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Monday, December 17, 2012

KILTRO -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review originally appeared online at in 2006.)

KILTRO (2006) is one of the best martial arts movies I've seen in a long time.  The best Chilean one, anyway.  It starts off looking like a garish 80s-style cheeseball flick, but this somehow adds to the overall likability of the film and makes its good qualities even more outstanding.

The main character, Zamir (Marko Zaror), is basically a big, well-meaning lug who comes off like one of those six-foot twelve-year-olds who matured too fast.  He's got a schoolboy crush on a pretty Korean girl named Kim (Caterina Jadresic) and beats up anyone who touches her, although she keeps giving him the big brush-off.  Maybe it's because he has a permanent hangdog expression, wears huge, floppy bellbottoms, and sports a really bad mullet that looks like it has orange chicken feathers hanging out of it.

Zami demonstrates his fighting skill early on by not only making quick work of Kim's new boyfriend, Maniac, but also by taking on all twenty students of the fighting school run by Teran, Kim's father.  Teran tells Zami that although he's good, the skills he's learned on the streets lack refinement and, without proper teaching, will never improve. 

During these early scenes it gradually becomes apparent that KILTRO has its own rough-hewn visual aesthetic that will also become more refined as it goes along.  After a particularly crushing rejection by Kim, there's a cool nighttime tracking shot of Zami shuffling dejectedly down an alley to the tune of Bowie's "Modern Love."  He turns onto the sidewalk and starts to run, picking up speed little by little until finally he's sprinting as fast as he can while the background blurs past and the camera flies to keep up with him.  (Later, when circumstances lead him on a long sojourn into the desert, the film surprises us with scenes of sweeping beauty.)

The story takes a dramatic turn with the arrival of Max Kalba (Miguel Angel De Luca), a steely-eyed, nattily-dressed killer whose claw-handled cane conceals a deadly sword.  This guy's intense, and looking for some serious CGI-blood-splattered revenge.  "Feel honored to be the first one," he mutters to an unfortunate soul he skewers when he gets to the school in search of Teran.  They have a long-standing score to settle which also involves Kim, Zami's father whom he never knew, and a Middle Eastern guy named Farah (Luis Alarcón).  I won't go into all the details, but suffice it to say that Kalba is super-pissed-off and itching for a little--no, make that a lot--of the old ultra-violence.

He lays waste to Teran and all of his students without breaking a sweat, and when Zami shows up to defend Kim, Kalba offs his crew and kicks his ass, too.  The injured Zami is cared for by a robed dwarf named Nik Nak who is one of the last remaining members of a secret sect of invincible warriors, the Zetas, to which Zami's father also belonged.  Nik Nak sends him into the desert to be trained by the mysterious master Soto until he's ready to return for a final reckoning with Kalba and his gang of thugs.  This sequence is filled with the usual mystical mumbo-jumbo ("There is no technique", "Velocity does not exist", etc.) but also some welcome comedy as Zami stumbles his way through the early sessions until he's fully pumped, able to snatch the pebble from his master's hand, and ready to return for a final rock 'n' roll rumble with the bad guys.

To enter the building where Kalba is holding Kim and her father hostage, Zami has to go through dozens of opponents at once, and it's an exhilarating fight scene.  The CGI blood spray has an anime look to it as Zami uses his razor-sharp spurs to kick and slash his way through the horde of attackers.  The choreography and editing here are awesome.  A bonus featurette shows these guys in the gym practicing their moves for the fight, and there's a live-action storyboard in which the entire sequence was taped and edited to serve as a template for the finished version. 

Marko Zaror's Zami is funny because he's so serious, and cool because he's so uncool.  Miguel Angel De Luca is a formidable presence as Kalba, making him one of the most interesting and intimidating villains in recent cinema.  Their final face-off has a Sergio Leone flavor to it, right down to the music, and it's every bit as exciting as the Neo vs. Agent Smith subway battle in THE MATRIX--minus the distracting special effects--with a coup de grace that's delightfully inspired.

Although the middle section is rather slow going at times, it's kept interesting by some beautifully photographed flashbacks of the young Kalba (a well-cast Pablo Cerda) enduring the tragic circumstances that turned him into such a huge stinker.  And the stunning fight sequences in the last act, buoyed by fine performances all around and the audacious direction of Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, bring what is already a highly-entertaining flick to a dazzling finish.  KILTRO may not make Chile the new Hong Kong, but it's definitely a kick in the right direction.

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