Review: REVENGER (2018)

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It was only at the end of the movie that I learned, when chatting with my husband, the real idea behind REVENGER, now available on Netflix. “It reminded me of MAN OF TAI CHI,” he said, a movie we also both loved. “Which is true enough, I guess, because it’s the same idea. They made a stunt man the protagonist and center of the action.”

I was stunned. “Tiger Chen is a stunt man?” My husband replied, “Tiger Chen was a stunt man that Keanu Reeves met on the set of THE MATRIX, and they made a movie together, MAN Of TAI ChI.”

The more you know. I could see these same concepts driving REVENGER, directed by Seung-Won Lee, director of the chilling Korean drama COMMUNICATION AND LIES. Accomplished stunt man Korean actor Bruce Khan, known for his work on THE MEDALLION (2003), THE LAST EVE (2005) and BITEU (1997), was originally born Kim Woo-Suk in South Korea. I always loved kung-fu movies as a kid, but my tastes never usually strayed from Jackie Chan, and later Donnie Yen, when he became popular. I was excited for what Korea would bring to kung-fu action movies since I loved their dramas. (And I’d still love to see a movie with Bruce Khan, Tiger Chen, and Donnie Yen all kicking the shit out of each other. There wouldn’t even need to be much of a plot, per se.)

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As it is, REVENGER is pretty serviceable. A stoic former police detective named Kim Yul goes looking for revenge on a prison island called AP-101. The island houses the death row criminals of 12 Asian countries. Pretty much his only words in the entire movie are “I’m looking for Kuhn.” Kuhn being the man who wronged him, we later learn. Kuhn, it turns out, is now the resident Creepy Bad Guy. He’s holed up on the island covered with bandages from a fire. He doesn’t expect to find are a woman and child who also looking for Kuhn because he has also wronged them.

What hooks me into the movie are not, necessarily, the first fights on the beach, which, admittedly, do a great job of showing what a badass Jin-seo Yoon’s character is. It’s a treat to have her in this movie after all of the great movies she’s done (including but not limited to OLDBOY, LADY VENGEANCE, and THE MOONLIGHT OF SEOUL). She really does a great job of holding her own in a movie where she spends a lot of time being one of the only women. The kid who plays her daughter is also great. Not just a whiny brat, but also pretty useful with her dagger.She’s actually pretty endearing at the film’s end.

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What dragged the movie for me was seeing the flashbacks and setting up the revenge story plotline. I’ve seen people get into movies with less, there’s no reason why they needed to give so much detail.  I mean, people enjoy movies like ROBOCOP with less backstory. Some of the comedy, while sometimes a breath of fresh air from all the carnage, fell a little flat directly on the heels of some of the violence. I know the effects would have bothered movie-going friends of mine who were watching for them-CG blood is never as effective.

Sadly, it seems the script, co-written by Khan and Ahn Seung-hwan, falls short when he goes for familiar beats like the hardened man bent on revenge developing a soft spot for the kid. But when the script doesn’t go for the jugular with its familiar story notes, the movie is great. There’s a great variety of villains. They include the guy playing Kuhn all wrapped up in his post-fire bandages, as well as an all-female archer group, a hunchback, and a cool guy with a creepy smile.

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And at the center of all of it is Bruce Khan’s stunning martial arts display, and he wows at every kick. I really cannot say enough good about Khan’s ability, I was completely blown away. Khan’s martial arts alone, and kicking the crap out of bad guys, make this a film worth watching at least once. His style more than once reminded me of Donnie Yen’s, practical and efficient but oh-so-much fun.

Bottom line? REVENGER may be the best action film of the year, because it is truly incredible. If you can ignore the script with all the holes in it, you get to experience unbeatable action sequences. Who ever would have thought that kicks and punches could beat machine guns in a fight, anyway? You also get treated to a cast of interesting bad guys and good guys who meet increasingly gory ends. I look forward to seeing Bruce Khan in more action movies, he may be my new favorite yet.

REVENGER is now available on Netflix.

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