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May 23, 2019



Jesse V. Johnson - 2019
Samuel Goldwyn Films

It's not a word that is commonly used, but the best definition I found for avengement is "the inflicting of retributive punishment". That reasonably sums up the bulk of what happens in the hour and a half of this newest collaboration of producer and star Scott Adkins and writer-director Jesse V. Johnson. I've only seen Adkins in a handful of films, primarily as a supporting performer, using his martial arts skill. Especially unlike the mainstream productions, whether made for English language or Chinese language viewers, this new film is markedly more brutal.

In addition to the expected kicks and punches, are stabbings, shotgun shootings, multiple broken bones and dental emergencies. Adkins plays a low-level criminal who does staged fighting matches on the side. His failure to throw a fight puts him in debt to a criminal gang led by his older brother. Sent to what is described as the worst of all prisons after being framed, Adkins basically is required to kill or serious maim an army of fellow prisoners who have been offered a reward for his murder. The fights are initially acts of self-defense but Adkins gets his prison sentence extended by several years. Out of prison to see his dying mother, Adkins escapes from the police and takes his revenge.

The film is constructed as a series of flashbacks, with Adkins making his final confrontation in a bar, telling the local gang members about his life in prison. Adkins is barely recognizable with his hair reduced to a buzz cut, facial hair, scars across one eye and his cheek, and metal dentures in his mouth. I have to give Adkins credit as there are not too many action stars who are willing to make themselves look ugly or anti-heroic. I was also unprepared for the pronounced accents of the cast, forgetting that Scott Adkins is British, as is Jesse V. Johnson.

This is a film designed primarily for visceral appeal. Visually, Avengement is functional, with the fight scenes logically shot and edited, making sense of the space where the scenes take place. Johnson does miss an opportunity to be more visually inventive in a scene that takes place in a make-shift club, with blue and purple lights, and moving spotlights. Maybe Johnson and Adkins were afraid of being "arty" but I was hoping they would do the equivalent in a martial arts film as someone like Gaspar Noe and others have done for scenes of dancing.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 23, 2019 07:51 AM