By: John M Jerva
THE REVIEW: Indie action cinema is a tricky thing to say the least. It is understandable that most lower budgeted affairs have an uphill battle as they never really have the money or the production time to really and fully realize their vision. I, for one, review films based on the knowledge at hand and always look for the silver lining as many individuals poured a lot of blood, sweat and tears into making the film.
I was immediately drawn to the new film Fast Vengeance which is a cross between the Fast and Furious films and Torque as it featured DMX in his last role and also included some good names in the indie circuit like Natalie Burn and Jeff Fahey. I also was excited to see that actor, martial artist and stuntman D.Y. Sao was the lead as I thoroughly enjoyed him in Champion Road: Arena. In that movie, Sao was a supporting player but he stole the show with some rad beatdowns and I really wanted to see him headline his own martial arts infused actioner as he is a talented individual.
With Fast Vengeance, Sao is indeed center stage but unfortunately this is a movie that trips over itself and stumbles to the finish line. I have had many recent conversations in the past about how movies are far too long and action films especially really need to be no longer than 90 minutes or 100 at the most to really utelize pacing and mometum. Unfortunately, Fast Vengeance falls into the trap over overstaying its welcome and at a staggering oner hour and fifty five minutes, this was one that was hard to finish.
First, lets talk about some of the positives as there’s some to be had for genre fans. Sao is a welcome sight as he leads the charge as Shen Long, a man who must return to his old stomping grounds when his brother is murdered shortly after participating in an underground motorcycle race. Determined to find out who did it, Shen runs a gauntlet of foes and even immerses himself in the seedy underworld of the biker lifestyle to bring those responsible to justice. All signs point to a mysterious racer known only as Cobra and his gang of marauders called The Midnight Squad. Along the way, Shen must deal with police lieutenant Liddle, played by the late rapper/actor DMX in his final role as well as Manny AKA Pops (Jeff Fahey) who used to be Shen’s trainer during his glory days as a fighter. There is also Tek played by Natalie Burn (Hollow Point, Acceleration) who is a former champion racer turned mechanic who takes Shen in and shows him the ropes to the dangerous world of racing.
During the course of his mission, Shen must contend with a variety of racer gangs who want nothing more then to take him out and there is also the Triads who rule this unknown world with an iron fist. Shen is an unstoppable force however and he uses his martial arts skills to full effect eventually leading up to the inevitble confrontation with Cobra that will only leave one man standing when the dust settles.
Like I said, there are positives and the main one is that Sao dazzles in the film’s fight sequences which include various slo-mo shots of Sao doing what he does best as he executes a wide array of aerial kicks and combos that are reminiscent to Tony Jaa. Sao certainly has the fisticuffs bravado and he showcases them to full effect in the action sequences of the film.
The only issue is that for a film called Fast Vengeance, it is anything but as the movie takes virtually forever to get to where it’s gong. The running time of almost two hours is an absolute hinderance and I found myself tuning out several times during the course of viewing the picture. The film could have definitely benefitted from shaving a half an hour off the time and maybe it would have been tighter and more compact making the beatdowns stand out more. This is not the case though as there are several unwelcome scenes of Sao trudging along as he tries to find his brother’s killer which leads to a lot of unnecessary talking.
DMX, who sadly passed away earlier this year, plays captain Liddle who is in charge of the district where the street races take place and his hands are basically tied while investigating Shen’s brother’s muder. DMX is given little to do as he mostly sits behind a desk and grumbles his lines which drag on way too long. It’s a shame really as this was his last role and I would have liked to see him get something better.
Natalie Burn is probably the most antimated character in the entire film as she plays Tek, the one time champion who now works on bikes and becomes Shen’s mentor in the secretive world of illegal racing. Burn is clearly having fun with the role and she and Sao have the most screen time together. The one and only Jeff Fahey, who has starred in countles action flicks throughout the years, has a small role as Manny and while he isn’t given much as well, he still does what he can with it and even gets to beat up some thugs in the process. The always game Bai Ling plays Lucid Lucy who runs the racing circuit and she is as quirky as ever with the over the top character.
While Sao shines in the fight department, it’s the dramatic aspect that he’s lacking in as he clearly overacts many scenes and screams half the time for no reason at all except to maybe demonstrate that he’s upset but it gets to the point where it becomes ridiculous and I feel he would have been better off playing it more low key and brooding. I still am a fan though and would like to see him star in more vehicles but given better material to work with.
With the bloated running time, the action is few and far between but I will say that there are some good moments of choreography with Sao giving it his all but again some of the scenes are suspect as ther are odd camera angle choices at times and even some weird motions that look like the film was edited or sped up. It doesn’t help that it looks like the movie was shot with a filter that makes the colors look drab and I won’t even go into the music as I don’t remember a thing about the score.
Overall, Fast Vengeance is a colossal missed opportunity that sqaunders the talents of its lead star. There are some bright moments with the fight action but if you watch the trailer, then you’ve pretty much seen all there is to see. The supporting cast is an eclectic array of indie action talent but they are mostly missused as well. It was nice to see DMX one more time but like I said earlier, his final role is a forgettable one and you’d probably be better off watching him in Exit Wounds or Cradle to the Grave as that’s the DMX I want to remember. With better material, I feel D.Y. Sao can definitely excel and kick it in action roles but sadly this is not that movie.