Wednesday, June 6, 2012

REVIEW: Mandrill

Director: Ernesto Diaz Espinoza
Year 2009

Mandrill is a colorful revenge flick that follows a haunted man as he hunts down his parents’ killer, only to find that vengeance isn’t always the best medicine to cure your pain of loss. With an abundant sense of style and an action oriented disposition, the film relishes in its lead character’s tremendous abilities and charismatic sensibilities when it comes to both kicking butt and establishing an emotional connection with the audience. Stemming from a team-up that has worked wonders on two previous films, Kiltro and Mirageman, both director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and martial artist expert Marko Zaror make one hell of a dream team. Mandrill is their third collaboration and it seems that the third times the charm.

The film follows a hitman by the name of Antonio Espinoza, AKA Mandrill, who after witnessing the murder of his parents at a young age, makes it his sole purpose in life to become a professional killer in order to someday cross paths with the man who took his family away from him and deal the final death blow. One day his contact informs him of a new job and it’s the one he’s been waiting for his whole life. Determined to finally put his past behind him, Mandrill heads to his next mark thinking that after he kills the murderer of his parents, his nightmares of that horrible night will come to an end. Unfortunately for him, once the job is done a whole new set of problems begin to come into light, and Mandrill’s life begins to swirl wildly out of control. With a hard knocks lesson on the pitfalls of revenge, the film does an excellent job in telling a morality tale that has an extra punch of badass that kicks your teeth straight out. Bring it on Mandrill!

Marko Zaror plays the role of Antonio Espinoza, AKA Mandrill, and he does a phenomenal job with the character. Not only does he have the martial arts aspects of the role down packed, but he does a commendable job with the more subtle nuances of his jaded, yet optimistic character. I’ve enjoyed his other efforts that he’s contributed to within the action cinema realm, like Kiltro and Mirageman, and I’ve always respected his approach to balancing the heart pumping action with the more emotionally focused moments of his films. He always seems to play a character that has a sensitive undertone to his rugged exterior and it’s kind of refreshing to see that he takes on roles that are not just one dimensional and have something more substantial to say other than, I’m a badass. With the movie Mandrill, that’s the same case, because we get a heavy dose of melodrama within the character of Antonio and he isn’t just all about fighting and being cool. The extra layer that Marko brings to the table is something of a rare exception and in this story he is given free reign to branch out into that uncharted territory with great effect.

Pairing up against Marko’s Mandrill character is Celine Reymond, who plays the sexy daughter of Mandrill’s parents’ killer, Dominik Del Solar. Celine is exceptionally good in this role, because it allows her to show off two totally different sides of her character’s self, the sweet innocent girl and the vengeful bitch. During the moments when Mandrill is trying to earn her affection, Dominik is apprehensive about his advancements but eventually succumbs to his charm, opening up and showing a kinder gentler person underneath the hardened exterior. Then as the film moves along, she changes into a vengeful and frightening person in a blink of an eye, mirroring Mandrill’s own turn after letting the sadness of the loss of his family fuel his fire for revenge. Each side of Dominik’s character is extremely expressive and the transformation, though quickly switched on, is astonishingly diverse, making you second guess that they are played by the same actress. It’s nice to see such a beautiful lady be able to showcase such a wide range of emotions, and Celine does a wonderful job in pumping up the scale of the narrative and in the process giving it some depth.

Along with the caliber of actors, the film also has an abundance of splendid action set pieces that showcase just how unbelievably skilled its star Marko Zaror really is. The fists and kicks fly in glorious fashion and the lens pulls back to display every counter and series of viscous blows, so that you never miss a minute of the brutal action. It's nice to see a film not go the "shaky cam route" and allow the audience to actually see the choreography of the fight, as it happens. From the looks of it, it seems that Marko Zaror and the filmmakers went through some painstaking efforts in order to keep the flow of the fights moving along, and the end result is justifiably entertaining. As usual with a Zaror action film, the fights are interlaced with a tongue and cheek aesthetic, and through this stylistic trait, the movie is able to shine through in the wilder aspects of Mandrill's kinetic and cinematic fictional world.

As for the visuals of Mandrill, I’d say that they are the film’s most accomplished asset, striking breathtakingly composed shots against a color palette that’s to die for. The screen is bombarded with vivid images and brightly hued venues that literally scream out from the screen. I absolutely loved the thematic tone that the colors expressed and it definitely set the film apart from other action oriented productions, especially when it is bathed into everything in such a way that it begins to feel apart of that world. The cinematic aspects of Mandrill are a vivid place where the characters are as equally brash as their surrounding visuals. I only really noticed the vibrancy of the colors until after I watched the film, while collecting screen shots, because I was so enthralled in the moment and also because they were so perfectly a part of the cinematic realm that director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza had set up. I guess that really speaks volumes for the film’s credibility and captivating nature, when you don’t consciously notice something as visually outstanding as Mandrill’s color palette until long after you’ve absorbed it all in.

Mandrill is a beautifully imagined little film that tells a cautionary tale about revenge and the places that it will take you. Played out in an imaginary fashion, the character of Mandrill is a tragic one, only pursuing a violent life in order to someday cross paths with the person that shattered his. Director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza infuses the film with enough emotionally driven moments that it makes the fight sequences spring from the screen when they’re catapulted into action.
Visually speaking, the film is a wonder, taking all the colors of the rainbow and splashing them across the frame for everyone to see. There’s a rich and vibrant style to the imagery in Mandrill, and even if you don’t notice it at first, you’ll come to appreciate the colorful world that the filmmakers have created here. With its unabashed excessive nature, it perfectly mirrors the wild territories that this film delves into once the shit hits the fan and all hell begins to break loose. If you’ve found yourself enjoying Marko Zaror and Ernesto Diaz Espinoza’s other films, then give this one a go. With this being their third collaboration, you can tell that these two are a match made in heaven and that they are reaching the pinnacle of their craft together. Here’s to…..

How would you like to be Man-Drill'ed?

Now this makes golf look fun.

Should I go for the pretzels or salted peanuts?

It's little Mandrill trying to bulk up.

Mandrill, your dance moves make you look like a magician.

This strip-tease game just went a little bit too far.

The names Drill..... Man.... Drill.

Don't call me Cyclops.


Looks like someones got the blues.

Take that you abrasive colors!

Mandrill shows the world his sensitive side.

Someone's about to get cold cocked.

Even his silhouette is badass!

Ho Ho Ho... Green Giant!

You ruined my perfect eyebrows you bastard!

Hey baby take it easy. I'm a lover not a fighter.

All's well that ends well.


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