FEBRUARY 9, 2016
All those Jason Takes Manhattan haters who whine about how limited his time is in the Big Apple better steer clear of Zombie Fight Club, which not only confines its titular club to the film's final half hour, but doesn't even establish such a thing until that point. The segment actually feels like a rushed sequel to the first hour of the film rather than its organic 3rd act (unlike JTM, which at least sets up the Manhattan carnage during the opening credits and puts Jason on a boat heading there); in fact it even has on-screen text at the hour mark explaining where the world stands now, as a film might at its very beginning - I honestly can't recall ever seeing such a thing at what's technically the end of act two.
Even funnier, the first hour rips off a different movie: The Raid. Our hero (Andy On) is one of a group of cops who enter an apartment complex intending to steal a cash stash from some drug dealers, only to get trapped there when all zombie hell breaks loose. There are other characters (the drug dealers, some partying idiots, an old man/asskicker stolen directly from The Horde, etc.), but he's clearly the main focus in this loose ensemble, and the action scenes revolving around him definitely recall Gareth Evans' exhilarating action opus. Eventually he meets up with some of the other characters (he's the only honest cop out of the lot, so his crooked partners get their just desserts in due time) and escapes, and it feels like the movie is over - at which point its built-in sequel starts up. It's the most jarring switch this side of Riding with Death (look it up), and the segment is almost over by the time you finally readjust to its new, flimsily established scenario.
It's also not as good as the first hour. It's no masterpiece; in fact it skirts close to being just plain bad, but there's a crazy energy to the proceedings that I couldn't help but admire. The zombies follow no discernible rules - one even turns into a full blown monster, with a chest cavity forming a giant mouth that eats another character (it's the chest/belly version of From Dusk Till Dawn's infamous/unrated-only vagina kill), and whether they retain motor skills depends on the director's whims at the moment, I guess. The human characters aren't much different; I'm not sure how the nebbish father who sees his daughter killed by one of the crooked cops ends up turning into a Governor-esque big shot during the "Fight Club" segment, but by that point I had stopped questioning the movie's tenuous grasp on what you or I might refer to as coherence.
Again, it's the energy that really kept me entertained. Most of the blood is digital, but considering the amount of it that is sprayed I'm not sure even a Hollywood studio production could afford all the Karo syrup that would be required to do it practically. On is a formidable fighter, so while he uses guns and other weapons on occasion, most of the time he just darts around and flat out punches zombies hard enough in the head to send the red stuff flying, which never got old to me. It's almost like watching a classic Jackie Chan "scramble and fight" sequence at times, as he never stops moving and improvising, but makes sure to off some poor walker every few seconds as well. Who cares about the bad digital blood when you have such a great special effect in the form of a human being? He doesn't get as much to do in the Fight Club sequence, oddly enough - there's a Gladiator-esque tournament (every scene in this movie is lifted from another one, pretty much) and a terrific fight against another human in/around a bus (with zombies surrounding them), but otherwise he really gets his best moments in the apartment building.
Those who hope to see a female equivalent better run as far as they can in the opposite direction; one survives but goes through hell to get there (including a very sad moment where she's so hungry that she barely seems to notice that she's being raped when she spies some bread on the table she's been bent over), and she's hardly the only one to get victimized over the course of the film. It's more than a bit misogynist (not that men get off any better), and mostly unnecessary. There's a quick bit where it seems like director Joe Chien might even the odds and have On sexually assaulted by a dominatrix prison guard (one who has already forced herself on a female prisoner), but a. he starts practically asking her to take him and b. when she doesn't, she sends in a rather rotund woman to presumably pick up where she left off, much to his dismay. It's too stupid to be offensive to me, but every day I see people getting outraged about everything and anything (the one to beat this week: people calling for Rob Lowe's head because he tweeted about a millionaire football player acting like a jerk), so your mileage may vary.
The disc only has one real bonus feature besides the trailer: a behind the scenes piece that spends a full third of its time simply recapping the cast (most of whom aren't even involved in the footage that follows it). It's fun to see a few brief glimpses at the (equally few) practical action beats, like a car driving off a 2nd story parking garage and crashing below, but it's so short (under three minutes) that it's barely worth the time it takes to access the "bonus" menu and select it. I'd much rather see a full on look at On running through one of his big stunt scenes, or even a showcase for how the massive amounts of digital effects were put together. I'd particularly love to see whoever had to add glowing orange embers to seemingly every other shot in the film, which along with its blue/orange tint for the exterior scenes, makes the movie resemble an adaptation of a modern movie poster.
I don't know if I've ever explained "OWN COLLECTION" on the source when it comes to movies I don't particularly like. I don't blind buy these things; I often get sent full retail discs (not screener copies in generic plastic holders) from the various distributors that have found my address over the years, and I do my best to watch all of the horror ones I get (they're not all horror - I inexplicably get a number of family movies that seemed directed to black audiences, and it delights me every time before I put them in a pile for trade-ins). But nowadays, if I didn't specifically ask for them I treat them as "if I have time" affairs, keeping them for a week or two past their release date and if I still haven't gotten to them, putting them in the garage with all of the other movies I would like to see but probably never will (damn my Powerball loss!). However, with my resumed commitment to updating HMAD regularly (1-2x a week, minimum), you guys will get to see more of these little random ones, as I'll be forcing myself to make time for the movies that will otherwise end up in my garage next to my son's old carseat and a bunch of my wife's work junk.
Rest assured, it won't be *staying* in my collection now that I've seen it, because I'm pretty selective with what I keep these days (mostly due to shelf space), but I'm mostly glad I gave it a shot. Even with its appallingly haphazard storytelling, it's worth watching to enjoy On's considerable prowess with the punching/kicking that you really don't get to see often enough in zombie fare, and as a Horde fan I was surprised/charmed to see it get ripped off so blindly. If this was just a straight (meaning: serious) zombie ripoff of The Raid, instead of a exploitative cartoon, it'd probably be everyone's favorite movie of the year. Alas, it's definitely not going to be for everyone, though at least it hits the ground running - you'll know whether or not you're in that group pretty quickly. If you hate the first five minutes, it won't improve in your eyes - abandon ship and leave it for those who can stomach its foibles on the strength of its sheer ridiculousness.
What say you?