto something, emotional content and the stakes have to be defined for suspense and intensity to be injected into the fights and lastly, if an action film is intended to showcase the fight choreography … more