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I’m a big fan of fight scenes. The barroom brawl. The schoolyard scrap. The prison yard punch-up. But I need context. I need someone to root for. A fight scene without these key ingredients is just a theme park stunt show. That’s basically what Netflix’s new martial arts movie Revenger is – only on a tropical island with a supremely bland hero.
Brick shithouse Yool (Bruce Khan) purposefully gets sent to AP-101, a prison island used by 12 Asian countries in the near future to house death row prisoners. There are no guards so the lunatics are effectively running the asylum. Upon arrival Yool sets out to find Carlos Kun (Park Hee-soon) the burned mobster that killed Yool’s family. Yool is typically distracted by the political prisoner Mali (Yoon Jin-seo) and her daughter. But none of that matters as Yool bulldozes his way through an army of stuntmen.
Bruce Khan is a stuntman and a stuntman he will probably remain for however long he stays acting. His expression never changes and he moves with lethal efficiency across the screen. I can also count the number of lines he has on one hand. It’s like a Korean produced Halloween if Michael Myers was the good guy which, considering South Korea’s action movie output, isn’t that surprising.
Now stunt people have become actors before; the likes of Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, Scott Adkins and Zoe Bell being the most famous. All of these people have a latent charisma, a sparkle in the eye and a set of the jaw that screams “Mainstream Appeal”. Bruce Khan does not.
With all that said Revenger – despite its charmless title – does have some charm. The likes of Mr Bau (Kim In-kwon), the leader of the rag-tag group of survivors with some morality left, is amusing in his stupidity and in his bumbling leadership of his own band of muscle-heads. He’s a great foil to Yool who may as well as be the Golem of Prague on a tropical prison island. You get the picture.
But can the walking, barely talking, revenging statue fight? Yes and he hits like a tonne of bricks strapped to a freight train. His fights against the machete wielding grunts and well-designed henchmen are sights to behold. The Raid’s influence is clearly felt as Yool faces off against a hunchback with machetes, a stupidly buff Yakuza and an evil Swami. This well-shot, excellently choreographed and brutally physical action can’t rise above the rote story and dull lead, however.
Revenger would work better as a short film or even a demo reel for Bruce Zhan’s incredible if uncharismatic skills. Everything outside of the fight scenes feels unnecessary even the exposition for the fight scenes. There are plenty of great action movies on Netflix, I should know I’ve reviewed a fair few of them, Revenger is unfortunately not one of them.