Chile (2014) Dir. Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
We’ve seen Martial Arts heroes arise from all corners of the globe over recent years and now it is Chile’s turn, as genre director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza teams up with martial artist and stuntman Marko Zaror to bring us this action packed and rather gruesome tale of vengeance and religious doctrine.
Ricky Pardo (Zaror) is a former hitman for a major drug cartel but after the death of his wife and child at the hands of a dangerous criminal known as The Scorpion (Jose Luis Mosca), he now wanders the streets of Santiago and takes out criminal gangs in the hope of redeeming for his sins will allow him to reunite with his wife and child in Heaven.
When Pardo wipes out a gang who attacked fisherman Agustin (Mauricio Diocares), whom they believe stole a bag of money belonging to their boss, American drug dealer Steve Bradock (Noah Segan), Pardo becomes a target of his henchmen, led by Piedra (Smirnow Boris). As Pardo continues to annihilate Piedra’s men, news of his efforts reaches The Scorpion who is not pleased Pardo is still alive.
A derivative sounding plot unquestionably, but to be fair to Espinoza and his three co-writers, they are able to eke out the truth behind Pardo’s vengeful motives, providing a pivotal twist to explain how he came to seek his redemption. Throughout the film, slivers of this backstory are shown via hazy flashbacks – none of them particularly pretty – in a deliberately non-linear fashion to toy with our judgement, working all the better for it.
Pardo doesn’t say much, but his actions speak sufficiently about the tortured soul that hides behind a grubby grey hoodie and sports a huge tattoo of the Crucifixion on his back. Every day, Pardo kneels before a makeshift altar, kisses a bullet with a scorpion drawn on it, then plays Russian Roulette, using a pistol given to him by The Scorpion as revealed in one of the flashbacks.
Clearly, luck is on Pardo’s side since he hasn’t blown a hole in his head yet otherwise this would be a very short film. It is not made clear if Pardo was religious prior to this but his current M.O is to visit the church and hear the pleas of the people before showing up and decimating the local scum. Before he does, Pardo tells them to kneel before God and ask forgiveness, which doesn’t happen so he passes judgement with his fists instead
Whilst I am not fully conversant with the bible, I would have thought “Thou shalt not kill” would be a primary instruction adhered to by a devout follower but Pardo really doesn’t heed this, and with a delicious blend of martial arts and flat out brutal violence, he metes out his punishment in spectacularly vicious fashion – in fact, I’ve seen slasher horror films with less gore than this!
To add some contrived emotional drama to the story, Pardo takes Agustin to hide out with his conveniently attractive single mum neighbour Antonia (Loreto Aravena), whose young son is need of an undisclosed transplant she can’t afford. Since Agustin did find Bradock’s money while fishing which he hid in the church, it would be more than enough to pay for young Tommy’s operation but Pardo thinks it should be returned to Bradock.
In case you were wondering, the one plot convention that isn’t satiated here is the usual romantic frisson between Pardo and Antonia, whilst Agustin is much older and less good looking so it won’t happen there either. Pardo is too self-absorbed and aloof to show affection for anyone, having been traumatised by the loss of his wife, who of course, just happens to look like a supermodel.
A role like Pardo isn’t much of a stretch for a former pro-fighter turned stuntman turned actor like Marko Zaror, which is exposed by the way he looks the part but doesn’t know how to properly emote. The flashbacks sequences require more acting than the present day timeline, but the reality is the action is clearly his forte.
Serving as co-producer and fight choreographer, Zaror – who once doubled for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – has some sweet moves that rely mostly on close combat and MMA style offence, with a blend of old fashioned Martial Arts kicking. Hardcore grapple fans will enjoy one fight in particular, a holds based contest with Zaror and his opponent breaking out body scissors, cross arm breakers and Judo chokes in search of a victory.
Yet for all the violence and exciting scrapes the one thing that is surprisingly played down is the religious aspect. Because Pardo has scant dialogue he doesn’t proselytise or calm himself with scriptures; his daily rituals and search for forgiveness amounts to the sum of his piety. It might have been more amusing if he was a Priest in full smock and dog collar kicking ass but some might find that offensive.
By way of compensation, Antonia is hinted at not being devout Agustin, and in what feels like an inserted consideration to this aspect of the main premise, she has a quite chat with Agustin about faith and redemption. Antonia concludes that true salvation is “accepting you are both good and bad” then proceeds to steal Bradock’s money to pay for Tommy’s operation! Hallelujah!
Bad guy Bradock, played by the other co-producer Noah Segan, is the totem caricature of the film, a smarmy, wise cracking cocky Yank with an ego as big as his luxurious apartment. His sense of self-importance and indestructibility should mean we are longing to see him get his but lest we forget, The Scorpion is the true villain here and boy, is he a nasty one.
Last minute plot twist aside Redeemer plays out exactly as you might expect it to while failing to commit to the pious nature of its central premise. That said the action is hard hitting, gloriously sadistic and Zaror can kick serious butt, all inside 86 minutes.