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Revenger | Seung-Won Lee

January 25, 2019
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Through its ongoing effort to inundate viewers with as much content as possible, Netflix presents Revenger, a mostly boring action movie starring Bruce Khan, a stunt man and former Jackie Chan double who hasn’t had an IMDb credit since 2005. Khan plays Kim, a former cop or agent or whatever who gets himself transported to a prison island to hunt down Kuhn (Park Hee-soon), the man who killed his wife and daughter. Once on the island, Kim finds himself in the middle of a battle between a group of ‘good’ island dwellers (never mind that they had to have done something to warrant being on an island prison) and roving bands of evil henchman working for Kuhn. Director Lee Seung-won spends a disastrously long time introducing the wacky denizens of the ‘good guys’ commune, including a senile old man and village idiot that allow for some very broad, very ridiculous comedy. There’s also a fierce female warrior and her precocious young daughter, with whom Kim sorta kinda bonds and sorta kinda decides to defend against Kuhn’s goons. Khan is a terrible actor, but that’s not always detrimental to being a good action star. Worse is that Khan has no presence in front of the camera, mistaking a blank, constipated face for some kind of stoic gravitas. He utters maybe five lines of dialogue during the entire film, and even as he does so he frequently looks confused.

Lee’s film is devoid of imagination, and has only a few decent fight scenes to redeem it. Genre junkies might consider that ratio a modest success. But as Isaac Florentine and John Hyams have demonstrated, one shouldn’t always have to damn nuts-and-bolts action with faint praise.

But Kahn does have some moves. The climactic, mano y mano brawl here is great, if you can sit through the preceding junk to get to it. Lee keeps the camera back, setting up the two fighters on a kind of proscenium and letting them go at it. The camera work, editing, and choreography all finally come together, as Kim and Khun wail on each other. This isn’t quick, furious bursts of brutal knees and elbows a la The Raid, it’s altogether more classical. Each fighter gets to pose and set up big swings or huge, sweeping kicks, with judicial use of slow motion that recalls the heyday of Van Damme. It’s almost old fashioned, and it’s a treat. But ultimately, Revenger serves more as just a reminder that other countries have the same direct-to-dvd schlock industry as the good old US of A: Lee’s film is devoid of imagination, and has only a few decent fight scenes to redeem it. Genre junkies might consider that ratio a modest success. But as Isaac Florentine and John Hyams have demonstrated, one shouldn’t always have to damn nuts-and-bolts action with faint praise. Consider Revenger, then — in the most charitable light — as a calling card of a kind, a faint suggestion that Lee might make something better in the future, with a bigger budget, and if he can muster a bit more ingenuity in his filmmaking. Failing that, at least streaming on Netflix means you can skip to the good parts.

You can currently stream Seung-Won Lee’s Revenger on Netflix.

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