One of my great failings as a human being is that I’ve never been much of a world traveler. But that’s okay, because who needs to actually go to far-off places when you can just watch kung fu movies?
Lately, I’ve been big into exploring what I call the Kung Fu of Many Nations. In addition to the standard Chinese and Japanese kung fu, I’ve seen French kung fu, German kung fu, Thai kung fu, Russian kung fu, Vietnamese kung fu, Australian kung fu, Indonesian kung fu, Italian kung fu, Filipino kung fu, and Korean kung fu. And if Mexican wrestling movies count as kung fu, then by God, I have seen Mexican kung fu. I honestly believe that there is only one thing that has the power to bring humanity together as a global family, and that is the universal language of motherfuckers getting kicked in the head.
The thing I love about kung fu movies from non-kung fu producing nations is the sheer chutzpah of it all. Making a kung fu movie is not a simple task. You need a lot of people with a lot of highly specific skills and enormous balls. And when you’re from somewhere that doesn’t really have much of a filmmaking infrastructure in place, it’s even harder. But that doesn’t stop some really dedicated, very insane people from putting their very lives on the line to get their feet in the door of international ass-kicking. And that’s what I love about today’s movie.
Kiltro is the very first Chilean kung fu movie I’ve ever seen, though I gather there are a few that came before and after it, all starring this same dude, Marko Zaror. He’s an award-winning stuntman (he got the Taurus for Best Overall Stunt for rolling down that cliff in The Rundown) who seems to have been building his own stunt school down in Chile for most of the decade. Based on Kiltro, I’m going to watch every single movie this guy makes until he pulls a Jackie Chan and starts making CGI comedies co-starring Jennifer Love Hewitt’s cleavage. I’m not saying that Chile is the new Thailand (the stunts are nowhere near as jaw-dropping, but give them time), but they’ve got a scrappy, don’t-give-a-fuck kind of energy that really appeals to me.
Since this is my first Chilean kung fu movie, I don’t know if they all start out with a robed dwarf hanging out in a cave, but this one sure does. We also get some mystical narration about how love is the source of hate and anger and all of mankind’s worst instincts. Then, to illustrate some of those instincts, it cuts right to one of those soul-killing neon-lit dance clubs full of people who were taught how to dress by Seth Green’s character in Can’t Hardly Wait. It’s truly terrifying. If this is the kind of shit that love causes, man, count me out.
There, we meet our hero, Zami. He’s a big goofy dude who likes to wear hoodies and raver pants that are so big on him that he looks like he’s melting. He also has the most unfortunate haircut I’ve ever seen on an action star who wasn’t Brian Bosworth. It’s this long, greasy WWF-looking mullet with the ends dyed bright red. But don’t worry, it’s all part of his character development. Although you are not expected to think he’s cool at this point in the movie, he does have sort of an Aztec nobility in his facial structure, with a big, proud, prominent nose. (I am tres français in that I believe that the nose is the soul of the face.) Combined with a beefy athleticism that makes you think that he probably smells like sweat every single second of his life, you right away believe that this character is capable of more than he’s currently displaying.
Which is good, because what he’s doing in that night club is staring angrily at this foxy Korean chick who’s dancing with a fratty-lookin’ douche named The Maniac. Zami challenges him to a fight the next day and knocks him the fuck out with one kick. It’s a sloppy little capoeira bout that takes place in some godforsaken post-urban wasteland. This fight is the movie’s great fake-out, because it’s so small and low-key that it gives no hint of the superpowered insanity to come.
See, what happened was, two years earlier, Zami rescued this girl Kim from some rapists, and he’s been in love with her ever since. But she won’t give him the time of day, probably because he keeps kicking the crap out of every guy who even looks at her. Even when he beats up every student in her father’s dojo with his own brand of clumsy but brutal street fighting, she isn’t interested. Her father tells him that he’s wasting his potential, especially since Zami’s father was a great martial artist (this comes as news to Zami).
So what we seem to have here is a teen wish-fulfillment movie where a loser has one special but seemingly useless skill (beating the living shit out of people) but nobody takes him seriously, especially the beautiful but quirky girl that he’s in love with. He’s like Ducky from Pretty In Pink if Ducky knew kung fu (Ducky totally should have known kung fu). So far, so corny. But the weird thing is, this shit actually works on its own terms. Maybe it’s because the movie takes place in the slums of Santiago, where there’s garbage in the streets and graffiti on every wall. It makes you give more of a shit about this dude’s problems than you would if he lived in some John Hughesian upper-middle-class wonderland. The excellent location work grounds the clichéd story in an exotic but down-to-earth reality.
So Zami’s friend is sick of seeing him moping around like a little bitch, so he brings him to see this Arab dude, who tells him a story of a guy whose love for a woman turned into possession, which then turned into fear. (This is what we used to call a "theme" in my college literature classes.) Zami says that he’s not afraid, so the Arab says, "Then you know what to do."
