Films don’t just premiere in Hollywood anymore. The premiere of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s new action film Pound of Flesh turned up the crazy on the red carpet as the film premiered to an audience of cast, crew, and industry insiders at the The Grove on May 7. The Grove is the ultra-hip extension to LA’s venerable Farmers Market, in walking distance of CBS Television City and The Writers Guild. If you ever watched The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, much of the show’s opening credits were filmed at The Grove.
The rather unusual red carpet included not only the stars, crew, director, and producers of the film, but a cornucopia of the famous and near famous including fashion models, UFC fighters, Vine-stars Alex James and Zane Hijazi, and His Highness Prince Mario Max Schaumburg-Lippe, who brought his mom and dad with him, Prince Waldemar and Princess Antonia.
The crowd eventually made it into the theater where director Ernie Barbarash (Cube Zero, Assassination Games) ran into complications making opening comments as the microphone refused to work. From out in the crowd, Van Damme yelled, “Louder, Ernie, we all want to hear what you have to say.” Barbarash yelled back, “Well, I guess that shows that there’s a first time for everything.”
Eventually the microphone was fixed and Barbarash thanked the cast and crew, and then paid tribute to the actor playing the film’s villain, Darren Shahlavi (Alone in the Dark, Ip Man 2), who passed away in January. The production partners from China also spoke. They emphasized the interest Chinese companies had in working with American filmmakers.
After all the glitz, there really was a movie and Pound of Flesh was surprisingly satisfying as an action flick and as something deeper.
I decided to see this film because I wanted some movie excitement. Even the current Schwarzenegger-zombie movie Maggie, turned out to be a generally quiet piece about love and compassion. Screenwriter Joshua James (Alien Uprising) did not disappoint. Blood flying through the air in slow motion, car chases, kung-fu fighting, and explosions made it true to the genre.
Van Damme plays Deacon, a former black-ops agent who travels to Manila to donate his kidney to his dying niece, played by Adele Baughan. The day before the scheduled operation, Deacon becomes a victim of organ theft. Waking up to find the crude stiches, and realizing what has happened, he puts his black-ops talents to use searching for his lost kidney. The clock is ticking for his niece and for him as he loses blood with each step.
Deacon is aided in his search for his missing pound of flesh by his brother, George, played by John Ralston (The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, Degrassi: The Next Generation), a former underworld opponent, Kung, played by Aki Aleong (Blogcritics review, The Quest), and a hooker trying to go straight, Ana, played by Charlotte Peters.
Their quest takes them through the bad sections of Manila, out into the woods, and finally to a heavily fortified compound. Mayhem ensues.
What sets this apart from a typical martial arts film, is the way screenwriter James added layers of complexity to the story.
Deacon and his brother have a past. Separated at a young age because of divorce, Deacon becomes the bad boy soldier-of-fortune, while George becomes a devout Catholic professor. Their relationship evolves through the course of the hunt; each learns from and moves toward the other, blurring their yin/yang separation.
Also, like most action films, the stakes get higher and the problems multiply as the heroes get closer to their goal. But the challenges in Pound of Flesh are not only physical, but moral. The ultimate obstacle is not physical at all.
From a production standpoint, the only problem I had with the film was that although the story takes place in Manila, the exterior action shots were filmed in China. As I watched the film, I kept thinking to myself, this must be the Chinese section of Manila.
In spite of that flaw, I recommend this film if you are an action fan or like Van Damme, and are looking for a fun evening. The performances by Ralston and Peters, the first film for this accomplished stage actress, are both excellent.
Pound of Flesh is rated “R” for violence, language, and some sexuality. It opens in theaters, iTunes, and Video on Demand on May 15.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00MHNENBA]