Whenever I sit down to watch a Marko Zaror movie, I invariably find myself wondering why he doesn’t have more of a fan following in the US. He’s a top martial artist, has a strong screen presence and is a much better actor than the action film genre generally requires. And yet the Chilean star continues to find an American audience elusive.
Unfortunately, Zaror’s latest, Mandrill, is probably not going to do much to enhance his reputation here in the States. It is not the actor’s best collaboration with director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza. That would be 2006’s Kiltro. But Mandrill still manages to be an entertaining 90 minutes of martial arts action.
Mandrill (Zaror) is a stone cold killer, one of the best assassins for hire in the business. And as he plies his trade, he is always on the lookout for the one-eyed man known only as The Cyclops, who killed his parents years ago when he was a boy. When he is offered a contract on the Cyclops’s life, Mandrill manages to track down his daughter, the lovely Dominique, who is rumored to be the only one who knows where her father is hiding. But as he attempts to seduce Cyclops’s location out of Dominique, mandrill doesn’t count on falling in love with her.
Although the plot description sounds like the stuff of serious drama, the film never forgets that it is a martial arts movie first and foremost, serving up plenty of fight sequences. Acting as his own fight coordinator, as he has done for several of his previous films, Zaror manages to highlight his own abilities while never making it look as if his character is having too easy of a time dispatching his opponents.
Unfortunately for the film, Espinoza’s direction of the fight sequences is maddeningly inconsistent. There are several times when the camera circles Zaror and an opponent, searching for an interesting angle but seldom finding it. And then things will turn on a dime and Espinoza will show us exactly what we need in an action sequence, showing us the flow of the battle, the back and forth of the combatants and even momentarily slowing things down to showcase a particular instance of Zaror’s athleticism.
To say that Mandrill wears its James Bond influence on its sleeve would be a gross understatement. From his suave way with the ladies, one doesn’t have to sit through the film’s closing credits’ acknowledgement of thanks to the various actors who have played the British secret agent with a license to kill to see how their performances have informed Zaror’s approach to his role here. The film’s opening sequence, which shows off Mandrill’s skills, but which is inconsequential to the main plot, is similar to how the Bond films start off, while the casino location and some emotional beats are directly lifted from 2006’s Casino Royale. Even the soundtrack music owes a debt of gratitude, and perhaps a royalty payment, to composer John Barry’s classic scores for the series.