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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Attrition

February 16, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Attrition Steven Seagal

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never contemplated wearing a fedora because, really, I don’t think I could pull off the look without looking ridiculous, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number five hundred and forty-two, I take a look at the weird beard low budget martial arts action flick Attrition, which initially debuted on something called 365 Flix in, I think, 2018, and then hit home video in North America in August of 2019.



At first, Attrition looks like yet another low budget action flick from action star Steven Seagal where he plays some sort of ex-Special Forces/CIA operator that has to assemble a team of fellow professionals to do something, like kill bad guys and or stop some sort of international criminal scheme. And while all of that does happen in the movie, that is not the actual focus of Attrition. Attrition is instead more of a meditation on the martial arts or, at least, what Steven Seagal thinks about martial arts. Attrition is sort of a dream project for Seagal, as he produced the movie, wrote the screenplay, stars in it, and, at one time, apparently thought about directing (Seagal instead hired French director Mathieu Weschler to helm the movie). It has a weird tone, has unusual pacing, and is, in many ways, Seagal’s best performance in years (he’s clearly more engaged in this project than many of his recent movies). It’s almost an art movie, or as close to an art movie as a guy like Seagal is ever going to make. I’m assuming that overall weirdness is why Attrition can currently be found in the clearance DVD bin at Walmarts across the country. Attrition is just not the usual kind of Steven Seagal effort. It plays as something quite different.

Attrition has Seagal as Axe, an ex-American Special Forces operator who, after a particularly harrowing and violent mission where his team fails to rescue a kidnapped woman (who you have to assume is politically important or something), decides to quit being an operator and goes to pray to Buddha in a cave somewhere. Three years pass, and we find out that Axe has retired to a remote village in Thailand where he’s become a doctor of sorts (when he was in the Special Forces he was a medic). And when he isn’t helping people with their injuries and ailments and whatnot he’s writing stuff in pen and ink, and when he isn’t doing that he’s practicing his martial arts techniques and, probably, praying and shit. The people Axe is closest to include his female aide San (Bayra Bela) and local businessman (he owns a night club, I think), Chen Man (Siu-Wong Fan). Axe refers to Chen as his brother repeatedly as they both learned/practiced kung fu under the same master (we see them spar with staff and double knives and do some sort of kung fu spiritual exercise with a butterfly). It’s a fairly simple life now for Axe. It’s the way he wants it. It’s the way he believes he has to live now that he’s out of the Special Forces.

Now, while Axe lives his peaceful life helping people and whatnot, a young women named Tara (Ting Sue) is captured by Qmom (Kang Yu), a local criminal mastermind that specializes in human trafficking. Qmom isn’t interested in Tara because he thinks he’ll make tons of money from her as a prostitute, though. Instead, he wants Tara because of special, supernatural abilities that he thinks she possesses. Qmom isn’t scared of anyone or anything, except Tara. To say that he’s uneasy around her would be a tremendous understatement. After Tara is captured, her father goes to Axe for help. At first, Axe doesn’t want to get involved because he would have to go back to being the person he left behind when he stopped being a Special Forces operator. But Axe then reflects on what he is being asked to do and the world at large and decides that he has to become his old self one more time. So Axe agrees to rescue Tara from Qmom and then assembles his old team. Once they’re all together, they will create a plan to rescue Tara and destroy all of Qmom’s businesses. Will Axe and his team succeed?

With the way the first hour of Attrition plays out, I didn’t expect to see the whole “Axe assembles his old Special Forces team” thing at all. I figured that Axe would eventually go after Qmom and rescue Tara and, maybe, bring Chen along as his sidekick (or maybe Chen would turn out to be Qmom’s “business partner,” because that kind of thing happens in action movies all of the time). But getting his team back together? Why does he even need a team? Why doesn’t Axe, as a kung fu master, just do all of this rescuing shit himself? That’s what I was expecting to see. And since the actual “assemble the team” thing doesn’t happen until the last thirty minutes, it clearly wasn’t a priority and, I assume, was added to the script at a later date because that’s what Seagal does now. Does the team part of the story ruin the movie? No, but, at the same time, it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the movie, either.

