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Savage Dog Review

August 4, 2017 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Savage Dog
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Savage Dog Review  

Savage Dog Review

Scott Adkins– Martin Tillman
Marko Zaror– Rastignac
Juju Chan– Isabelle
Cung Le– Boon
Vladimir Kulich– Steiner
Keith David– Valentine
Charles Fathy– Amarillo

Directed by Jesse V. Johnson
Screenplay by Jesse V. Johnson

Distributed by XLRator Media

Runtime– 94 minutes


Savage Dog, written and directed by Jesse V. Johnson, is the badass movie of the year. It’s a low budget action flick that starts out as one kind of movie, suddenly turns into a different kind of movie, and delivers some of the best, bloodiest action moments of the year. I wasn’t prepared for where Savage Dog goes, and at the moment I am still in awe of it.

The movie stars modern action superstar Scott Adkins as Martin Tillman, a badass ex-IRA member rotting in a filthy jail cell in Indochina circa 1959. Indochina, at this point in time, is essentially a kind of safe haven for the world’s criminals, as there is very little actual law and order going on (the colonial powers are gone and the local authorities are as corrupt as hell). The jail is run by Steiner (Vladimir Kulich), an ex-Nazi hiding from war crime investigators who is also a sort of local businessman. Along with his henchman and fellow fascist Rastignac (Marko Zaror), local military police guy Boon (Cung Le), and a French business manager (I don’t know what else you can call him) named Amarillo (Charles Fathy), Steiner “promotes” illegal fights featuring prisoners and assorted local challengers. Tillman becomes one of Steiner’s top fighters, making Steiner loads of money, but Tillman wants to get out of Steiner’s jail and out of the underground fight business. Tillman has a thing for Isabelle (Juju Chan), a local woman who shows up in the jail every so often, and he would much rather pursue her than fight. Once his sentence is up, Steiner offers Tillman a chance to make actual money while fighting for him, an offer Tillman initially refuses. Again, all Tillman really wants to do is be free and pursue Isabelle. So when he gets out Tillman finds a job as a bouncer at a bar owned and operated by American ex-patriot Valentine (Keith David), who also happens to be close to Isabelle.

So life becomes sort of tolerable for Tillman as he has a job, an actual friend in Valentine, and a real shot, maybe, one day, with Isabelle. After a while, though, it’s obvious to Valentine that Tillman is meant to do more than throw drunk idiots out of his bar. Valentine, with the help of Rastignac and Boon, manages to convince Tillman to go work as a fighter for Steiner. There’s big money in it for him, much bigger than the previous offer. Tillman can’t turn down this offer, and he’s eventually back in the underground fight game, beating the crap out of people but actually getting paid for it this time. Life sort of becomes good at this point.

But only sort of. See, with Tillman beating all challengers, it becomes difficult for Steiner and his people to make money (they made tons of money with Tillman seen as an underdog, but when he becomes champion everyone knows he’s going to win). So Steiner offers Tillman a chance to “fix” things by throwing a fight, losing, so he can then be built back up (again, Tillman makes money when he’s perceived as an underdog). Tillman agrees to do it, understanding that, yes, it will be good for business. Tillman doesn’t know, though, that Valentine, looking to make some money for himself, bets everything he has on Tillman. It doesn’t work out for Valentine.

And so Valentine loses his bar to Steiner and his criminal gang, Rastignac shoots Valentine dead, and Tillman and Isabelle get caught in the crossfire. Tillman and Isabelle are believed to be dead and are subsequently dumped in the mud in the woods. Tillman, though, has other plans. He isn’t dead. Isabelle isn’t dead, either. But you know who needs to die?

Steiner. Rastignac. Boon. And anyone else affiliated with those bastards and anyone else who gets in the goddamn way. And so Tillman, after a period of recuperation and rigorous exercise, suits up, gathers some weapons, and goes on an extended search and destroy mission in the backwoods of Indochina. Steiner and his gang are going down.

Well, that’s the plan, anyway.

