By: John M Jerva
STARRING: Ken Zheng, Sean Patrick Flanery, Madeline Zima, John Savage, Tony Todd and Keith David
Directed By: Livi Zheng and Ken Zheng
Jian (Ken Zheng) is a counter terrorism agent who blends his skills as a martial artist and clairvoyant to bring the world’s most nefarious individuals to justice. This lone wolf is forced to make an unexpected detour to Los Angeles upon receipt of the devastating news of a cover up surrounding his brother’s alleged suicide. With the reluctant help of LAPD detectives, Abby (Madeline Zima), Carl (Tony Todd), and Captain Duke (Keith David), the unlikely group become involved in the investigation. Jian and Abby fight against a high-tech criminal (Sean Patrick Flanery) looking to exploit the brothers’ gifts in his quest for power.
THE REVIEW: First of all, I have to give a special shout out to my good friend and fellow contributir david j. moore for putting this film on my radar. david was honored with visiting the set of the new martial arts actioner Insight a few years ago and was able to give my site a lot of exclusives including interviews, images and more. I have to be honest when I say that before David notified me of this movie, I didn’t know anything about the filmmaking team of siblings Ken Zheng and Livi Zheng. The brother/sister team first made waves with their inaugural effort Brush With Danger back in 2015 and now they are back with this latest offering that blends martial arts fight action with a supernatural twist. Furthermore, Ken Zheng is not a household name but hopefully in the future, more people will learn about him as the man has some pretty solid on screen fighting skills. Ken, who at first looks like he’s 13, has a stoic presence and although his acting is a little wooden, I think he’s got a future in the business and his sister Livi who helmed the pic along with Ken definitely has an eye for VOD action and in these times, this type of throwback, old school practical filmmaking is a sight for sore eyes.
With Insight, we see Ken star as Jian Huang, who along with his brother Bao played by Jonny Siew are two brothers who have a special gift of clairvoyance as they can see things and know things that regular people cannot. After surviving an abusive upbringing at the hands of their father, the two brothers have grown up to become members of a special ops unit. Unfortunately Bao didn’t want to be a part of it and eventually gets away with a former operative named Wallace (Flanery) who is now rogue and runs a software company named Vortex. Afer a mission to apprehend a terrorist along with his superior Frank (Savage), Jian learns that Bao commited suicide. Knowing things about Bao, Jian automatically assumes that there’s more to the story so he sets off to LA to find out what really happened to his brother and take down those responsable. Along the way, he teams up with police detective Abby (Zima) and the two begin to peel back the layers of a bigger conspiracy headed by Wallace who is certainly behind Bao’s death and is looking to obtain Jian for what he can do.
At first glance, Insight is just another entry in the DTV action market and if you compare this film to The Raid, then it fails in comparison of course but standing on its own, the flick is a pretty entertaining fight pic which should satisfy fans who are looking for their next fix on a Saturday night. The main reason for this is Ken Zheng. Even though Zheng’s acting isn’t the strongest selling point, his martial arts skills definitely are and with that he excels in the film’s many sequences of fisticuffs. Zheng clearly has skill and skill to spare and looks comfortable in the stuntwork. His acting comes off as a little wooden but his physical acting makes up for it and with a little spit and shine, he can certainly headline many more of this type of action film.
The Zhengs come loaded with some star power here as they have included such genre favorites as Young Indiana Jones himself Sean Patrick Flanery as well as Tony “Candyman” Todd, John Savage and the always dependable Keith David who serves up an extended cameo performance as Captain Duke. All four men are pros and they take the material they are given and give it their all just like always, Flanery is certainly having fun as the diabolical Wallace while Savage is spot on as Jian’s leader Frank. Todd brings his usual helping of gravitas to his role of Abby’s partner Carl and it’s always a welcome sight to see any of these actors in a movie by themselves, let alone all four of them in one. Madeline Zima is a solid partner for Jian as Abby and she even gets to throwdown a little in the film’s many chase sequences.
Insight is a short affair clocking in at just one hour and twenty minutes so there isn’t a lot of down time and like I said earlier, there is enough action to keep fans interested throughout. Character development is always sacrifised when a movie is short but thankfully the Zhengs delve deeper into Jian’s history with his brother to make you want to care about them and in the end see the bad guys get what’s coming to them. The movie isn’t going to win any awards but it serves its purpose and the practical aspect to it harkens back to the old days before CGI took over.
The action is plentiful and here we have an army of fight and stunt coordinators who contributed to it which include Koby Azarly (Maximum Ride), Ron Balicki (Alita: Battle Angel), Brad Bovee (Equilibrium), David Boushey (Brush With Danger), Kieran Gallagher (Black Water), Jeff Pruitt (Mission Of Justice), Phillip Tan (Killing Hasselhoff) and Travis Wong (SEAL Team). You can tell that the fight scenes were a thing of love for all involved and even though the budget isn’t as extensive as some films, it still entertains and the extended altercation between Jian and an army of hoods that starts out in an apartment bulding before eventually flowing into the streets and a warehouse is the showstopper of the movie. David J. Moore actually had the opportunity to talk to Travis Wong about his contribution and you can read the full interview here.
Like I said, it’s not The Raid but then is any movie equal to those films? For what it’s worth, Insight knows what kind of indie movie it is and it plays to its strengths which is the fight action. This movie along with Brush With Danger is one hell of an audition for Zheng and he should be given the opportunity to make more of these. One drawback is the climatic fight between Zheng and Flanery. It ends quickly and knowing that Flanery is also an accomplished martial artist, I was left with wanting more from their inevitable throwdown.
Behind the camera, Ken’s sister Livi directs with a flair that is needed in VOD action entries and she knows how to shoot the angles and gives her brother ample opportunity to showcase what he’s got. It shouldn’t be a surprise as Livi is a martial artist as well and she even starred along with Ken in Brush With Danger where she got to kick a lot of ass as well. Here, she’s strictly behind the lens but her skills in fighting and filmmaking are apparent that she has an eye for these things and given a bigger budget, should really wow an audience with she can do.
All in all, at the end of the day, Insight isn’t a movie that will find a huge audience and that’s a shame because even though there are flaws, the people in front of and behind the camera really care about the finished product and the Zhengs show us that they have a knack of making something out of nothing. You’ll find reviews that’ll bash the movie because of what’s not right but I urge you to look past that and see the film that I saw which is a fast paced, beat ’em up thriller that highlights an up and coming action hero in Ken Zheng. There’s a lot of bad DTV/VOD offerings out there but with Insight, we are given a simple movie that kicks ass and does what it’s suppose to do. After all, a movie’s sole responsiblity is to entertain and for 80 minutes, this reviewer was.
VERDICT: 3 Out Of 5 STARS
INSIGHT is now availabvle on Digital and VOD as well as select theaters courtesy of Gravitas Ventures!