After checking out the trailer and watching the first ten minutes of Kill ‘Em All, I was expecting to be tortured by a typical poorly-made straight-to-video action movie. Fortunately, Kill ‘Em All is a very entertaining straight-to-video film. A low budget and bad acting is present here, but those faults are forgiven once the story kicks in, which happens right after the first ten minutes. From then on, the audience is treated to non-stop action with a storyline similar to Battle Royale, Mortal Kombat, and Saw.
Kill ‘Em All opens up with three different assassins successfully completing hits on their targets. Once each assassin gets back home to relax after a tough day of killing, they suddenly fall asleep and then wake up in an unknown location. When they wake up in a dungeon-type room, they see that other hitmen have also been kidnapped and are all prisoners of this killing chamber. Here we are introduced to a colorful assortment of Mortal Kombat-type characters: an American hotshot guy who’s suicidal (Johnny Messner), a hot Thai girl (Ammara Siripong), Liu Kang (Tim Man), a blood-thirsty Thai fighter, a 60-year old kickboxing champion (the late Joe Lewis), a crazy smiling teenager (Rashid Phoenix), a French fighter, and an angry German dude. Once everyone gets to negatively know each other through some macho “I’m more man than you are” bonding, they hear the voice of Snakehead (played by legendary Gordon Liu) on the intercom, who informs them that all shall have one-on-one fights with each other to the death, with the last remaining combatant allowed to stay alive. Once someone wins, that fighter is allowed to enter a special room filled with weapons and choose only one deadly tool for their next fight. If one person doesn’t follow the rules, the killing chamber will be filled with gas and everyone dies.
A pretty basic two-dimensional story is only offered here, but damn, this was an exciting film if you accept this as just an entertaining low-budget action movie. I’m not really a fan of straight-to-video films but I do watch the respectable ones once in a while. The most memorable ones I’ve seen recently are Undisputed 3, Ninja, and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning – ironically all starring my favorite underdog action hero Scott Adkins. Kill ‘Em All is another respectable straight-to-video film that is worth watching and is pretty much a portfolio film that showcases up-and-coming action heroes (Tim Man, Siripong, and Phoenix) who may become more famous in future films, as well as respecting two great fighters from the past – Gordon Liu and Joe Lewis. Everyone gets to show off their varying fighting skills which are all filmed by director Raimund Huber in a visually-pleasing way. Besides seeing Gordon Liu in one satisfying lengthy fight scene in the climax, the highlights of the film are actually with Snakehead’s two goons played by a huge Eastern European-looking guy and a huge buff-as-hell Thai woman. There are expectations in an action movie when we think that the female protagonist will have a cat fight with the female antagonist due to the politically-correct rule that a female can only be beaten up by another female. Well, Kill ‘Em All ignores those expectations. The female protagonist (Siripont) has her climactic fight scene with a man. And the female antagonist (played by this huge body-builder woman) has her climactic fight scene with a man – both fights are extremely brutal. So I was pretty surprised to see the rare man vs. woman fight scenes in this film.
One of the biggest highlights of Kill ‘Em All is quite bittersweet actually. I vaguely heard of Joe Lewis who was a famous American kickboxer in the 1960s and 1970s, he fought Chuck Norris in a bout, and starred in two 1970s films – Jaguar Lives! and Force: Five. Kill ‘Em All was Joe Lewis’ last film since he unfortunately died during post-production. At 68 years old, this guy still seemed like a pretty worthy opponent with his unique presence (sort of like a combination of Gary Busey and Dolph Lundgren). I’ve never seen Jaguar Lives! which is supposed to be like a James Bond film mixed with martial arts, but I’m now going to seek it out on video to see this kickboxer champion in his prime. As with the recent Expendables films, it’s always a joy to see forgotten legends get another chance in cinema one more time and watch them whoop ass in their old age.
The 1080p 1.78:1 presentation is overall very satisfying. Much of the film takes place in dark, claustrophobic rooms, so don’t expect to be blown away by the picture quality. With its low budget and shot-on-digital look, the video quality is what one should expect. Don’t watch this film for visual eye candy and colors galore, but what is offered is an image with plenty of detail, sharpness, and natural colors with a touch of muddiness here and there. Any issues with the video transfer is more of an intentional creative choice. This Blu-ray looks good and I can’t imagine it looking any better.
Well Go USA provides an awesome-sounding audio track. The English DTS-HD 5.1 is a vibrant dynamic track that will impress most martial-arts fans. The dialogue is clean and distortion-free, the surrounds are quite active and aggressive, and the sound mix makes excellent use of the sound space enveloping the viewer. The non-stop fights in Kill ‘Em All are so brutal that the sounds made me feel beaten to pulp by the time the film ends.
English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and English subtitles are also included.
If you count other movie trailers as an extra, here you go! The included trailers are for Kill ‘Em All and other Well Go USA releases. An interview or some featurette with the late Joe Lewis would have been nice. Oh well!
– trailers for other Well Go USA releases
Many of the respectable, recent straight-to-video action movies remind me of the old days (for my generation, that’s the 1980s and 1990s). Every time I watch an entertaining low-budget action film in this style of Kill ‘Em All, I think how such film could have been a huge theatrical hit in the 1990s but would probably flop if released in theaters now. I was expecting a “so-bad-it’s-good” film, but actually Kill ‘Em All turned out to be an entertaining martial arts film that has plenty of characteristics to appreciate.
If you are looking for a smart action movie with impressive acting and a big budget polish, I would skip this film because you will most likely be disappointed. But if you like martial arts films that star real professional fighters or if you like a straight-to-video film that’s almost good enough to play in a theater, I recommend checking out Kill ‘Em All.