When star Marko Zaror and writer/director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza team up, you damn well better believe we’re paying attention. When this Chilean duo gets together, we get movies like Kiltro, Mandrill, and Redeemer, among others, and rarely does Zaror get to shine as brightly as he does in these films. (Unless he’s facing off against Scott Adkins.) And their latest venture, Fist of the Condor, delivers just what fans want and expect.
Plot wise, Fist of the Condor lifts from countless classic kung fu movies. There’s a secret text, handed down from one warrior guardian to the next, which contains a mystical technique. Various interested parties—some with pure motives, others with greedy corrupt ones—hope to acquire said book for their own ends. Zaror, as El Guerrero, leads this charge against his estranged twin brother, the current caretaker of the manuscript. The story hits tons of familiar beats, there’s the quest, betrayal, revenge, a blood feud between siblings, a martial arts school on top of a mountain, rigorous training montages, and, of course, fights galore.
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Also liberally sprinkling in spaghetti western tropes, this all essentially serves as a delivery system for Marko Zaror’s spin-kicking badassery. And isn’t that why we decided to watch this in the first place? It’s simple, straight-forward, to the point, and, most of all, effective. Zaror, who also handled the fight choreography, puts his physical attributes on full display. A chiseled specimen—it’s abundantly clear how he was able to once stunt double Dwayne Johnson—his intricate, elegant, high-flying skills are among the best currently working in martial arts cinema. (There’s a good reason he pops up on John Wick 4 among so many other genre luminaries—those in the know, know.)
The quality of the action and the dexterity and expertise of those involved in the on-screen fisticuffs is what this movie is all about and more than makes up for any shortcomings. Like the films it emulates, and like previous Zaror/Espinoza team ups, this is low-budget, working-on-a-shoestring filmmaking and comes with pitfalls inherent in these circumstances. It’s often sparse and threadbare and held together with stray bits of wire the filmmakers scraped together. And the pace does flag for a time in the middle, focusing on a few overly long, admittedly silly training montages and a handful of underdeveloped subplots. (Out of nowhere one of the Zaror brothers has a family in a thread that’s supposed to create emotional oomph, but mostly peters out in unsatisfying fashion.)
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When the opening credits pop up, you may notice that the full title is Fist of the Condor: Chapter One. That fact becomes abundantly clear as the film moves toward its conclusion. Instead of leading to a Zaror versus Zaror climax, which appears to be the saga’s ultimate goal, Chapter One builds to a showdown between El Guerrero and a man best described as evil kung fu Daniel Stern, the top student of the rival brother. Make no mistake, it’s a strong fight, but after a quick 80-minute run time, the conclusion does leave you with a feeling of unfinished business.
Is Fist of the Condor primarily of interest to extant fans of DTV and international action? Absolutely. And such devotees will find much to enjoy and celebrate, though there may be wider appeal. Marko Zaror continues to prove just how badass he is and this most recent outing with Espinoza sees them running wild and free and swinging big. Fingers crossed for Chapter Two because I want to see how Zaror manages to kick himself in the face. [Grade: B]
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