Tag Archives: Jesse V. Johnson

Cinema-Maniac: The Debt Collector (2018)

In 1986, there was a Hong Kong movie called A Better Tomorrow that influenced a entire film industry, and was the first of many collaboration between actor Chow Yun-Fat, and John Woo. While it’s uncertain the collaboration between Scott Adkins, and director Jesse V. Johnson will have any kind of effect on the direct to video action business. They certainly are leaving a mark already. From Savage Dog (2017) an ambition action movie with a historical background that’s solid, to the surprisingly good comic good adaptation of Accident Man (2018), and now a film with direct inspiration from buddy cop movies with The Debt Collector (2018). Adding on to the list of good films under their collaboration.

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Sue: “See this towel? It’s for you after the beating I’ll give you.”

The Debt collector follows classically-trained martial artist French (Scott Adkins), who goes to work as a mob debt collector in order to save his gym. This synopsis sounds like something out of a early 90s action flick, and in some ways pays homage to that. Teaming French up with experience mob debt collector Sue (Louis Mandylor). Starting the relationship in predictable, but well executed fashion of the two not getting along, and over time striking a closer friendship. The banter between French, and Sue keeps the film proceeding events engaging when action isn’t on screen. Making wisecracks at each other expense, talking about the moral lines that should never be crossed in their line of work, sharing a bit about themselves, and some very subtle references to some of the actors previous works for fans to catch. Also, some tongue in cheek lines to the sorts of movies it burrows from.

What simply starts as a series loosely strung together events do lead up to a overarching story. It takes halfway through the movie before it gets there being more incline to be character driven than story driven. Slowly having French, and Sue engage in various scenarios all of which end up going south. Mixing tightly choreographed action sequences, comedy, and the occasional characterization into it many scenarios. Once the overarching story becomes a mainstay it’s also another predictable path. Leading to French to further if what the job requires of him is actually worth it. There’s the part of learning about his target making him reconsider his job. Coming together in a climax with a unexpected outcome for a movie starring Scott Adkins, and even more surprising is the ending. It’s an ending ultimately suits the story for how far both French, and Sue went for their job by having actual consequences movies it is homaging wouldn’t go for. Earning it’s ending by having its characters question what they do, and taking the time to delve into that. However, it does mean anyone expecting the usual triumphant Scott Adkins climax in this movie will be disappointed when not receiving it.

One noticeable misstep in its early goings is completely ignoring the whole save the gym motivation for French as the film progresses. It does kick off the plot in a organic fashion, but a more personal driven motivation would have serve a greater purpose in the long run, especially considering the course it final act takes. Briefly touching on the value French gym has to him will suffice initially since it’s a fun throwback action flick. That is until you reach the final act where it changes course, and the undercooked motivation weakness comes into full effect. Aside from this misstep in the beginning, just about the only other major drawback would be the uneven structure. Half of the movie is packed with action sequences one right after the other, and the other half takes a drastic turn into the dramatic side with some splices of comedy. Taking into account the story’s intention it misdirecting the viewer works in it favor. Well, mostly. Throughout the movie, you see stock footage of cows eventually being taken to get slaughter. It’s on the noise in it’s message delivery, and far from subtle as the closing lines hammer its point home.

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Despite low budgets, Adkins is always reliable on the action side for excitement

Scott Adkins takes the lead as French with his British accent. This role allows Adkins to stretch more of acting chops than his usual role, though isn’t given any heavily dramatic scenes. The most dramatic he’ll get is letting out a sigh of exhaustion. While his dramatic scenes are lacking what isn’t is Adkin capturing the straight man characteristic of his role. Managing to be convincing as someone out of his element. Where he does deliver the most is where it counts (besides the action sequences) is with his co-star Louis Mandylor. Adkins rough straight man attitude compliments nicely against Mandylor sleazy has been demeanor. Mandylor easily outshines Adkins since the material provides him opportunities for his character to be more intimate with those around him There’s also intensity in Mandylor which he captures perfectly in his eyes when he has to get his hands dirty. Their chemistry is the film biggest strength creating something that feels genuine in the actor comradeship with each other. It’s unlikely you’ll care a deal about the characters, but you’ll definitely find the duo entertaining if nothing else.