So why even do the team thing in the first place? Again, I assume it was added because it’s what Seagal does now in every new movie he’s in, and it also helps make the movie a tad more conventional. If the movie had gone on with just Axe and Chen taking down Qmom’s operation and rescuing Tara it wouldn’t have seemed plausible. When Axe and his team enter Qmom’s club we see Axe using a machine gun to take down multiple bad guys. Would that have happened if Axe was simply a kung fu master? Probably not. And what is a new Steven Seagal movie without him, or someone else affiliated with Seagal, mowing down bad guys with an automatic rifle? There’s also a bit where one of Axe’s team kills bad guys with a sniper rifle. That definitely wouldn’t have happened in a full on kung fu movie, but it’s something that happens quite often now in new Seagal movies. So compromises were clearly made.

But should have those compromises been made? No. Attrition would have been more satisfying if Seagal’s Axe had been a one man wrecking crew that uses the principles of kung fu and the martial arts to rescue Tara. That’s the direction the movie seemed to be going. That may not be realistic, especially when you consider that Axe is battling a human trafficker, a very real “real world” problem, but Axe doing it basically on his own would have made more sense.

As for that first hour, it’s odd seeing Seagal not dressed to the nines, smoking a cigar, and talking endlessly in a low, soft voice about whatever the hell the plot of the movie is. Seagal’s Axe wears Asian martial arts clothing for almost the entire movie and you can actually hear his dialogue, none of which is dubbed with another actor’s voice. And Seagal’s Axe is easily the most positive character he’s played in his career so far. Axe is actually a nice guy. How often does that happen in a Steven Seagal movie? There are actual moments in the movie where Seagal doesn’t give off that sense of brooding danger that we all know him for. It’s insane.

The supernatural aspects of the story are mostly handled through surreal dream sequences and, holy shit, they’re weird as hell. As for Tara, Ting Sue projects a kind of constant glow that sets her apart from the other characters in the movie. You wouldn’t have to see the Axe dream sequences or have any of the other characters, like Qmom, talk about Tara’s potential supernatural abilities to suspect that she has abilities that no one else possesses.

The martial arts sequences aren’t as bone crunching as you expect them to be. You could almost call them beautiful to look at. And Seagal’s hand to hand fights are different both in how they look and how they feel. Seagal also seems to be in most of them. Oh, sure, the faster hand to hand sequences use an obvious stunt double, but it looks like Seagal was present, in camera, for most of the fights. His little sword fight at the end of the movie is also pretty cool. The night club sequence is the only truly nasty action sequence in the movie, and even that nastiness isn’t as nasty as it could have been.

Seagal is excellent as Axe. As I said earlier, he’s clearly engaged in this role and in this movie and gives one of the best performances of his career. Seagal comes across differently than in his recent past movies and it’s shocking to see what he can do as an actor when he’s motivated. I also want to commend Seagal for not including a scene in the movie where he has creepy as hell sex with a much younger woman. I really thought we were going to see that here. I hope he never does a scene like that ever again.

Siu-Wong Fan does a great job as Chen Man, Axe’s “brother” and local honest businessman. He has actual buddy chemistry with Seagal and his equal in terms of on screen charisma. Siu-Wong Fan is also terrific in his multiple fight sequences, but then what do you expect from Riki-Oh Saiga? Exactly.

Kang Yu is exceptionally nasty as crime boss Qmom. The way he treats his henchmen is precisely what you expect to see from a piece of crap like Qmom. But when you look at how odd he is around Tara and you see the fear in his eyes you get the sense that his overall nastiness could be overcompensation because he’s terrified of Tara. You’d think a piece of shit human trafficker wouldn’t show fear like that.

Ting Sue, as I said earlier, is amazing as Tara. She just has a glow about her that you can’t fake. Imdb shows that Sue only has like five credits in her career and Attrition is her second credit. She needs to work more, she really does.

As for the members of Axe’s team, no one really stands out since they don’t have much screen time. Most of their names are pretty cool, though, like Rudy Youngblood’s name (Infidel), James P. Bennett’s name (Scarecrow), and Sergey Badyuk’s name (Hollywood). They sound like codenames, don’t they?

Attrition ends with an impassioned speech by Seagal’s Axe about the truth of the martial arts, the wisdom of the old masters, and how the world has forgotten that wisdom. It almost resembles his big environmental speech at the end of On Deadly Ground. And you can tell that it’s incredibly heartfelt because it’s just something you don’t see from him in his other movies. It will be interesting to see if Seagal gets a chance to do this kind of speech again in a future movie. I mean, he probably has another passion project script or idea he wants to do. Will he ever get to do it?

