I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Savage Dog

SAVAGE DOG is an impressively weird new Scott Adkins joint written and directed by Jesse V. Johnson, the veteran stuntman and director of PIT FIGHTER, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS 2, THE BUTCHER, THE PACKAGE and the upcoming TRIPLE THREAT and ACCIDENT MAN. This one is a period piece, taking place in Indochina circa 1959, portrayed as sort of a CASABLANCA-esque scoundrel zone, or “a melting pot of post-war villainy,” as the titles put it. And some of this villainy will piss off Adkins, setting off a straight up bloodbath.

Adkins plays Martin Tillman, who enters the film in mythical fashion, climbing out of a muddy grave during a lightning storm as narration from the great Keith David (THEY LIVE) promises us a story about the time he “faced down an army and spilled a river of blood.” David will show up on camera later as a bar owner named Valentine, but since the man has more narrating credits to his name than Morgan Freeman they must’ve followed the Morgan Freeman rule with him: if he’s in your movie, get him to narrate.

So Martin is the most hyped up Adkins character yet, what with Valentine talking up how great he is, how people don’t believe in the legend but it’s true, how he loves him like a son, quoting various words of wisdom to describe his state of mind. Later, when we get back to him surviving a shooting and climbing out of the mud, the bad guys will compare him to a demon, which counts as a “Just How Badass Is He?”

There are a bunch of cool posters for SAVAGE DOG online and I don’t know if some are fan art or something but I liked these pretty colors

Martin is an Irish boxer (new accent for Adkins), has a price on his head in the west for some I.R.A. bombings, and is the prisoner of the “European war criminals, ex-Nazis and other undesirables” who seem to rule the place. They let him out of his cell for a pit fight – not high flying Boyka stuff, more HARD TIMES style bare knuckle brawls but with some side kicks here and there (though the kicks get fancier as the movie goes on).

When Martin wins, the loser gets killed and he gets let out. It almost seems like the commandant Steiner (Vladimir Kulich, THE 13TH WARRIOR) just frees him to fuck with him.

Martin has a thing for Isabelle (Juju Chan, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY), rejected daughter of Steiner, adopted daughter of Valentine, so he goes and works as a bouncer at their little shack-sized bar. And he’s a violent motherfucker so he also agrees to come back and fight in Steiner’s human cockfights, and also to take a fall, causing all kinds of trouble.

This doesn’t have the fine-tuned storytelling of an UNDISPUTED – dialogue scenes with the villain can drag a little, the score (by Sean Murray, SCORPION) can get overbearing, and I didn’t feel a strong momentum to the narrative, it feels kind of “and then this happens, and then this happens, and then this happens.” But it works in part because it’s interesting to watch these characters clash.

First of all, this Nazi bastard Steiner. He’s a type of talky, non-combatant villain that can drag down an action movie, but I enjoy that he goes the extra mile in being a total piece of shit. He not only refuses to acknowledge his daughter once a week when she brings him flowers, but sits down to type her a letter that starts out making him seem sympathetic, saying that he knows she wants him to tell her he loves her.

But then he writes, “But unfortunately I do not. You are at best the daughter of a whore.” So, if you ever see him drinking out of a #1 Dad mug, call him on it.

Then you have the Vietnamese war criminal Boon (Cung Le, DRAGON EYES, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS), who admittedly spends most of the movie standing by as a henchman, but Le has such an interesting face and disdainful stare that he’s interesting even in those scenes. As in BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS, he’s a bull getting ready to charge, and when he does he seems like the star attraction.

But the best villain is Jean-Pierre “The Executioner” Rastignak, a Spaniard who fought for the Third Reich, now looks great wearing nice light colored suits, bright shirts and fedoras, and enjoys slicing people up with a huge foldout hunting knife. In his first scene he takes off his jacket to get down into a mud pit and slashes a guy to death, and it’s a relief that he doesn’t ruin his clothes.

He’s played by Marko Zaror, and this is another great example of the Chilean fighter’s ever-growing range as an actor. He plays this cocky, sadistic prick just as convincingly as his introverted heroes in movies like KILTRO and REDEEMER, or his suave romantic in MANDRILL. I never expected him to become such a good character actor.