The supporting cast will largely go unnoticed since all of them get push to the wayside because of the film’s story. Only Jack Lowe is able to leave much of an impression in a small role since his character is begging for his life. Showing an ease to become a character with not a lot to chew on. Biggest surprise is easily Tony Todd. He doesn’t get plenty of screen time, but visibly has fun in his brief appearance. Then there’s Vladimir Kulich in a bigger role who also doesn’t have much screen time, though he’s enjoyable if only for the fact Adkins is once again playing a character who works for Kulich. Other than that, the supporting cast do fine in their small roles that do prevent nearly all of them from being able to shine does also mean the acting in general is better than average in your direct to video action films.

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This movie has a of Scott Adkins driving people

When it comes the action side, fight choreography is handle by Luka LaFontaine (also responsible for the fights in Savage Dog) goes for a more grounded treatment to better fit its movie. Meaning, restraining Adkins from using many of his high flying maneuvers in favors of a more brawler like approach. Thankfully, LaFonatine is more than capable to get creative with his fight choreography. Since Adkins typically fight with men taller, and bigger than him this makes fight scenes eventful as none of them go down easily. LaFonatine is able to corporate some clever counter moves into his grounded choreographed fights without them feeling out of place. Seeing Scott Adkins get fling into a wall when someone blocks his punches, or seeing Adkins get slammed multiple time on a bar table when the person he’s fighting him won’t let his go of his grip is nicely worked in. Adkins receives plenty blows in the film requiring his character to either fight out of a scenario where he’s out number 3 to 1, or use something in his environment to get the upper hand. The action choreography is perhaps the least complex Adkins ever performed, but it’s shot nicely, and edited together nicely to make them entertaining nonetheless. The film does have one gunfight towards the end, and it’s pretty laughable it continues the tradition of people constantly missing at point blank range in Adkins direct to video action films. It’s further highlighted by the fact that Adkin character background, but it’s still an enjoyable gunfight in spite of that leap in logic.

The Debt Collector proves that Jesse V. Johnson, and Scott Adkins compliment each other really well. Jesse V. Johnson molds a story, and character that are engaging while allowing Adkins a departure from his usual roles, and letting the action experts do their thing. Adkins is able to rely more on his acting, and is able to hold his own against Louis Mandylor who takes the spotlight from him. When it comes to the action side Adkins is always reliable on that front, but here it’s nice to see him shine in a different way. Jesse V. Johnson, and Scott Adkins shortcomings in their fields are evident, but their understanding of each other strengths compliment each other in the films they make, and that’s make them an effective team. Producing far better films than you would expect from the direct to video market.

Rating: 7/10

Cinema-Manic: Savage Dog (2017) Review

There was a time where straight to home video action films were the absolute worst the action genre could provide. Nowadays the notion hasn’t changed, but there’s been a steady rise in quality thanks to talented filmmakers knowing what to provide to its audience, and without it feeling like a cheap cash grab. One actor in the forefront in these straight to home video action movies is Scott Adkins. An actor who appears in some big budget movies in bit roles like Doctor Strange (2016), and The Expendable 2 (2012), but is mostly stuck in lower budget efforts. The trait most of these lower budget efforts share is Scott Adkins always work with competent directors whom also share his desire to make the best possible film despite their limitations. Sometime they work as mindless entertainment like with Ninja 2: Shadow of A Tear (2013), and Close Range (2015), while duds like El Gringo (2012), and Eliminators (2016) being just as common in his filmography. One thing his film can be counted on for is supplying good action sequences, and thankfully Savage Dogs falls into the category of Adkins better films.

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Adkins: “They won’t release me until I improve my acting.”

