When I think of martial arts, I don’t typically think of Chile. South America actually has a pretty rich a legacy of martial arts with Brazil’s own tropical dance fighting, capoeira and a modified system of jiu jitsu that put the Gracie family right in the middle of mixed martial arts fame. In spite of this, however, no one down there is really making martial arts movies. That is, with the exception of Marko Zaror and Ernesto Espinoza, Chile’s own musclehead stuntman and his collaborating director.
Together, the two rocked film festivals with a feature called Kiltro, which was a pastiche of traditional martial arts movies and westerns which had all the hip genre film reviewers talking. In spite of the buzz, it still failed to break out internationally. However, in Chile it was a sensation and Espinoza and Zaror teamed up again for this low budget super hero actioner. I finally got the opportunity to see what was going on in other martial arts markets and given how I’m a fan of flying fists and feet, I’m always interested in seeing what other parts of the world are doing with a genre usually left up to Asian filmmakers. When the French tried their hand at martial arts we wound up with District B13, one of the most sensational action pictures I’ve seen this decade so I was primed for another big surprise from another non-asian market. Unfortunately, Chile doesn’t really measure up to France.
In the wake of a terrible tragedy that left his parents dead and his little brother in a psychiatric hospital, Marko spends his days honing his body and training himself in martial arts in the event that ever has to defend himself or his brother again. By night, he works the door at a strip club for an asshole boss who belittles him and in the time leftover, he visits his brother in the hospital, trying to coax him back into the world. However, when he manages to foil a home invasion and makes the news, Santiago erupts in cheers and encourages him to take his vigilante game to the streets. This new hope also affects his near catatonic brother, whose condition also improves. He uses his training, dons a mask and hits the street punching purse snatchers and gangbangers until his antics lead him to the hideout of a pedophile ring. His mission doesn’t go so well and matters only worsen when a sexy news anchor exploits him for ratings.
The hype about Mirageman and Marko Zaror looked an awful lot like the hype about Tony Jaa and Ong Bak back around 2004 when word was hitting the movie wire about this new wave of action movies emerging from Thailand that combined a relentless pace with frantic energy and a crew of stuntmen eager to put themselves in harm’s way for a good fight scene. If only this were even remotely close to the truth.
Zaror is an impressive specimen of the human form, tuned to physical perfection and he’s a mighty impressive martial artist, evident in the many fight scenes on display in Mirageman but each set piece has the potential for greatness and squanders it in a series of set-em up and knock-em down fight scenes where a punch and a kick disposes of just about everyone put in front of Mirageman. The amateurish direction for each of these fights also leaves each action scene without any sort of pace and each one seems tired and lazy. Espinoza frames his fights wide and even though Zaror looks great flying through the air, going toe to toe with whomever he’s fighting has the general appeal of your average home video of fight choreography on Youtube.
To further drag the picture down, the script calls for this to be your average dude fighting crime kind of picture and all the action is punctuated by Zaror riding the bus to and from his crimefighting, which is cute at first but gets old quickly. We’re also force through several scenes of him frantically trying to get in an out of his costume and there’s no shortage of news reel where most of the public seems at least ambivalent about his presence. So if so few people give a shit, why should I?
It takes no time at all for quirky to become annoying. The plot wanders aimlessly, introducing plot points and characters from out of left field and then forgetting them once it is convenient to do so. It never goes anywhere! And if this doesn’t seem like it could get any more dismal, Marko Zaror slogs through the picture with fewer lines of dialog than Schwarzenegger did in The Terminator. As a fighter and a stuntman, he’s outstanding! As an actor, though, I’d rather watch 24 hours of Pauly Shore comedies. He often shows promise as a man tormented by a particularly horrific past and a life that flat-out sucks but then he’ll spend three minutes in a montage of goofing off and posing in his costume on rooftops.
Mirageman lays it on thick with a story of great tragedy and how people deal with powerlessness and loss but it’s couched in often inappropriately silly comedic moments. A near complete lack of script has it sleep walking through a series of action scenes that should have been exhilarating but fall flat every time and the lack of a solid lead or anything resembling an interesting relationship leave this picture feeling sleepy and barren. Low budget action movies are supposed to shine and surprise the hell out of you with their innovation but in spite of Zaror’s great talent for fighting and choreography, Espinoza’s inability to pace and shoot the fight scenes leave the action to sink at sea.
Put simply, Mirageman is a mess.