If the sage wisdom of Tina Turner is to be believed, we don’t need another hero. This sentiment proves invaluable if you also subscribe to recent comments made by action movie icon Sylvester Stallone, who asserted that there are no action heroes anymore. Is he correct in this assessment? While one can understand how Stallone arrived at this notion, as a living legend whose career is winding to an inevitable conclusion, it can be argued that there are plenty of action heroes remaining. Some of them are just rising to prominence, some of them are experiencing resurgence, and some are challenging our conceptions of the cinematic action hero formula. These heroes give us the distinct impression that their ass-kicking skills are not limited to the big screen.
Mention a name like Sylvester Stallone and even those most averse to the action genre will recognize it. The same, sadly, cannot currently be said for Scott Adkins, but hopefully that obscurity is approaching its end. Adkins has been training in various styles of martial arts since he was a teenager and, after playing henchmen in several action movies, got his first starring role in 2006’s Undisputed II: Last Man Standing. Since then, he’s appeared in The Bourne Ultimatum, Ninja, and Undisputed III. Adkins has an intensity and presence as an actor matched only by his spectacular combat skills. His talents were impressive enough to land him a role in The Expendables 2, playing the right-hand man to his lifelong idol Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Though his increased popularity in the states is a recent development, Donnie Yen has been a movie star in his native China since the late 1980s. His portrayal of Yip Man, a martial arts teacher and Chinese folk hero who was one of Bruce Lee’s teachers, brought him a fresh batch of international attention. The fight sequences in Ip Man are lightning flurries of fist and foot that wowed batch after batch of festival audiences upon its release. Yen’s incredible speed and dizzying balance is a byproduct of his lifelong martial arts training. His own mother taught him tai chi and wushu from a very young age.
One of director Steven Soderbergh’s greatest strengths is recognizing raw talent in unlikely places. He not only got an incredible performance out of Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight, but he also recognized the acting talents of British standup comic Eddie Izzard in Ocean’s 12 and Ocean’s 13. Most recently, he ventured to the world of mixed martial arts to find the star of his action thriller Haywire. Gina Carano was breaking barriers and records in MMA before she ever shattered bones in the film. She proved to be as graceful in her scene work as she is in the ring. Her status as an ass-kicker was confirmed long before the cameras started rolling, but we’re still excited to see her battle scripted opponents in the upcoming projects, including The Fast and the Furious 6.
You’ve probably seen Marko Zaror on the big screen and didn’t even know it. Early in his career, this Chilean martial artist doubled for the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the 2003 action comedy The Rundown. When you are deemed tough enough to step in when The Rock needs a stunt double, your ass-kicker status is undeniable. In Chile, Zaror is becoming quite the star in his own right. His insane acrobatics and rapid-fire striking power make his films — Mirageman, Kiltro, and Mandrill — spellbinding to behold. Off screen, he has demonstrated his phenomenal martial arts skills at festivals by executing double spin flips live on stage and even kicking over the top of a grown man’s head.
Milla Jovovich is by no means an unknown; she’s been appearing in films for going on twenty-five years. She has enjoyed ongoing success and a wide fanbase for her portrayal of Alice in the Resident Evil franchise. Watching her battle monsters and legions of the undead in these films, based on the popular videogame series, it’s clear that Jovovich is very comfortable in a fight. This may be derived from this stunning actress’ upbringing. She was born in what is now Ukraine, at the time part of the USSR. When she immigrated to the United States with her parents, she experienced a great deal of prejudice and hostility from her classmates; America still boiling with Cold War paranoia. Jovovich grew to be rebellious and somewhat reckless as a result of this. There is no doubting Jovovich is not to be trifled with, on or off the screen.
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Over the last few years, superhero films have transformed from niche novelties to a box office powerhouse genre all to themselves. Comic book publishers have become movie studios and hurl boatloads of cash into adapting property after property. Batman, Superman, The X-Men, and Iron Man are all now major cinematic franchises. The landscape of superhero cinema has completely shifted so that it has become rare to find one made on a shoestring budget.
Luckily, Netflix’s Watch Instantly service is offering you the chance to see not only a low-budget Chilean superhero flick, but also one that is damn good to boot. We hope you’ll consider check out Mirageman.
Who Made It: Mirageman was directed by Ernesto Diaz Espinoza. Espinoza is a guy who just flat out gets genre films. He loves them with an earnest, unbridled passion and there is no niche within which he can’t work…and excel. He tackled superheroes with Mirageman, fantasy warriors with Kiltro, and '70s era spies with Mandrill. Mirageman netted Ernesto an Audience Award for Best Film during 2007’s Fantastic Fest here in Austin.
Who’s In It: The star of the film is a martial arts wizard named Marko Zaror. Zaror earns his distinction as a wizard with every mystifyingly acrobatic kick and flip. His punches land with such blistering speed that you may find yourself rewinding certain scenes and playing them back in slow motion just to identify the exact moment of connection. Marko began his career serving as a stunt double for none other than The Rock in The Rundown. Zaror has collaborated with director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza on each of the three aforementioned genre films (Mirageman, Kiltro, and Mandrill); starring and serving as fight choreographer.
What’s It About: Mirageman is the story of a pair of brothers whose parents are brutally murdered right before their eyes. Years later, the older brother, a skilled martial artist, is working as a bouncer in a nightclub while the younger brother, having never fully recovered from the shock, is institutionalized and nearly catatonic. The older brother (Zaror) fed up with the crime in his city, the criminality that took his parents, decides to do something about it. He patrols the streets at night looking for ways to help when he stumbles across, and foils, an attempted rape. The woman turns out to be a news reporter and spreads the word about this amazing hero. Soon, Mirageman (as he has come to call himself) is battling criminal elements all over the city.
Why You Should Watch It:
Imagine if when Batman began, he did so with absolutely no money. Mirageman is the story of a man who has all of the drive, and all of the physical talents, necessary to take a stand against villainy with absolutely no financial resources to fall back on. It perfectly parallels the limitations faced by Diaz Espinoza as he made this film. But what Mirageman lacks in financial backing, it makes up for in stellar fight sequences and a tremendous amount of heart.
Mirageman, for all his proficiency in hand-to-hand combat, has no idea how to be a superhero. He can hold his own against even the strongest human adversary but consistently loses battles with simple logistics. Case in point, the first time he changes into his costume to tangle with a group of muggers, he returns to find his street clothes stolen and must ride home dressed as his superhero alter ego. But this is not a character that is meant to be mocked as a buffoon, and we embrace his mistakes because of the real reason he risks his life night after night battling crime. His hospitalized brother begins to show marked improvement while observing the exploits of Mirageman on the news. It is so sweet and uplifting to watch the boy cheer on his hero, unbeknownst to him to be his own brother, and it is here that the movie solidifies its powerful emotional core.
Again despite its low budget, and again thanks to Marko Zaror, Mirageman has some unbelievable fight sequences. As you watch him take baddies apart, you’ll have to keep reminding yourself that the punches that land are staged. Zaror strikes with such speed and brutal impact that you’ll be raucously cheering the knockout of every single foe. Look for his signature move: the double flip spin kick. I tell you to look for it because if you dare to blink, you may miss it.