Kill Order is a tough film to review because it has some pretty significant flaws and one great strength. And yet that single element – the fight choreography – is so magnificent, I would still recommend Kill Order.
The film’s single greatest problem is that writer/director James Mark’s sci-if screenplay is slight. Very slight. It begins – and ends – with the idea of a shadowy cabal performing secret tests on orphans to create super soldiers. It’s not a novel idea and unfortunately Kill Order fails to bring anything fresh or new to the concept.
We’re introduced to David (Chris Mark), a tortured teenager, via a flashback masquerading as a dream sequence. He’s tied to a chair, tested by scientists and hallucinating a charred figure who encourages him to kill. Even when he awakens, the visions persist. This escalates when David‘s high school classroom is infiltrated by armed soldiers the following day and, following a near execution, David succumbs to the vision’s request and absolutely decimates the masked men in a stunning display of heretofore unknown martial arts skills.
From here Kill Order essentially becomes an elongated chase sequence, punctuated by breathtaking ballet-esque fight sequences. Sure, there are occasional scenes of Shiro Fujitaka (Denis Akiyama) and his manservant pulling the strings behind the curtain on the various operations designed to take David down, but these are more or less inconsequential. It’s beyond obvious where things are going and, to be honest, everything simply feels like filler until the next fight.
Unfortunately this has a domino effect on the other aspects of the film: with so little narrative to plumb, the actors are left with nothing to do. David‘s uncle, Andre Chan (Daniel Park) is basically just a sage dispenser of exposition, Dr. Jenkins (Melee Hutton), the woman in charge of the project, barely has any dialogue, and David‘s concerned classmate/love interest May (Jessica Clement) is essentially just a damsel in distress. Even our protagonist is little more than a blank cipher, since David barely understands what is happening. Think of a teenage version of Jason Bourne without the shading or depth.
And yet…those fight scenes. Shot in a masterful combination of sped-up The Matrix-style wire fu and slow-motion reactions, Kill Order‘s fight scenes are nothing short of spectacular. The first real demonstration of James Mark’s abilities as a director finds David tapping into his superhuman powers when confronted by a similarly augmented soldier in his cramped apartment. The fight goes on for ages, features multiple kitanas and ends with the complete destruction of every single piece of furniture in the place. It left me completely agog in its kinetic proficiency; I’m not being hyperbolic when I suggest that Kill Order features some of the best action setpieces since The Raid franchise.
Even at a scant 82 minutes, however, the great fight scenes can’t save Kill Order; not when there is so little else to grab onto. For action afficiandos, this film will be like catnip. For sci-fi folks, however, this is a case of style over substance. The open-ended nature of the finale suggests that Mark sees enough potential in the premise to explore Kill Order‘s world further in a sequel, but I would much rather see this production team start from scratch with a much stronger concept and characters. They clearly have a handle on how to shoot fight choreography; now they need a narrative worthy of their talents.
Kill Order had its Canadian premiere at the 2017 BLOOD IN THE SNOW film festival, which ran from November 23 – November 26 at the Royal Cinema. Check out all of Nightmare on Film Street‘s festival coverage here.