If you’re familiar with Scott Adkins, you know exactly what you’re getting when you sign up for one of his films: gory action, cartoon villains, countless henchmen, and Scott Adkins kicking ass. Savage Dog has much of the above to offer, but not without its shortcomings.
Savage Dog is set in 1959 Indochina. We witness Martin (Scott Adkins) fighting in a giant mud pit. He’s a gladiator, slave to the men who own him, fighting for his life and they make a profit from his victories. The men he fights are also in the same shoes. This is where we meet Rastignac (Marko Zaror), one of the businessmen who run this illegal fight organization. Zaror is carving out his own mark in other action films such as: Machete Kills, and Redeemer. No doubt Rastignac is set up as the final boss fight! The film sets out as a bare-knuckle action film with slow-motion to highlight Adkins’ talented choreography. The audience also meets a love-interest, some dark shadowy figures who have nefarious plans of their own, as well as Valentine (Keith David, also the narrator of the film) who takes Martin under his wing after he’s released. For a B-action film this one is more plot-driven than usual. During the opening act we witness Martin attempting to establish a normal life. Then the bad guys in the movie kill the only people that Martin loves, offering him the fuel to set forth on a mission for revenge.
The opening portion of the film hinted at hand to hand combat for Adkins, but we witness him employ many weapons of destruction to make his way to the final boss. For a while, Savage Dog practically turns into a slasher film, then an exploitation film, before becoming a full-out homage (rip off?) of Commando (1985). All of these things sounds great, right?
Jesse Johnson (Director) relies too heavily on slow-motion to illustrate the action. Slow-motion is a technique that’s best served in small doses. To make an unfair comparison, think of recent action films such as The Raid: Redemption, and John Wick – you may struggle to recall a single slow-motion shot from either of those films. Action films are best when the camera is pulled back just enough to frame the action star, the henchmen, and preferably single shots that showcase the stunts, and fight choreography. Skill points are lost when a fight scene has numerous cuts, angles, and excessive use of slow-motion. Perhaps this is a style choice, or perhaps this is aimed to stretch the runtime.
Nitpicking about storytelling in an Adkins film may sound silly, but if they’re going to try to tell a story, it should be more polished. Keith David’s narration serves to move along the plot, beat exposition over the audience, and plug any holes found along the way. There’s no doubt that David is a terrific voiceover performer, but the storytelling technique here is clumsy.
There are some highlights, however. During said slasher period, it’s a bloody good time to watch Adkins hack bad guys with a machete, and deliver an excessive shotgun kill to a guy who didn’t deserve such a nasty death. There are satisfying action sequences involving Cung Le and Marko Zaror. The video game structure is in place for the mid-level boss fight, followed by the final boss fight.
At the end of the day, Savage Dog delivers what die-hard Adkins fans crave: a high kill count, unlovable villains, and the kind of fun time you had while renting a VHS movie back when your parents let you pick something from the action section of your old video store. Adkins veterans will find much to enjoy here. Any uninitiated audience members may want to seek his earlier films such as Undisputed 2, Ninja, and Ninja: Shadow of a Tear.
*Editors Note* Savage Dog appears as part of our coverage of the 21st edition of Fantasia 2017.