Savage Dog is set in 1959 Indochina, following Martin Tilman (Scott Adkins), who is due for release from Den-Dhin-Chan labor camp run by Vietnamese warlords and European war criminals, but the corrupt forces running the jail will do everything in their power to keep him locked down. Telling a simplistic story in its heart, but aiming higher than it could achieve. The first half of the film focuses more on developing characters, and trying to tell a story about finding a purpose. Using the first half purely as buildup to eventually rein in the carnage the second half of the movie will be dedicated too. While the sentiment is admirable, the execution is simplistic on all front. Characters are typically shady, and money hungry all in the effort to evade consequences for betraying their country. It sounds like these characters have depth to them. In actuality, that’s about as far is it goes for developing most of it characters whom just meant to add to Tilman body count. It easier to root for our ex-British officer whom is hunted down by his own country when one of your villains is a ex-Nazi. Also, characters reiterating multiple time their all ex whatever of a certain country helps too.

In spite of a runtime of 94 minutes, the pacing is generally slow, but works in service of the movie. This does negatively affect some aspect of the story, like Martin Tilman romantic relationship that is meant to be the dramatic core of the film doesn’t work. Most of the bonding between Tilman, and his lover is glossed over. The other aspect of Martin Tilman that is tackle somewhat well is Tilman looking for purpose in his life. Evolving from his introduction into a satisfactory character arc. Aspects of Tilman past are kept limited, and to the point. Supporting characters are fine. Isabelle (Juju Chan) arc revolves around her believing in the good of people, and keeping that belief. She doesn’t grow beyond her introduction, and mostly serves the role of just being the love interest. One other positive could be Isabelle doesn’t become a damsel in distress, but at the same time it means she becomes useless to the story after the first half of the movie is done.

The only other character left to mention is Valentine (Keith David) whom also serves the film narrator whenever needed. Out of everything in the writing, Valentine narration is easily its biggest fault. Whereas the previous faults mention contributed somewhat positively to the bigger picture, Valentine’s narration could have been entirely removed. Sometimes stating the obvious, and sometime summarizing the purpose of a scene in a couple of sentences. For example, when there’s a scene of Isabelle, and Tilman relationship becoming more romantic, Valentine tells the audience exactly what they’re seeing. Same with when Tilman is brutally fighting as a bouncer against some unwelcome guest, and Valentine’s states (paraphrasing) that something savage has awaken within Tilman. Quite insightful in stating the obvious. Most silly of all, is given the fate of Valentine’s character he’s basically narrating from beyond the grave leading to some confusion. Sure, revealing the death of Valentine’s character could be considered a spoiler, but given his only purpose is get to killed, and provide pointless narration it’s better to have you prepare beforehand about that odd narrative choice.

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So, this is Colonel Sanders with a clean shave.

Lastly, the second half of the film is where it finally picks up. Seeing Tilman embraces his anger, and seeing him kill a dozen, or so people like a one man army is it biggest strength. Narratively, the first half did a competently enough job to make this action onslaught satisfying. The hero is easy to root for, and the villains are easily detestable. Unfortunately, the first half is a hindrance with very little interesting things happening. Since the material never raises to the level it wants, die hard fans of Scott Adkins movies, or action junkies can endure the rough first half, but the average viewer isn’t as likely to stick around. For those who stick around will receive everything they could want from a lower budget action film starring Scott Adkins, even if it takes a while to get there.

Scott Adkins takes the lead as Martin Tilman. In terms of acting, Adkins takes a wholly serious role. Unlike his usual film, his cockiness that he portrays in some of his roles is absent here. Removing part of his charm that can be found in El Gringo (2012), and Accident Man (2018). When wholly serious, Adkins limited range of acting shows a lot, especially in the first half. Struggling to displays the years of violence, and yearning for a purpose Tilman is meant to have. Some of Adkins weak acting is hidden by having him participate in some fight sequences in the first half where believing Adkins is a expert fighter is easy to accept. Believing Adkins is a lost soul of sort is a pill not as easy to swallow. However, in the second half of the film, Adkins improves as the stunt work, and action sequences he’s good as performing become more prevalent than his dramatic chops. Adkins lack of strong acting chops is forgivable since the second half highlights his strength better.

