STUDIO: Magnolia
MSRP: $26.98
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 98 Minutes

• Behind the Scenes featurette
• Fight Training featurette
• Storyboards
• Deleted Scenes & Bloopers

The Pitch

Enter the Latin Dragon.

The Humans

Marko Zaror, Caterina Jadresic, Miguel Angel de Luca, Alejandro Castillo, Man Soo Yoon

Written and Directed by Ernesto Diaz Espinoza

The Nutshell

Chile stops hogging the South American coastline long enough to make one hell of a martial arts movie.

“Round 1… FIGHT!”

The Lowdown

Have you ever stumbled across some incredible new thing, be it an album or a television show or a novel, some amazing undiscovered diamond in the rough that nobody seems to know about but you? It’s not long before you’re nagging everyone you know about it ad nauseum: “You’ve gotta check this out,” you tell them, convinced that once they’ve experienced it for themselves, surely they’ll become immediate converts, new evangelists who can spread the word about this remarkable new whatever-it-is you’ve found. Maybe you locate like-minded fans on the internet, with whom you can endlessly complain about what a travesty it is that something so brilliant can go so thoroughly unnoticed. Then one day, you notice a change: a groundswell on some message board; a brief mention in a major media publication; an overheard conversation among strangers on the street. Word of mouth is growing, and quickly. Soon, people are actually telling you about this amazing little obscurity they’d discovered, to which you smile and politely tell them that you were a fan months ago. But strangely, you’re starting to sour on the whole affair. Although you’d hoped that this thing you loved would one day get the recognition it deserved, you never imagined it would get this popular… trendy, even. It was so much better before all these new dumbass fans showed up. This thing used to be your little secret and now it’s ruined. Whose stupid fucking idea was it to tell everyone about this anyway?

I sincerely doubt Kiltro will ever be considered trendy, let alone be widely seen at all. But if writer-director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and actor-asskicker Marko Zaror continue to make movies together, it’s only a matter of time before they develop a following, one with a ravenous appetite for the duo’s back catalogue. There could come a day when Kiltro is seen as the pair’s Reservoir Dogs, serving as the opening salvo in their long and illustrious careers. I truly hope that day comes; just so long as their success doesn’t dilute my love for this movie. Billed the first-ever Chilean martial arts movie, Kiltro is so much more than that; Equal parts goofy love story, solemn revenge melodrama, surreal dreamscape, and tongue-in-cheek genre homage; all packaged in kung-fu wrapper and topped with a gloriously bombastic faux-Morricone score. Folks, take it from me: You’ve gotta check this out.

Max Kalba takes his dance competitions very seriously.

Marko Zaror plays Zamir, a small-time Chilean street tough who develops an unrequited infatuation with the daughter of the local Tae Kwon Do sensei. But when an old enemy of her father’s comes to town with an eye for revenge, Zamir’s beloved is kidnapped and he alone can save her. Though Kiltro has the kind of oversimplified plot that seems more suited towards an 80’s videogame than a feature film, director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza pulls it off by heightening the narrative to a level just short of outright parody. Every scene, no matter how small, is imbued with mythic importance. When Zamir’s advances are rebuffed by the sensei’s daughter, he isn’t merely heartbroken; he stumbles theatrically through the streets in a lovelorn daze, his frustrations slowly bubbling to the surface until soon he’s sprinting down the street, screaming at the top of his lungs in anguish… And all this set to David Bowie’s “Modern Love”, no less. This is not the kind of movie that underplays its hand.

And why should it? Kiltro is a love letter to martial arts flicks everywhere, and it’s not exactly a genre that’s renowned for its delicate understatement. The movie has a lot of fun playing with the genre’s conventions, from the “Hwwaaaaah!” sound that accompanies its title card, to its valedictory shot of our hero walking off into a very stylized sunset. Kiltro is the kind of movie where all it takes to become an unstoppable killing machine is a single evening’s training in the desert, drinking psychotropic tea and practicing backflips. It’s the kind of movie where a boy can come of age by simply cutting off his cherry-red mullet. The kind of movie where a man bicycle-kicks another man into a soccer goal. Simply put, Kiltro gets it. It understands that to make a great martial arts movie you have to embrace the genre’s inherent absurdity. That’s not to imply that Kiltro is a comedy, necessarily; far from it in fact. But director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza has an uncanny knack of switching from melodramatic martial-arts epic to self-aware genre deconstruction and back again, and it’s precisely Kiltro’s ability to walk this line that makes it so damn fun. The movie is often extremely silly, but never at the expense of its own story.

“You guys, I told you all to wear the henchman outfits I bought! Now we don’t even match, we’re gonna look ridiculous!”

