Starring Marco Antonio Alvarez, Dennis Ruel, O.G Dave Rivera, Morgan Benoit, Steven Yu, Ed Kahana Jr., E. Ambriz De Colosio, Stacey Rose, Justin Perez
Fight Choreography by Dennis Ruel
Directed by Jose Montesinos
Big things…often start small. That’s an adage that is appropriate to this film. Jose Montesinos has been making indie martial arts films for a bit now, and here he comes with a feature film that FINALLY puts Hispanic-American martial artists front and center, in much the same way that Blood and Bone did the same for African-American martial artists. It’s about damn time, but that doesn’t mean it will be a good martial arts film.
So is it a good film?
Damn right it is.
The film stars Marco Antonio Alvarez as Carlos Castillo, a martial arts teacher who finds himself in rough times: his wife has left him, and they are on the verge of divorce, while the bills start to pile up in his dojo, which just isn’t making enough money. Carlos is also trying pay for his grandmother’s medical bills at the same time. He’s a great sensei and a good man whose life has just taken a bit of a nosedive. He goes to his brother Ricky (Ruel) a ne’er-do-well who works at a bar owned by Morales, a local drug lord who is getting into the unsanctioned underground fight ring. Ricky gets Carlos to enter the fights, and Carlos, who despises such fights, enters them grudgingly, and later to his regret as he finds that Ricky’s problems with Morales quickly become his. Soon Carlos must make a choice between his principles as a martial artist and helping his brother. Can he save Ricky without losing himself? And is Ricky worth saving?
Jose Montesinos has a winner here, and it all starts with the cast. Marco A. Alvarez is great as Carlos. I connected with the character immediately, and could sympathize with the hole he found himself in before things get bad. Alvarez plays Carlos as a genuinely good man, and he wears the conflict over his decisions on his face. A great performance, and does well with the fights, but more on that later. Dennis Ruel is perfect as Ricky. He’s a likable character who is just a classic F***up, and we all know a guy like him. He makes bad choice after bad choice, but never did I actually hate the character because of it, and that’s due to Ruel’s performance. O.G. Dave Rivera is an absolute snake as Morales, and plays being such an asshole to the hilt, as is Colosio as Morales’ right hand man Ruiz. The story, while yes, is a tournament-style martial arts film, it tells its story well, and having well-rounded characters can do that, and at no point did any character do something out of character, which I’ve seen in too many films of this type.
The fights are all excellently shot, and while the locations could have been better (most of it is in a warehouse, but the final fight is in a really nice location) the fights themselves are great. The choreography is fast and smooth, and combines MMA-style with traditional martial arts much as Donnie Yen did with SPL (Killzone). I cheered during the final fight as I saw perfect examples of limb destruction, rarely seen in modern martial arts films, so kudos to Dennis Ruel on a terrific job!
This film is further proof that a big budget isn’t needed to make a good martial arts film! It isn’t a perfect martial arts film, but nevertheless it’s a damn good one.
Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8.5
An excellent film from Jose Montesinos that kicks all kinds of ass with great martial arts fight scenes and also has a great heart to boot! Alvarez and Ruel are the real deal.