Adkins too is defying expectations with this role – he’s not an anti-hero who turns out to be honorable, but one who goes shockingly overboard in his vengeance. He strolls in with a bamboo hat and a machete on his back like a sword, starts butchering people, chopping people with a hatchet. When Valentine and Isabelle had to stop him from beating on a problem customer at the bar, that was normal “you’re out of control!” type shit – it didn’t seem like it was foreshadowing this much of a massacre! Dozens of people get shot, and it’s not all digital blood sprays and bullet hits, there are lots of bloody squibs and people spitting real (fake) blood. Heads explode, and there are throats slashed with fat ribbons of blood pumping out. He kills a bar full of people with a machete, chops off a guy’s arm, another guy’s head which he carries into the bar and puts down on the counter and everybody stays cool enough not to look at it. Or maybe they don’t even notice it because they’re drawn to his fiery eyes. This is considerably gorier than other Adkins vehicles, so it’s fitting that for the climax he’s wearing a blue shirt and brown pants like Ash.

I’m not gonna give away what he does to Zaror at the end, but, uh… it’s something I’ve never seen another action hero do. When he’s walking away he stops and leans against a car with his head bowed and, I don’t know, maybe he’s just exhausted, but I wondered if even he was taking a moment to think “Jesus, I got a little carried away there, didn’t I?”

It’s messier than some horror movies, but it also has the action goods. He gets to have a classical training montage, doing pushups and pullups and punching bamboo (sorry, no Stan Bush or similar song). And unlike CLOSE RANGE, where the climax is Adkins vs. a non-martial artist, Johnson wisely gets the boss out of the way early. What’s more, he’s cornered at gunpoint but his arrogant speech about being an aristocrat annoys Martin enough to make him throw the gun down and stab him with a sword. It’s a suitably brutal death for a deadbeat dad who insisted on putting on his swastika lapel pin before facing death.

So Johnson saves the good shit, the henchmen, for last. Because right then Cung Le’s Boon walks in. He has not been previously established as a fighter (not that he would need to be) but he says, “I used to be a fighter. Let’s see how good you are.” When Martin tells him he has no beef with him, Boon explains that with his boss dead he has no way to feed his family. This makes it morally upsetting when Martin (SPOILER) dishonorably ends the fight by shooting him. But until then it’s a good fight, taking full advantage of the sledge hammer force of Le’s shorter limbs, knocking Adkins over furniture, smashing through bottles when he ducks kicks. I don’t think Le gets enough credit for all the great movie-stealing fight performances he’s done.

The climactic duel with Zaror (UNDISPUTED III rematch!) is also very good, and reminiscent of Zaror’s choreography in THE REDEEMER in that Martin targets one of his legs for repeated attacks, chips away at him for a long time until he completely breaks him down. The stunt coordinator and fight choreographer is Luke LaFontaine (THE LAST SENTINEL).

There are other Adkins movies I like better, but this is a strong one that really stands out for its oddness and savagery. In the end it seems like Valentine is trying to tell us we’ve witnessed an origin story. Martin Tillman has become Savage Dog. I sure hope we get a chance to find out what kind of tricks he does.

SAVAGE DOG is supposed to be available digitally today. I couldn’t find it on the VOD through my cable, but it is on iTunes and Amazon. I’ve been told it’s already available to stream on Australian Netflix.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 8th, 2017 at 11:07 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

25 Responses to “Savage Dog”

  1. The Undefeated Gaul

    August 8th, 2017 at 11:18 am

    I had a feeling you’d like it much more than me! That line about being carried away made me laugh, good stuff. So you’re not too worried about the upcoming Jesse Johnson joints then?

  2. I was on set for all the good stuff. Watching Scott impale Vladimir with that sword in person was pretty awesome. I just had to say that. Scott slays Buliwyf! Unbelievably rad.

  3. As I said earlier on Twitter I found this to be pretty dispiriting.

    Don’t get me wrong there were some great fights and solid performances but it mostly just felt like a Grotty Underground Fight Movie smashed together with a slasher movie and an inferior copy of Commando.

    I could potentially dig the man without honour aspect of Adkin’s character but it just felt a bit too nihilistic for me and really didn’t give me anything much to root for.

    The Cung Le fight ending was a moment that should have worked for me but it was just there, no moment of “Oh Shit,he’ll do anything to get the job done” more just, oh he’s really just a prick.

    Also it felt weirdly non-judgmental of being a Nazi.

    Kudos to Adkins though, the Norn-Iron accent was not terrible.

  4. Can confirm, this was added to Australian Netflix over the weekend along with Ninja: Shadow of a Tear and Boyka: Undisputed.