I didn’t see the story switch coming at all. I really thought that Savage Dog was going to be a period set underground fight movie right until the end. I didn’t see it morphing into a revenge story. The first part of the movie is decent, low budget action movie making. The action is meaningful and interesting to look at, although the emphasis on boxing as opposed to full on martial arts is a bit jarring. I mean, Tillman kicks and whatnot, but he mostly boxes against his opponents, something you don’t expect to see in a movie with Scott Adkins playing the main character. The second part of the movie is the part that action movie nerds and audiences in general will be talking about for years to come. To say that Martin Tillman unleashes violence on Steiner and his organization would be a serious understatement. Imagine Punisher War Zone in the jungle in the late 1950’s and you’ll understand what I’m talking about here.

Hands are cut off. People are decapitated. The blood goddamn flows. And two people get shot in the face with a shotgun at point blank range and we get to see one of the aftermaths in all of its nasty glory in the same shot. That puts Savage Dog on the rarified list of greatest movies ever made. Martin Tillman, in full on revenge mode, does not mess around.

The movie’s hand-to-hand brawls are not as spectacular as previous Adkins movies, but then they’re not meant to be. The fights are meant to be down and dirty and brutal, and that’s okay. They do get a little more spectacular and vibrant later in the movie, especially when Cung Le’s Boon decides to stop being a uniformed lackey and kick some ass. Le’s fight with Adkins is one of the movie’s action highlights. I think you’ll be surprised at how it ends.

The movie’s gun battles are loud and brutal. This is another thing I wasn’t expecting. The only thing that outdoes them are the knife and machete scenes. All I will say is, holy crap. Marko Zaror is a wicked genius with a knife, and if this whole martial arts action star thing doesn’t work out for Adkins he will definitely be able to find movie work as a slasher killer in the horror genre. Watch the hell out, man.

Now, with all of the violence and whatnot going on, the movie does have a kind of touching side story involving Kulich’s Steiner and his relationship with Chan’s Isabelle. Steiner may be a Nazi scumbag criminal asshole, but he also has conflicting feelings for his offspring. You can almost say that, deep down in his black heart, Steiner has the capacity to be a kind of nice guy and a loving father. Pay close attention to the special photo Steiner has in his office and the letter he types out but doesn’t send. It makes you wonder just what kind of guy he would have been, in the big scheme of things, if he didn’t decide to become a Nazi.

The performances are all excellent. Adkins is perfect as Martin Tillman, the world weary ex-IRA member who just wants to live his life but gets caught up in relentless violence. He’s physically impressive, as always, but he also shows that he can feel things. Adkins is a much better actor than he ever gets credit for. And, yes, you are going to root for him when he becomes a revenge machine. Awesome job.

Vladimir Kulich is brilliantly detestable as Steiner. As I said before, he’s a terrible person, but there’s a hint of good in him that he sort of can’t deal with. It’s interesting to see him wrestle with that while smoking giant cigars, sitting in his office, and giving out orders to his henchmen. You won’t be surprised which side that wins (I haven’t hated a character as much as I hated Steiner when he proudly puts on his Nazi pin).

Keith David does his usual great job as Valentine. There’s really nothing else to say. The guy is great and always elevates whatever he happens to be in. I don’t drink, but I do think I would hang out in his jungle bar if given the chance. And Juju Chan does a fine job as Isabelle. She doesn’t get to engage in the bloody action hijinks but she has good chemistry with both Adkins and David so it’s fun to watch them all interact.

Marko Zaror will make your skin crawl as Rastignac. He’s a vicious killer who seems to be openly proud of the fact that he’s on the run for being a war criminal. Much like fellow action superstar Adkins, Zaror is physically impressive in his scenes. Zaror also knows how to be effortlessly scary. The knife and the hat help, but Rastignac isn’t someone you ever want to meet. He has a decent fight with Adkins, and while it feels like it should have been longer, it ends exactly the way it should.

Cung Le does a great job as Boon. He seems like just a henchman at first, but when he starts to assert himself as the local law he becomes a force to be reckoned with. And, yeah, his fight with Adkins is pretty dang great.

