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  • TBC
  • Action, Romance
  • 2006
  • 98 mins

Kiltro

Kiltro

Synopsis

Ernesto Díaz Espinoza brings genre-bending delirium to this Chilean martial arts vehicle for newcomer Marko Zaror

About

Near the beginning of Welcome To The Jungle (2003), Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson is told to "have fun" by a cameoing Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a sequence designed to show the 1980s powerhouse passing on his muscle-bound mantle to the new behemoth on the block.

Now none other than the man who won awards as Johnson's Jungle stunt double is emerging as an unlikely contender, alongside Tony Jaa and Johnson himself, for the title of the noughties' greatest throwback he-man. For in Kiltro, Chile's first martial arts movie Marko Zaror shows that he has the physique, the moves, and most importantly the hair, to take the action genre back to the glory days of the 1980s.

Our mulleted hero Zamir (Zaror) is a streetfighter in a gang known as the Kiltros - although he spends most of his time moping over his unrequited love for Kim (Jadresic), the half-Korean teenager he once rescued from rape, or else picking fights with his male rivals for her attentions. "I'll protect you, I won't leave you alone", Zamir tells Kim, not without a hint of creepiness given their obvious age difference (and her school uniform).

If Zamir has some growing up to do, he is not the only one suffering from lovesick obsession. Max Kalba (De Luca), a deadly fighter with a spectacularly luciferian beard, has returned to wreak vengeance on those he believes responsible for his beloved wife's infidelity and death decades earlier. One by one, Kalba tracks down and murders the former members of a clandestine martial arts cult and abducts Kim's father, the Tae Kwon Do master Teran (Yoon).

Bruised and beaten, Zamir is sent into the desert by wizened 'Zeta' warrior Nik Nak (Avendano) - who, with his minute frame, his walking stick and his aphoristic talk, is Chile's answer to Yoda. There Zamir receives physical, spiritual and (ahem) pharmaceutical guidance in the way of Zeta from the guru-like Soto (Castillo) before heading back to town to defeat Kalba and save his girl.

If Kiltro sounds like any number of martial arts flicks with adolescent heroes, from half the Shaw Brothers' output through to The Karate Kid (1984) and Never Back Down (2008), first-time director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza certainly knows it, and it is this savvy self-awareness that allows the film to remain just the right side of cheesy. When Kim declares, "It is better not to think, just see with a blank mind", she is not only paraphrasing one of Bruce Lee's more famous lines ("Don't think - FEEL!") from Enter The Dragon (1973), but also instructing viewers in the best way to approach Espinoza's film.

Everything here is deliriously daft. The hero has absurdly big hair, ridiculously baggy trousers, and spends more time broodily sulking (to the tune of David Bowie's 'Modern Love') than fighting, as though he is stuck in some teen romance. The background to Kalba's desire for revenge, drip-fed to us in a series of exotically coloured flashbacks, seems more akin to the erotic melodrama of some telenovela than to the secret origins story of a martial arts super villain. The hilarious mumbo-jumbo training sessions in the desert, set amidst painted psychedelic backdrops, and styled to resemble a spaghetti western (or El Topo), lead a confounded Zamir to complain, "but you haven't taught me to fight."

Espinoza holds back on the violence for so long and to such a degree that you almost forget that this is a martial arts movie, until the film's unexpectedly vicious climax, where CGI blood spatters, limbs fall, heads roll and there's even a reference to 2001's hyperviolent shock-fest Ichi The Killer. Viewers will wonder quite how on earth they got there - although as Soto points out, "it's just a trip".

Rocco's soundtrack rings the genre changes, allowing no opportunity for an over-the-top musical cue to go unmissed, from light rock guitar to harmonica-driven Ennio Morricone parodies to pan pipes, synth tones and full mambo brass. The action, when it eventually comes, is fast and furious, and Zaror more than proves himself a worthy newcomer in the brainless biffo stakes.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Daniela Lhorente, Man Soo Yoon, Marko Zaror, Alejandro Castillo, Alex Rivera, Miguel Angel De Luca, Luis Alarcón, Caterina Jadresic, Ximena Rivas, Roberto Avendano
  • Director: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
  • Screen Writer: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
  • Producer: Derek Rundell
  • Photographer: Victor J Atkin
  • Composer: Rocco

In a nutshell

Chile's first martial arts movie is a cheesy trip through 1980s excess, where genre quickly gets lost in the desert. It's knowingly daft fun with a violent sting in its tail.

by Anton Bitel

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