Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Mediocre
Sometimes the best plots are the ones that stick to a simple story and flesh out the characters in such a way that we really empathise with their journey. When it comes to Netflix’s latest martial arts flick Revenger, this Korean film nails the basic plot element but fails to elaborate any further than that. With a strange blend of Korean and English dialogue, a lack of characterisation and some questionable dialogue, Revenger relies heavily on its action set pieces to see it through to the finish line. It’s here where the film excels and some of the choreographed fights are very impressive indeed. Beyond that though, Revenger doesn’t have an awful lot going for it, paling in comparison to other martial art films.
The story itself begins at breakneck speed. A young child and his mother flee through the lush tropics of a jungle while being mercilessly hunted by thugs. This island is home to some of the deadliest criminals in Asia who have all been placed on this island to live out their sentences away from the bustling metropolis of Seoul. It’s at this point where we’re introduced to our silent protagonist, an ex detective who’s come to the island for one reason – to kill the man responsible for butchering his family. Along the way he kicks, punches and breaks the bones of anyone dumb enough to get in the way of his vengeance fueled crusade before the final fight and a narrated climax informing us what’s happened since this moment.
Mirroring the ex detective’s revenge mission, is young boy Jin’s own motives for going after the villain Kuhn. After his Father is mercilessly killed, Jin is desperate for revenge and this blood-lust reflects that seen in our silent protagonist. It’s a shame this isn’t explored further beyond the initial bond they have for killing the same man. With a few intimate moments between the two or even a shared fight scene, some of the later dramatic scenes may have had more emotional weight than they end up achieving.
It’s not all punching and kicking though, throughout the film there’s some light bits of humour from some of the supporting cast and a little background given to the various main characters through the use of flashbacks. Beyond that though, there isn’t a whole lot for Revenger to play with. In its most basic sense, this Korean film is a revenge story chock full of breathtaking fights and two-dimensional characters.
Despite the impressiveness of these action scenes – and some of them are extremely well shot and rehearsed – there’s a profound lack of emotion going into these thanks to the under-developed characters. When one of the supporting characters gets into a spot of bother we don’t really feel compelled to root for him to break free. When the ex detective is recovering from an earlier fight while the village is being attacked, there’s a profound sense of urgency around wanting him to wake up. The film lives and dies by its action scenes and when these are plentiful, Revenger thrives. During the moments it builds up tension and gives the characters its weird hybrid of English and Korean dialogue to pad out the film, it fails to deliver.
While the film is far from the lowly depths of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, it also pales in comparison to heavy hitters like Kill Bill, Hero and even Karate Kid. All of these films manage to mix well written characters with impressively shot action scenes.
Still, if you’re in the mood for some adrenaline-soaked, well shot fighting then you can’t really go wrong with Revenger. There were genuine moments where I was shocked; I audibly gasped during one particular moment involving a leg swipe to the knee. Some of the slapstick moments, including the comedic supporting characters running at an army, were amusing too and the general cinematography is slickly produced. It’s just a shame that the rest of the movie feels lifeless and lacklustre by comparison. Next to so many other films in this genre, Revenger is a missed opportunity and a difficult pill to swallow, especially given the incredibly intensity of the fighting on offer here.