Savage Dog is an exceptional action movie experience. It doesn’t play out the way you expect it to. Top notch action, a great cast, and some of the best onscreen violence of the decade. If you’re an action movie nerd, Savage Dog is something you need to see. It’s exactly the kind of movie you’ve been waiting for.

See Savage Dog. See it, see it, goddamn see it!


So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: Lots.

Explosions: Yes.

Nudity?: None.

Doobage: A pile of mud, pit fighting, a wicked upper cut, lots of blood shooting out of people’s mouths, a slow motion fall, arm slicing, heart stabbing with a massive blood geyser, head-butting, a bucket of water, multiple accents, old stories, exercise, a slow motion bar montage, off screen sex, body throwing, rain, a four on one brawl featuring some moments of slow motion, serious face punching, more pit fighting, a reward for information leading to an arrest, a wicked knee to the face, a beautiful jump spin kick to the face, a hurtful letter, fight throwing, a back drop, racism, face slapping, shotgun hooey, wound fixing with slime, wound cauterization with a hot machete, a working out montage, machete sharpening, bamboo slicing, show shining, drug snorting, a serious machete attack with decapitation, bloody hand removal, a shootout, more shotgun hooey, shotgun blast to the face at point blank range that we get to see onscreen, bloody limb removal, a second shotgun blast to the face, safe explosion, machete retrieval, beard shaving, choking, grenade attack, exploding window, exploding head via grenade, major machine gun hooey, sword through the chest, a knock down martial arts brawl, chest destruction, a burned up letter, more major machine gun hooey, a one-on-one shootout that ends with only minor wounds, a brutal hand-to-hand showdown, involuntary bloody internal organ removal, an absolutely disgusting “food” moment (you’ll know it when you see it), and big cigar hooey.

Kim Richards?: None.

Gratuitous: Indochina 1959, Scott Adkins, Keith David narration, Vladimir Kulich, Cung Le, Marko Zaror, Marko Zaror referring to himself as “the executioner,” Vladimir Kulich listening to records, Scott Adkins with an Irish accent, MI6, alcohol drinking, Keith David in the flesh, Scott Adkins fixing a jukebox, a story that Keith David tells about fucking a penguin that we only hear the punchline for, Vladimir Kulich smoking cigars, fight fixing, slow motion smiling, rice eating, Aki Aleong, a “pale horse” quote, bloody violence, a waving French flag, Scott Adkins smoking a cigar, and a knife vs wrench fight.

Best lines: “If you shoot me, you’ll take my place,” “You’re not a waste of time. You’re just lost,” “This room is full of men who backed the wrong horses,” “If you ever hurt Isabelle I’ll kill you faster than I can shack a salmon. And that’s damn quick, boy,” “He was a free prisoner,” “Is that what you believe in? No, I was never a believer,” “Who does this cunt think he is?,” “That’s enough! You did your job!,” “My country. My laws. My revolver,” “That’s right, the champ is here,” “I hear you give your money to Valentine,” “If you give me a cut of the gate I’ll make it a fucking work of art,” “Watch your tongue, black,” “Put it down, Valentine. You’re not a killer,” “Give him a drink. Give him the good stuff,” “What they didn’t know is that in a bar fight a man with nothing to lose is the one to bet on,” “Martin Tillman is still alive,” “Are you afraid, Steiner?,” “Martin! There is enough for both of us!,” “What would you think of me?,” “Look at this face. Look into these eyes. Do you think I haven’t stared death in the face before?,” “It is not until you face death that you truly appreciate life,” “Never send a boy to do a man’s job,” “You want to live or you want me to die?,” and “This is for Valentine.”

The final score: review Virtually Perfect
The 411
Savage Dog is a bloody action masterpiece. It features great action, a top notch cast, and a story that that you don’t expect. It’s a movie that action movie nerds need to see. Savage Dog, at the moment of this writing, is the movie of the year so far. See this goddamn movie. See Savage Dog!