Saturday, 9 June 2007

Shadow Man (DVD) (2006)

If it’s a Steven Seagal action movie, you could reasonably expect a few things right off the bat, like:

1. Seagal will play an ex-CIA/mercenary/cop
2. He will battle rogue or foreign government/army/police units
3. Who have either murdered or kidnapped a close family member

That’s about as simple as the Steven Seagal actioner goes, really, and Shadow Man does not fall far from the formula. Here, Seagal is an ex-CIA agent who is now enjoying life as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company – we don’t really know what he does, but he seems to make a fortune from teaching aikido, a mystical martial art that allows practioners to punch holes in the internal organs of any opponent with a single strike. It’s quite mystifying because presumably you need volunteers in order to teach that (“Sensei, I want to learn how to poke a hole in my opponent’s torso with a taichi move!” “Okay Wang. Stand still and I’ll demonstrate on you.”).

More mystifying is the fact that his old CIA colleagues, an entire criminal underground, and a crooked foreign law enforcement system want to bring Jack Foster (totally generic name, which is why we’ll stick to STEVEN SEAGAL for the rest of this review!) back into the game by slipping some top-secret deadly biological warfare agent into his handphone, kidnap his daughter, and strand both of them in a seedy East European country (Romania, to be exact). Obviously, they’re all itchy for some exploding internal organs action. That or they’re clearly out of their minds!

Fast moving and tight (after all, genre movies – action thrillers, spy thrillers, wuxia – involve lots of condensation and narrative shortcuts that leave out the tedious exposition needed to help audiences connect the dots), Seagal is a man on a mission, expertly dodging assassins, double-crosses, and mowing down opponents in a single-minded search for his missing daughter.

Shadow Man is a straight to DVD release, but in actual fact, it is one of Steven Seagals better movies of the past 5 years. The man has been in a slump, he’s grown fat, but here you can see the improvement in acting, slightly better charisma, and a higher percentage of pure fighting scenes than in his last few movies. It’s not just the aikido, but the sheer imaginativeness of the fight scenes – I haven’t really seen anyone else aside from the A-Team assemble a rocket launcher, an explosive, and a getaway vehicle from household parts, but Steven Seagal does 2 out of 3, in an entertaining effort.

Of course, the acting from most of Seagal’s co-stars is bad or hammy, the dubbing is obvious, and the aikido fighting, bordering on the fantastical, is an acquired taste (but so is wuxia action!), but remember: Steven Seagal does his own stunts! And he’s the only actor who has a body double engaged for non-action scenes! Priceless viewing if you’re a B-grade action movie fan armed with a remote control with a pause button.

First published at incinemas on 9 June 2007

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