Supporting cast on the other hand come off as decent. For instant, Juju Chan whom plays Isabelle does good all her dramatic scenes. It’s night, and day how easily Juju Chan can emote in her delivery compare to Adkins. However, she’s also quite a capable actress able to work within Adkin limited dramatic chops to make a scene work better than it should. Just like the rest of the cast, the only issue I have with her acting is it’s mostly one note. Keith David whom plays Valentine delivers a good performance. He’s able to be more loose since his character isn’t as serious compare to everyone else. However, his best part of acting is when he’s narrating, giving some power to his narration, even if it’s ultimately pointless.

Finally, the cast of evildoers themselves. Vladimir Kulich is easily the best actor among them, though because of bad writing he reiterates the same dialogue multiple times throughout the film. He performs the role of a ex-Nazi without hamming it up, or being cartoonish. Marko Zaror plays another one of the baddie, as well as being the only other person, besides Cung Le, who can stand evenly with Adkins. Performance wise, both Zaror, and Cung Le are mostly one note. Cung Le has to come across as intimidating while Zaror somewhat has to give off a similar vibe. They do decently since they aren’t required to express much in their characters like Scott Adkins.

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Explosions make Adkins sleepy.

When it comes to action, Savage Dog tries to be more realistic than Adkins usual film. Just a bit so the usual high kicks, and more elaborate martial art fight sequences Adkins is known for are tone down. Yet, don’t become a detriment to the action sequences. What partially makes up for this is sometime seeing gore within the action sequences. There’s isn’t a lot of gore, but when seeing the sight of a man face getting blown off by a shotgun at point blank range in a close up shot, or seeing Adkins decapitate someone’s head what gore it has truly satisfies. Not to forget some of the gore special effects are surprisingly good despite the film obvious, limited resources.

The fight sequences in the film are easily the standout of the film. They make up a majority of the action bits. Fight sequences in the first half are entirely one sided having Adkins easily beat whoever he’s fighting. Adkins fight are more of a bare-knuckle variety mostly punching his opponent with maybe the occasional kick. Just when you think you’re tire of seeing similar looking fight scenes. The second half allows Adkins to fight tougher opponent on two occasion. One of them is against Cung Le who gives Adkins a good beating. Unfortunately, the fight between Cung Le, and Adkins ends anticlimactically. Granted, the way it ends makes sense in context, but it just strange it chooses this moment to go against action movies norms.

The final confrontation between Adkins, and Marko Zaror is also a good one. It’s the only time in the film where Adkins has to overcome a foe whom has the upperhand in a fight. Unlike previous fights, the “realism” is slightly more removed here whenever both Adkins, and Zaror trade blows with knives. It doesn’t end the film on a bang since nothing elaborate is done in the film, but it does provide the film final moment of gore before ending which is probably one of the best moments in Scott Adkins career.

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How much get can I get for this head?

The other action set pieces typically have Adkins blowing holes into peoples with guns, and barely getting hit with bullets non-stop. Gunplay is more interesting than your average action movie with Adkin seemingly being quick enough to dodge gunfire regardless of what gun is being used against him. Seeing someone get shot is made satisfying when seeing blood squib explode in small amount. Only negative to the action sequence requiring Adkins basically taking out an entire army at their base is the low budget here becomes the most apparent. Throughout the movie, the small budget is concealed well enough, but this particular set piece instead of seeing dozen of men go after Adkins at once you likely see at most 3, or 4 go after Adkins. It doesn’t feel like Adkins took out an entire army. However, that’s a small complaint against it. Jesse V. Johnson knows how to crafts, and capture action satisfactory.

Savage Dog ambition is never met, but is far better than your average straight to home video action film. Offering a refreshing setting, solid acting among the cast, and some good action sequences with the rare moments of gore to enjoy once the carnage kicks in. It’s a not a film I would give a general recommendation since it’s faults easily can ruin the experience for an average viewer. At 94 minutes, for fans of action cinema craving for another solid flick, or fans of Scott Adkins this is recommended to check out.

6/10