Who knows?

Attrition is a good, weird, low budget action flick from star Steven Seagal. It’s very different than anything else he’s done recently. It’s worth seeing simply for that.

So see Attrition. See it, see it, see it.


So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: Over 20

Explosions: None.

Nudity?: Yes. Some of it is kind of appealing, some of it isn’t.

Doobage: A pretty cool opening titles sequence, Special Ops team bullshit, a firefight, a wicked head shot, a naked dead body, a secret cave somewhere, praying to Buddha, talk of human trafficking, animal trafficking, and drug trafficking, floor sweeping, acupuncture, martial arts practice, a sparring contest, butterfly bullshit, multiple weird, surreal dreams, a weird as fuck sequence where we see a dead body being processed and then thrown into a grinder but it’s all done in reverse, a vicious bloody punch to the face, bloody hand washing, a fight to the death in the rain, attempted kidnapping, colored dust to the face, attempted suicide, more surreal dreams, nudity, a fight in the woods, night club shit, a dead body falls onto a car, master meeting, a team meeting, a fight inside of a Chinese medicine shop, brief hot lesbian action, heart punch city, strippers, sniper bullshit, gunplay, multiple headshots, a gun hidden in a toilet, machine gun blast to the head, serious machine gun hooey, beating up a tree, attempted strangulation, neck breaking, a knives vs. axes fight, axe to the shoulder, a cool sword fight, bloody arm removal, a speech about lost wisdom, and the blues.

Kim Richards? : None.

Gratuitous: Steven Seagal, Steven Seagal leading some sort of Special Forces team, a plea for non-violence, Steven Seagal letting his hair down, Steven Seagal hanging out in a cave and praying to Buddha, Steven Seagal writing in pen and ink, Steven Seagal living in the jungle, Steven Seagal doing acupuncture, tea drinking, Steven Seagal with a butterfly on his arm, a business card, a mute kid, fish feeding, heavy bag training, Steven Seagal wearing a white hat, weird spirituality, Steven Seagal preventing a guy from committing suicide, Steven Seagal sleeping, Steven Seagal having surreal dreams, Steven Seagal putting on his slippers, Steven Seagal assembling a team, a box of axes, a thrusting punch that blows out candles, Steven Seagal talking about dogs, Steven Seagal giving a speech about losing the wisdom of the old masters, and Steven Seagal singing the blues over the end credits.

Best lines: “The war must be fought from within,” “How do you combat evil when the whole world has lost its way?,” “Hello, brother,” “Brother, not only are you skilled in the martial arts, but you have a good heart,” “Hey, kid, what’s your name?,” “I like to pound the meat before cooking it,” “Your prayer is coming to pass. It’s not a prayer. It’s a curse,” “I’ll give you your duel. I’ll allow you to live. But I guarantee you that you will never be this foolish again,” “If you want to be my student let this be your first lesson,” “Don’t be scared. Yet,” “Please, brother, this isn’t the answer,” “Tara, there’s something magical in your eyes,” “If your heart is so dark, why are your walls so white?,” “Remember, you will never get away, not in this lifetime,” “Does she know that I killed the old man?,” “Death by a thousand cuts. I see you keep these very sharp,” “There’s never a pizza guy around when you need one, right?,” “So this is it? Only three of us?,” “How’s the music business? Gone to shit when Motown closed,” “For what it’s worth, our cause is just and we are righteous,” “You were an asshole then, and you’re an asshole now,” “Help! Stop fighting!,” “Fire and wood,” “I can see the evil that you have committed,” “Do you like to play card games?,” “Brother, go help the others,” and “Kung fu is just not for the Chinese. It’s for all people.”

Rating: 8.5/10.0


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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

B-movies rule. Always remember that.


Steven Seagal– Axe
Siu-Wong Fan– Chen Man
Kang Yu– Qmom
Ting Sue– Tara
Rudy Youngblood– Infidel
Kat Ingkarat– Yinying
James P. Bennett– Scarecrow
Bayra Bela– San
Sergey Badyuk– Hollywood
Cha-Lee Yoon– Black Claw Ma

(check out the rest of the cast here)

Directed by Mathieu Weschler
Screenplay by Steven Seagal

Distributed by 365 Flix and Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Rated R for bloody violence, nudity/sexuality, and some drug content
Runtime– 85 minutes

Buy it here or go to your local Walmart. The movie will be in the clearance bin.