Contour (2006)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 7/28/08
Written, Directed, and Produced by: Eric Jacobus
Cast: Eric Jacobus, Dennis Ruel, Andy Leung, Ed Kahana Jr., Ray Carbonel, Tyler Wang, Stephen Reedy, Vlad Rimburg, Todd Roy

Wow, this movie just came out of nowhere. I remember meeting The Stunt People at Wondercon in 2007 and picking this movie up - mostly because I thought Tyler Wang was totally hot. One of the guys even recognized my girls with guns work, which was a huge ego stroke for me. And now I feel ashamed that it took me more than a year and a half to get around to watching it. This is a full length martial arts action picture from the same team that did "Undercut" (2006), with the sole intent of showcasing The Stunt People's impressive skills. A true kung fu fighting movie for people who love kung fu fighting movies, and quite honestly better than anything that's come out of Hong Kong since the mid 1990's. These guys definitely know how to fight, but they also understand how to make it work on film, and the cinematography and editing are just as crucial as the choreography. That an independent and poorly funded group like this could put something together of such high quality is an embarrassment to all of Hollywood. It really makes you wonder why big budget domestic action films have such lame fight scenes, when there are clearly people on American soil who know how to do it right.

Anyway, back to the film. Not surprisingly, the story and writing are weak, but the action sequences are superb. It tries to lighten the tone with quirky and silly humor, but it only comes across as being stupid. The film revolves around the theft and blackmail of a video tape that could ruin the tiny European country of Uruvia. Lawrence Young (Eric Jacobus) is a thug of sorts, making money as a shady San Francisco tour guide and doing dirty jobs on the side. His latest clients include Alfonso de Rosario (the exiled Prince of Uruvia, played by Ed Kahana Jr.), his bodyguard Lei Tak (Andy Leung), and a god-fearing Republican lesbian named Renee Wilder (Tyler Wang). Conveniently, they all know kung fu, and somehow get involved with trying to retrieve the stolen video tape. This leads to a massive martial arts brawl at a warehouse that is an action lover's delight. It's amazing and exhausting to watch, and these guys really do suffer for their art. There are also a couple of long takes that must be seen to be believed. Very impressive. The players bring all sorts of skills to the table, including hapkido, tae kwon do, wushu, shaolin forms, staff and chain work, and escrima stick fighting. While all of the stunt performers are excellent, I was particularly moved by Dennis Ruel's performance as the villain, Esteban. Not only is he the most convincing actor of the bunch, but his combination of intensity, agility, and physical grace is astounding. His exhaustive showdown with Eric Jacobus is incredible, and they match each other perfectly, move for move. Brilliant stuff, and Stephen Reedy's camera work does a great job of capturing the action.

Reedy also shows off his martial arts chops in a ridiculous training video for a Vietnamese soup fighting style called Tae Pho. There's a definite subtlety between someone performing kung fu badly, and someone trying to make it look like they're performing kung fu badly, and it more or less works as intended. While all of the guys are very serious and professional regarding their work, you can also tell that they're having fun doing it. That energy and vibe comes across through the entire film, which makes it easier to forgive some of its shortcomings. Plus, it features Tyler Wang with a gun, which is something I can always appreciate. While she doesn't get to do much hand-to-hand combat, she does manage to land a couple of convincing kicks. I anxiously look forward to what these crazy guys come up with next, and can't help but wonder how far they could go with a real budget and some decent writing...