I didn’t think that was very helpful advice, but it turns out that Zami actually does know what to do. He goes right to the shop where Kim works and apologizes for beating up all of her boyfriends. Then he says the most romantic line that has ever been uttered in a kung fu movie (and possibly in any movie ever): "Every kick I’ve thrown has been for you." This chick’s heart must be made of adamantium or some shit for it not to melt right there. She should have been like, "You had me at ’kick.’" But no, instead, she tells him that she’s started dating The Maniac, and, in a stroke of total genius, the guitar-and-drums intro of David Bowie’s "Modern Love" kicks in and there’s one continuous tracking shot as Zami punch-dances out his despair by sprinting through the streets. I don’t know how this movie could afford the rights to this song, but I’d like to think that Bowie lowered his usual rate for this production because of his commitment to the advancement of the Kung Fu of Many Nations. If that’s the case, then B-Movie of the Day salutes you, David Bowie. If not, well, "Golden Years" is a pretty awesome song. You’ll always have that.
Then Count Dracula shows up with his posse of Flock of Seagulls vampires. Count Dracula is a tall bearded man with a cape and a rattail who likes to slice people up with his cane-sword. We’ve seen that before plenty of times, but as a bonus, he also likes to gouge out their gizzards with the claw handle of the cane, making great gouts of CGI squirt out. I didn’t realize that Chilean people bled zeroes and ones, but that just shows my ignorance.
Turns out that Count Dracula is this dude who is seeking revenge on all of the members of this mystical kung fu sect because one of them (Kim’s dad) stole his wife (Kim’s mom, deceased) from him many years ago. He’s the son-in-law of that advice-giving Arab dude (the cast is a real melting pot of South Americans, Asians, and Middle Easterners. Plus Count Dracula, who I believe is Romanian, if I’m not mistaken). So Count Dracula fucking destroys all of the students in Kim’s dad’s dojo (I don’t think Kim’s dad is a very good sensei. He seems like a cool guy, but I’m saying) and beats the shit out of Zami. Luckily, the dwarf from the beginning of the movie shows up and takes Zami and Kim back to his cave by the beach, but he can’t stop Count Dracula from kidnapping Kim’s dad and hanging him from the ceiling of his warehouse by hooks in his back, Ichi the Killer style. (No hot grease, though.)
Meanwhile, the dwarf, looking like a miniature little Charlton Heston, explains the whole deal to Zami and sends him to the north to get trained by this other sect member who may or may not really be Zami’s estranged father. Who knows? Always in motion is the future. When Zami asks why Yoda Moses can’t just kick Count Dracula’s ass himself, he says the best line in the movie: "Look at me. I’m old and I’m a dwarf." Which is a pretty good excuse for getting out of fighting Count Dracula, if you ask me. I’m gonna have to remember that one.
So Zami goes off on his quest. I don’t know how this movie managed to go from Golden State to Bulletproof Monk inside of five minutes, but it found a way, and I applaud it for that.
After Zami travels through some incredibly beautiful Chilean sunsets (it’s almost cheating to put a sunset in your movie), he finds his drunk maybe-dad, and there’s a lengthy training sequence out in a phony desert that looks like the set of Three Amigos. He takes some sort of hallucinogenic to temporarily wipe his memory clean, and there’s some pretty good cosmic hoodoo, mostly Buddhist-derived, with a little Native American mysticism throw in. It’s hard to do these kinds of scenes without making me think of On Deadly Ground, where Steven Seagal goes on a vision quest and fights his spirit bear, but I don’t blame Kiltro. That’s just what happens when you walk in the shadow of giants.
Anyway, Zami learns how to tap into his Z-state, which allows him to act without thought. That gives him super humongous ass-kicking powers, which come in handy because Count Dracula has finally gotten his shit together and kidnapped Kim.
So Zami paints himself up like the Ultimate Warrior and goes on the warpath. And that’s when the kung fu starts in earnest. He’s a big guy, six foot or so, but he can do crazy triple-kicks and full-air flips with no wires. I saw the training footage of this fight, and this dude is the real deal. He’s no Tony Jaa, but for his size, he’s pretty incredible. He takes out about a hundred guys in an alley, knocking some of them 20 feet through the air. He’s also got a blade on his heel that lets him cut like 50 throats in a row, filling the air with digital plasma. It’s kind of weird to think of the mopey bastard in the hoodie from the beginning of the movie chopping motherfuckers’ heads off without a second thought, but I guess that’s what the Z-state does for you. It’s like spiritual Red Bull.
Then there’s the final showdown with Count Dracula, accompanied by epic spaghetti western guitars that were clearly influenced by Robert Rodriguez’s Mariachi Trilogy. It’s a welcome change from the Zamfir music that was playing during the training montage, but really, even that wasn’t so bad. I like the music in this movie. It mostly sounds like real people playing real instruments, not some Casio shit like you usually get in low-budget action flicks.
Anyway, this is an excellent movie with a lot of heart, and it gets a big boost from some really incredible Chilean scenery. We get to see a lot of Chile, from the slums to the mountains, and it really is a gorgeous place. I don’t know why more movies don’t get shot in Chile. In fact, I don’t know anything about Chile. I’m just a spoiled American who spends all his time watching DVDs. Jesus Christ, I’m wasting my life. What a pathetic individual I am. In fact, fuck this blog. I’m gonna go do something with my time on this earth. See y’all in the Z-state.