A primitive story that gives Bruce Khan the excuse to be the lead and pummel people with grace and fluidity.
Netflix has been a strong platform in bringing some great East Asian action cinema of the late, Revenger arrives after the impressive line up of Buybust, Jailbreak and The Night Comes for Us. For fight fans, Revenger serves its purpose well with Bruce Khan demonstrating great martial prowess and power.
Former police detective Yool (Bruce Khan) is in search for the notorious criminal Kuhn (Park Hee-soon) so he gets himself sent to the distant island AP-101 that houses dangerous criminals. Upon his arrival, he encounters Mali (Yoon Jin-Seo) and her daughter, Jin who are attacked by the islands criminal occupants, luckily for Mali and Jin they are rescued by Yool.
Having been poisoned during there attack Mali is unconscious, Jin pleads for Yool’s aid in their safe return to there save haven as repayment she will provide him with the location of Kuhn. Yool’s arrival at the village is met with disdain by the quirky residents and their leader, Mr. Bau (Kim In-kwon) who has hidden affection for Mali. Mali finally wakes to her savior but it is revealed that he was the cause of her current predicament and holds hatred towards Yool, gladly sending him on his way to Kuhn.
On his way to Kuhn’s headquarters he is followed by Jin who manages to get captured. He fights his way through many thugs and once again rescues Jin from there evil clutches but doesn’t manage to find Kuhn. Along the way the village is attacked by Kuhn’s henchmen, Yool rises to the occasion and defeats the criminals but the village is left with severe casualties. Once and for all Yool locates Kuhn and they have their final battle.
Lee Seung-won once an assistant director of Memoir of a Murderer and The Suspect, delivers his directional debut with Revenger. Though it is not particularly original and the handling of story is a bit weak, lurking inside there is evidence of strong respect of the genre, balancing just the right dosage of action to please fans.
Busy man Khan not only serves as leading man but also scriptwriter and fight choreographer, now the fights are spectacular with few faults but the script lacks finesse and development filled with so many plot holes and unanswered questions. The flashback sequences that are supposed to reveal why Yool is hell-bent on finding Kuhn handle with a little delicacy and says very little about how things really came to be, sure we know his family is murdered but the how’s and why’s are not revealed.
The contrivances of everyone having some sort of connection is also rather tiresome, the story plants the setup but never really delve any further or give much explanation. The plot is basic to a fault, used as a framework for Bruce Khan to fight his way through various opponents, employing an array of kicking, blocking and punching techniques.
With this being the main selling point the midsection slows down when our hero lapses in a coma and the story is given to the village chief, Mr. Bau. His affections for Mali, his cowardice and his run-in with Kuhn’s men takes center stage filled with awkward comedic beats and unnecessary filler that are at odds with the rest of the film.
The film also has an unbalanced tone that breaks a lot of the little dramatic tension that does exist, with characters ranging from serious to borderline cartoon foolery. For an island that is catered for violent criminals there is a surprising number of friendly inhabitants raising the question of how these people came to be deported to such an island.
Unlike films such as Jailbreak and Buybust which had phenomenal action sequences but lacked the visual sheen and its budgetary constraints were evident. Revenger uses its limited budget wisely, keeping it sets simple and its locations confined enough to hide its shortcomings. Shot in parts Korea and parts in Indonesia has helped keep its cost down but it also means employment of Indonesian and Korean actors that adds odd moments of dialogue using English and Korean.
Bruce Khan doesn’t have a huge filmography, his biggest credit to date is possibly Jackie Chan’s The Medallion (2003) serving as a stuntman. Revenger marks his first leading debut and at 50 years of age, he pulls off moves with velocity and power like a young man.
In the acting department little is asked of Khan, he remains stoic throughout showing little emotion but it serves its purpose well to convey a certain enigma about him, its just not a good calling card for any other potential roles that may require more of him. It could also be one of the reasons why much of the dialogue is given to the other players.
Yoon Jin-Seo best known for her role in Oldboy gives a commendable performance as the fierce Mali, demonstrating both power and vulnerability. Kim In-kwon’s filmography is extensive often serving as a supporting player, here he plays Mr. Bau and is given a surprising amount of screen time. His oddball character would have been welcome in another film but here his character and situation do not quite feel like they belong in the same film as Khan’s Yool.
The central villain played by Park Hee-soon is given so very little to do, his menace is never demonstrated but spoken about often, he spends most of his time in bandages similar to the central villain of Rurouni Kenshin. The bandages have little meaning to proceedings and his final confrontation lacks tension.
Inspiration clearly comes from Bruce Lee with Khan’s Yool a seemingly an unstoppable force, where fights are usually one-sided with Yool rarely taking a hit, when he does get hit it does not seem to phase him much, its a technique that played well with Bruce Lee. Khan borrows much of Bruce Lee’s mannerisms; the finger waggles, intense glares, and horse stances while tugging at his trousers to the chamber for multiple kicks.
The camera also adopts the same techniques reminiscent of the Bruce Lee era, with sudden zooms to the face and quick pull-outs. Also a positive note the camera shows all the fighting in its glory framing the combatants in wide shots combining static and movement effectively. Its combination of old school style with a modern polish that makes it both refreshing and familiar.
The film waste little time in introducing Khan’s abilities, the opening sees Yool washed up onto the shores bound by the arms, his assailants attack and using an array of kicking techniques, the audience are immediately given an impressive impression of Khan’s raw power and control. No sooner are we introduced to the other characters of the story are we then thrust into another fight scene between Yool and Kuhn’s henchmen with Khan throwing a variety of kicking combinations and mixing it up with punches and even shoulder barge keeping things from being stale.
Veteran stuntman TJ storm (Kickboxer: Vengeance and Punisher: War Zone) makes a brief appearance in a rather disappointing throw down with Khan, with TJ Storm employing boxing techniques that does not quite sit comfortably with him, his fight is short-lived and his introduction made him look like a worthy adversary but it was not to be.
Yoon Jin-Seo also joins in on the action with some nice bow and arrow techniques and some brief scuffles with her male aggressors. Her midsection rescues is a nice moment of bow and arrow showdown with a female opponent. A raid at the village sees Khan wielding a sword against multiple opponents than a battle between 2 skilled sword fighters. It’s a surprising demonstration of sword techniques from Khan highlighting his fighting ability not being limited to hands and feet.
With such a great assortment of fights it’s a shame that the finale does not amount to anything but a one on one fight. The lead up to it is rather weak with Khan just strutting in and meeting his opponent. Though the combatants display great skills and there is some great choreography on display it feels rather weak in comparison to the fights that proceeded this.
If you can forgive the story shortcomings and the uneven tonal shifts there is much enjoyment to be had from this film. The fights are varied and the techniques on display are impressive with hits landing and execution flawless. Unlike the other fight brethren’s Jailbreak or Buybust, Revenger shows more polish in its execution without the need for excessive gore like The Night Comes for Us.