17th Jul2017

Fantasia 2017: ‘Savage Dog’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Scott Adkins, Marko Zaror, Juju Chan, Cung Le, Keith David, Vladimir Kulich, Matthew Marsden, Charles Fathy | Written and Directed by Jesse V. Johnson

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OK, let’s all just say it together. Scott Adkins is the saviour of DTV action movies. Charismatic, skilled and just a downright badass (and likeable) actor, whatever Adkins seemingly touches turns to gold – the Universal Soldier franchise was improved by his addition, as was the Undisputed series: in fact he made that particular fighting franchise BETTER with each and every sequel. Even the football-themed series Green Street was made watchable by the appearance of Adkins in the third installment, and that coming from someone who, typically, refuses to watch movies based on idiotic football hooligans.

Hold on… Turns out I may have a man-crush on Scott Adkins! And that’s not a bad thing.

Adkins has single-handedly kept the direct to market action genre alive, taking the reigns from the likes of Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme; and those that followed such as Gary Daniels, Olivier Gruner and Don “The Dragon” Wilson. As such Adkins DTV films have always felt like they belonged in another era but with Savage Dog he, and ariter/director Jesse V. Johnson, have perfected the art of making something new feel old. What do I mean by that? Well Savage Dog is the closest Adkins has come to making a film that feels like it could have been made in the 90s and debuted on VHS, making an absolute fortune from a myriad of rentals. Of course that won’t be the case here – since when has any DTV action movie of this decade made bank? A lot of them should. Because – like Savage Dog – they’re a damn sight better than a lot of the big-screen action dross that is force fed down audiences throats in the multiplex (John Wick excepted).

It’s 1959 and Irishman Martin (Adkins) is serving time in an Indonesian jail run by Hans – a prison warden who likes to organize underground fights between his prisoners for the amusement of the high-paying clients who pay for the privilege of seeing men fight to the death. Upon release, Martin begins a new life as a bouncer in a local bar, where he befriends the bars owner, Valentine (David), and his adopted daughter, Isabelle. One night, Martin beats the hell out of an unruly bar patron, unaware that he’s a fighter invited by Hans to one of his big tournaments. Now, Martin is forced back into the ring to fight for Hans in order to save his new friends bar, if not their lives…

Starting out like a traditional martial arts tournament flick, a la A.W.O.L. (well this film does feature Legionnaires after all), with a little Kickboxer-style training montage thrown in for good measure, Savage Dog actually surprises by switching gears at the mid-way point and turning into an old-school “hero seeking revenge” tale, with Adkins relying on a combination of fists and guns to exact his vengeance. Between that and the Indo-China setting I couldn’t help but think of Chuck Norris’ Missing in Action series, only without the Reagan-era “go, go USA!” semantics. And whilst Savage Dog reminds you of other action movie hits, it never feels like it is mimicking or parodying anything that has come before – merely it seeks to pay homage, to acknowledge the genre and the films that fans, like me, still adore to this day.

A thoroughly enjoyable action movie come revenge drama, the only thing disappointing about Savage Dog, for me,was the fight between Adkins and one of the most underrated MMA fighters turned actor Cung Lee. 1) it wasn’t long enough; and 2) couldn’t Adkins have won fair and square, proving he’s the better badass? Other than that Savage Dog is yet another slice of action movie heaven and is essential viewing for Adkins fans, action movie fans and ANYONE that lived through the golden era of DTV action…

Oh, and can we have EVERY movie narrated by Keith David from now on?

***** 5/5

Savage Dog screened at Fantasia 2017 on July 15th at the Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU.

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