    I get the vibe Netflix is giving Adkins a push? Could be interesting if they pick him up for a series or something.

  5. It’s on Netflix here in Norway too. I really liked this movie. And together with HEADSHOT and THE RAID it shows that flix aren’t afraid of a little ultra violence

  6. It’s also on French Netflix but that’s the only Adkins vehicle they added here, no BOYKA or NINJA 2.

  7. I consider this one of Adkins best works. The Cung Le fight was first rate but not a fan on how it ended though.

  8. It’s on UK Netflix as is Boyka. Totally down for an Adkins roams-the-land-having-adventures series should it happen.

  9. “Weirdly gory” is my favorite kind of gory. I’m in.

  10. Is there anything wrong with using an VPN to watch Netflix from another country to see Savage Dog?

  11. Yep it is on Japanese netflix too, it has been up for a couple of weeks along with Boyka. I watched Boyka automatically of course but I skipped this so I shall have to go back as the write up sounds interesting.

  12. Sternshein, as long as you are paying Netflix somewhere…

  13. Afaik Netflix found a way to block VPNs.

    I assume this was a cover their ass move as you automatically get access to the full range of films and shows available in whatever country you land in.

    Also Ninja I&II are gone from UK/Ireland Netflix :(

  14. If you have a Netflix account and know a VPN that still allows you to watch foreign Neflixes, go for it! (If it wouldn’t be so frustrating, I would congratulate Netflix for blocking VPNs that efficiently, though. )

  15. I was able to get Australia Netflix to work but I know Canada doesn’t. It’s actually interesting to see how each countries Netflix movies are different.

  16. American Netflix has (or had, I don’t know) more classic German movies than German Netflix!

  17. Man that end to the Zaror fight is… just holy shit dude… Seriously?

  18. Yeah, this was pretty much my opinion about it too. Nice and weird with lots of blood, not quite as tight as the Undisputed series but with another great Adkins vs Zaror finale. Made me pretty excited for the director’s next few movies.

  19. With HARD TARGET II, BOYKA, NINJA I and II and EL GRINGO on the dvd shelf, and a newly arrived pay check in the bank, I thought what the hell and ordered UNDISPUTED II and III, ELIMINATORS and CLOSE RANGE. My wife won’t be happy, but I think it’s worth it.

  20. You might want to check out GREEN STREET 3, pegsman.

  21. As I said on the BOYKA thread, I loved this odd, nasty, savage little gem.

    General thoughts after a recent rewatch (SPOILERS):

    It’s kinda great the way our expectations during all three of the final confrontations are upturned. Bravo.

    I even (or perhaps that should be “especially”) love Keith David’s monologues. Long after his character is gone, he’s still spouting all sorts of stuff about badass Adkins is, even when none of it matched what’s actually happening on screen. It’s as if someone fed David’s voice into a “Trautman Generator”.

    Zaror is superb in this, as is Cung Le (who I’ve only just realised is essentially Bolo 2.0. Only with feelings and charisma and shit.)

    Marvelous stuff.

  22. Just watched it. I’m glad they’re still making action star vehicles and I’m glad it doesn’t pull any punches, but if they do make sequels I hope Johnson is willing to leave the writing to people who can come up with better stories and dialogue. And maybe rewrite Adkins’ character a little bit so he doesn’t end up being the least interesting character in the film and has a few likable traits beyond “played by Scott Adkins” and “not a Nazi at least”.

  23. Loved your review man, haha, yeah I recommended JuJu to Jesse for this flick, was very into the last 45 minutes, kind of wish the back story on JuJu character showed a bit of her life in her villiage, and seems like more was written and either not filmed or edited out. Nice swerve idea they had showing JuJu with a sword in the Cannes poster.

    Actress Juju Chan Interview SAVAGE DOG! EXCLUSIVE! (C) 2016 Dan's Movie Report - Danny Templegod

    Movie Reviews, TV reviews, web series reviews, exclusive interviews, exclusive photos, action, horror, science fiction, drama, Dan's Movie Report.

    that interview has some exclusive photos, and was conducted last year.

  24. I kinda loved this movie. It was so grotesque-ly violent that I found myself gleefully giggling at how excessive the vengeance became to the point it became wonderfully absurd.

    But what was the deal with the strange narration? How could Keith David keep narrate after his death. That is some omniscient narration from beyond the grave. That isa pretty byg narrative hickup. Perhaps a post production decision?

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