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Captured international assassins are locked up inside a high-tech bunker known as the Killing Chamber. To break out of this concrete hell they must duel each other, fight deadly ninjas and battle against gangs of masked maniacs. And... if they survive this, they will have to confront Snakehead: the lethal, deranged top dog who will stop at nothing to kill 'em all!Written by
Coming off the heels of other recent, impressive fight flicks like THE RAID and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING is KILL 'EM ALL, the second film to receive a wide release from director Raimund Huber who's in the process of perfecting the style of Thailand-set, Thai-looking action films made by a westerner. In contrast to its direct competition, KILL 'EM ALL is relatively small in scale and has sections of the story which definitely could have been written better, but it's still a remarkable powerhouse of diverse fight choreography done right, relatively intriguing characters, and a well-executed premise.
The story: eight ace assassins are drugged, kidnapped, and awaken in an enclosed "killing chamber" where a voice over a loudspeaker (Gordon Liu) instructs them how they're expected to kill each other until only one remains. It will take ingenuity and persistence on their parts to find their way out of this alive.
The first half of this picture feels like a martial arts-themed take on Saw, with the characters stuck in the room and being subjected to the instructions that pit them in one-on-one showdowns. Though some of the assassins are obviously expendable (e.g. poor Erik Schuetz, still waiting for a good role), there's a good deal more genuine acting and personality-exposition going on during this part of the film than one might expect, resulting in the viewer being able to take a genuine interest in some of the fighters beyond their action scenes. The majority of the acting falls upon the only real thespian of the bunch, non-martial artist Johnny Messner, and while an okay character, I think he's the most detracting part of the film, having been written as overly talkative and sarcastic, especially in the second half. Additionally, while the second and more conventional half of the film might disappoint some viewers who had really gotten into the setup of the first half (for the record, I wasn't), it's the eventual reveal of the master plan behind the whole plot that's universally disappointing and that keeps the movie from a five-star rating.
However, like the best martial arts pictures, this one's fourteen fight scenes dutifully pick up the slack where the story falls short. Having seen the movie only recently, I can confidently state that karate flicks of the New Year have their work cut out for them in matching the action of KILL 'EM ALL. Much of it, of course, has to do with the fine casting of unique fighters. There are acrobatic tricksters (e.g. Rashid Phoenix), hard-edged muay thai exponents (e.g. Ice Chongko), physical powerhouses (e.g. the male lead henchman), realism-based hand-to-hand practitioners (e.g. the late karate god Joe Lewis), and several more. Equally important to the strength of the fights is the truly masterful choreography by star/fight wrangler Tim Man. While not every brawl in the film is a grade-A affair, Man shows great ingenuity in not only allowing each of the performers to play to their physical strengths and therein nullifying the need for stunt doubles, but also in matching the subsequent diverse styles of the fighters harmoniously: even for the final showdown when a methodical kickboxer (Ammara Siripong), a grounded kung fu practitioner (Gordon Liu), and an acrobatic fighter (Tim Man) are pitted in combat, no fighter has to modify his style for the others, resulting in a very unique match.
Personally, I think this feature is unique enough just for being the last movie of the departed Joe Lewis' sporadic film career, which had been hit & miss thus far but I'm glad that his last one could be a winner. Though he died just months before this one's DVD release at age 68, his performance is stellar: despite appearing heavyset and visibly aged, Lewis' character gets a look in his eyes when it's time to fight that makes you believe he's going to sincerely beat the stuffing out of someone, and his rough, practical moves back it up. This aspect and all the rest accumulate for a very good martial arts flick - definitely one of the best of last year.
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