Unlucky Stars (2015)

Rating: **
Review Date: 1/3/22
Writer and Director: Dennis Ruel
Action Director: Vlad Rimburg
Cast: Dennis Ruel, Ken Quitugua, Sari Sabella, Vlad Rimburg, Jose Montesinos, Steven Yu, Sam Hargrave, Emmanuel Manzanares, Roy Chen, Shawn Bernal, cameos by Ed Kahana, Troy Carbonel, Lucas Okuma, Ray Carbonel

"What good is your Peruvian bushido now?"

Tomas De La Cruz (Jose Montesinos) is a Peruvian action star who's trying to break into the US market, but he owes money to some bad people and it's time to collect. When he runs out of time and options, he decides to skip town, and private investigator Ken Champaco (Ken Quitugua) is hired to track him down. Ken takes on a scrappy and naïve street fighter named Josh (Dennis Ruel) as backup, and things go from bad to worse. When Tomas can't pay up, an action star wanna-be named Sateef (Sari Sabella) is mistakenly kidnapped when the bad guys think he has Tomas's money. Ken and Josh can't bear to turn a blind eye on Sateef's fate, and risk their lives to save him.

The film is clearly an homage to the golden era of Hong Kong cinema and draws inspiration from films like "Wheels On Meals" (1984), "Dragons Forever" (1988), and "Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars" (1985). The fight scenes are fun and plentiful, and all of the stunt performers are extremely talented. Sam Hargrave in particular takes some incredibly painful looking falls that made me wince. Dennis Ruel and Ken Quitugua see the majority of the action, and have great screen fighting moves. Everyone's fighting style is noticeably different, and it's fun to see so many styles thrown into the mix. There's definitely a sense of community in the project, and I recognized a lot of familiar faces from other martial arts film projects. The lighting and audio are surprisingly good for a micro-budget film, and the cinematography and editing do an excellent job of capturing the action.

However, with such a heavy emphasis on the action, the rest of the film stumbles a bit. Much like its Hong Kong counterparts, the story is extremely basic and the characters are paper-thin. The acting is good, but not great, and the humor often falls flat. That said, I really enjoyed the clips from Tomas's cheesy B-movies like "Fist Of Wan." In a sense, "Unlucky Stars" is a B-movie about making B-movies, which I'm sure was part of the gag. Fortunately, the pacing is brisk enough that the lulls between fight scenes don't derail the film, and while the characters aren't particularly likable, they're not egregiously dislikable. Overall, if you're into action, kung fu, high precision martial arts, and Hong Kong cinema, "Unlucky Stars" is a delightful way to spend an evening.