Scott Adkins stars in this grounded action thriller from director Jesse V. Johnson that unleashes something unexpected in the third act.
Indochina, 1959. Martin Tilman is an ex-boxing champion who is imprisoned in Den-Dhin-Chan Labor Camp, where he is forced to fight in matches to the pleasure of the camp’s runners. The fearsome foursome who run the camp are Steiner, Boon, Amarillo, and Rastignac. When he is not fighting, Martin finds himself occasionally hanging out at a local bar run by ex-patriot Valentine as well as seeing the woman he loves, local girl Isabelle.
As Martin soon learns his time will be up soon, he just wants to return home. However, knowing that should he leave they will lose money, the four camp runners decide to hatch a plan and keep Martin locked up in order to continue their winning streak. However, when Martin begins to resist, the group hatches a plan that will affect his friends. When Martin learns the plan, he decides to do something about it and put an end to the corrupt runners once and for all.
British martial artist and one of the busiest action stars today Scott Adkins returns in this thriller from director Jesse V. Johnson, the first of what will be three collaborations between star and director. The other two are the recently completed Accident Man and Triple Threat. Johnson, a former stuntman turned filmmaker can be quite a storyteller and proves that with this film, has shades of Unleashed in terms of the character of Martin, Adkins’ character, being the major player in a game by some corrupt goons only and is forced to seek his own brand of vengeance when he wants out and they will not let him.
The supporting cast is quite interesting here with the great Marko Zaror, whose English has seriously improved here, in the role of camp runner Rastignac and Sanshou legend Cung Le as Boon, a Vietnamese head guard at the labor camp who will unleash his skills when confronted. Vladimir Kulich’s Steiner seems to be the head warden of the camp who has a bit of a dark secret himself despite his loyalty to the Third Reich while Charles Fathy’s Amarillo rounds out the core group of ultimate villains in this piece.
While it’s great to see Juju Chan in the film, she only delivers a rather lack of action in her role of Isabelle, who is looking out for Martin while having a connection to the camp. Keith David is always a hoot to watch and delivers it here as Valentine, the bar owner who can be seen as Martin’s true ally and friend amidst all the chaos.
Those expecting Adkins to pull off maneuvers a la Boyka in the Undisputed films will be sorely disappointed. Instead of Adkins displaying the tricking style of his usual arsenal, considering the film’s setting of 1959 Indochina, the action is a more grounded take that works quite well here. Fight choreographer Luke LaFontaine does a pretty good job in terms of Adkins using straight up boxing flurries with some use of his kicking agility. With a combination of choreography, Gabriel Gely’s cinematography, and Matthew Lorentz’s editing, these are some pretty good fisticuffs that make good use of Adkins and the other fighters in the cast. They include some pretty good prison fights as well as a short and sweet fight against Le and a finale that becomes a rematch of Undisputed III between Adkins and Zaror.
When Adkins is not using his martial arts skills, he resorts to using both a machete and firepower against adversaries. Now here is where things get extremely brutal and appropriately gives the title justice. It must be said that the title Savage Dog does refer to Adkins’ character Martin, who is seen as a savage dog in the fights but then when he goes on his mission of revenge brings savagery to a whole new level. Perhaps influenced by the likes of a Takashi Miike or even someone like Karate Kill’s Kurando Mitsukake, filmmaker Johnson and choreographer LaFontaine has Adkins either shooting the bejesus out of everyone with squibs galore or chopping off limbs and slicing and dicing leaving geysers full of blood that are usually seen in horror films or even the insane Japanese-style action films of today.
Savage Dog brings a more grounded execution in terms of its fight scenes, but ups the ante in terms of brutality and savagery with Scott Adkins leading the way, just continuing his reign as one of today’s major action talents with ample support from the likes of Marko Zaror, Juju Chan, and Vladimir Kulich to name a few. Don’t expect a Boyka-like performance here, but one that does help Adkins as an actor as well as an action star.
WFG RATING: B+
XLrator Media presents a Compound B/Bleiberg Productions film. Director: Jesse V. Johnson. Producer: Ehud Bleiberg. Writer: Jesse V. Johnson. Cinematography: Gabriel Gely. Editing: Matthew Lorentz.
Cast: Scott Adkins, Juju Chan, Marko Zaror, Cung Le, Vladimir Kulich, Charles Fathy, Keith David, Matthew Marsden.
XLrator Media will be releasing this film in select theaters and on VOD platforms on August 4th.