That story, as warmed-over and straightforward as it might be, works in large part thanks to the movie’s patience: There’s a point where Kiltro goes almost a full hour without a single fight sequence, and while some might complain about a dearth of action, I found it refreshingly old-fashioned. Rather than giving us one meaningless action beat after another, Kiltro is willing to build gradually to a single, climactic fight… And what a fight it is. Kiltro ends with one of the best one-vs-many fight sequences I’ve seen in a long time, as Zamir takes on forty-odd goons in a narrow alleyway. Marko Zaror makes for an excellent action star, and the fight choreography and stuntwork is all top-notch (choreographed by Zaror, a former stuntman himself). Zaror and Espinoza aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel with these fight scenes, but they sure seem to know how to make a damn good wheel the old-fashioned way.
The performances are all quite good as far as martial arts flicks go. Marko Zaror holds his own in the lead role, though he’s clearly more comfortable as ultimate-killing-machine Zamir from the third act, and less so as the mopey stalker at the front of the movie. Miguel Angel De Luca is very effective as the villain Max Kalba, though his role consists mostly of glowering while the cinematography does all the work for him (Espinoza shoots Max Kalba like a classic Sergio Leone villain; he’s all eyes and feet). But the one performance that really stood out for me was Roberto Avendaño as the dwarf martial arts master Nik Nak. Despite the silly name (cribbed from The Man with the Golden Gun, I might add), there’s a surprising level of sadness to the character, as a man who has an endless supply of martial arts knowledge, but due to his small stature, completely unable to apply it. As he says to Zamir matter-of-factly, “How can I possibly defeat Max Kalba? I’m old, and a dwarf.” A lot of movies might play this scene for laughs, but not Kiltro, and the film is better off for it.

“My kung fu shall never diminish. ‘Cuz I eats me spinach.”

Special mention must be made of the spaghetti western influence on Kiltro, especially in regards to its musical score. The composer, credited only as “Rocco”, provides a fantastic score that is pure Morricone, with some funky Lalo Schifrin type cues sprinkled throughout. However, I have to point out that I did notice one piece of music that was basically stolen note-for-note from Once Upon a Time in the West, so I suppose it’s possible that much of the score is just lifted piecemeal from some of Ennio Morricone’s lesser-known material – I’m not expert enough on his music to know for certain. I sincerely hope this isn’t the case, because it’s one hell of a score, and a big reason why I fell in love with this movie.

I can’t remember the last time I was so thoroughly charmed by a film like I was with Kiltro. It’s not a perfect movie: The first thirty minutes drags a bit until the villain shows up, and there are a handful of flashbacks explaining Max Kalba’s need for revenge that are mostly unnecessary. But I spent the better part of Kiltro‘s runtime with a big goofy grin on my face, and that is a rare enough occurrence these days that I’m more than willing to look past these imperfections. Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and Marko Zaror have created a fascinating movie, a mixture of Hong Kong martial arts movie and spaghetti western with a South American sensibility. Their second film together, a superhero movie called Mirageman, is currently in Chilean theaters, and is due for DVD release in the states this fall. So to hell with Iron Man or The Dark Knight… The number one slot on my list of this year’s most anticipated superhero movies has just been overtaken. I just hope this bandwagon stays roomy enough that I can keep putting my feet up…

The Package

First things first: Kiltro’s Region 1 DVD defaults to the English audio track, and the dubbing is simply atrocious. Maybe this was some kind of ironic attempt to mimic the kind of dubbing of Chinese kung fu movies that was common a few decades ago, but more than likely it’s simply a half-assed job. Word to the wise: Be sure to switch to the Spanish track and turn on the subtitles. You’ll be better off.

“You gotta let ‘em know you’re out there, this is the playoffs.”

Extras are pretty slim here. First off is a Behind the Scenes featurette that’s just five minutes of raw fly-on-the-wall footage from the set. It would’ve been nice to get an interview with the filmmakers somewhere in the doc; since there’s no commentary track, this was my one opportunity to learn more about Marko Zaror and Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, but sadly they hardly appear at all here. Which is too bad, because I’m genuinely curious to learn where these two came from.

There’s also a feature about the fight training that Marko Zaror put the stuntmen through, and though it’s more fly-on-the-wall stuff, it’s a lot more interesting than the Behind the Scenes doc, if only because we get a chance to see them planning out the big climactic fight from the end of the film. It’s interesting to see how meticulously they’d planned for this sequence: They run through the scene more or less shot-by-shot in rehearsal, and it’s nice to be able to compare the rehearsal to the final product. There’s also a feature on the film’s storyboards, which is worth watching for the same reasons.

Finally there is one deleted scene and one alternate scene, neither all that worthwhile, and the most unfunny blooper reel I’ve ever seen in my life. Here’s hoping this movie doesn’t descend into obscurity, if only so I can get another release of Kiltro with some halfway decent extras.

9.3 out of 10