Even the most hardcore of martial arts films normally has a protracted plot that gets in the way of the scenes fight fans are watching it to see. One minute a roundhouse kick whirls and an uppercut makes contact, then for the next 20 minutes a tepid tale is spun out to plug the gap until the next face off between good and bad. 12, written and directed by Chee Keong Cheung, strips away all unnecessary chat and delivers thirteen brawls which are hard-hitting, carefully-choreographed set pieces with a fiercely realistic edge.
The plot is simple enough: a group of businessmen back two of 12 fighters to win a knock out contest, choosing who will face who. Among them is Red Dwarf’s Danny John-Jules and Joey Ansah of Spooks fame, though they have little to do beyond sit around a big table glaring at each other or sneer during the street fights as onlookers. Each of the fighters has a story as to why they’re in need of the £500,000 prize money if victorious – one homeless, another trying to win the cash for his family – though, again this isn’t the main draw of 12, it is just a thin layer of meat on the bare bones characters between each bout. The real interest for this film comes from the fighting talent including three-times World Kickboxing Champion Nathan Lewis and experienced martial artist Mark Strange.
The 13 fights are arranged by Dave Forman, the one-time Leonardo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who proves to have more of an eye for fight scenes when out of a giant animal suit. Skills from a variety of martial arts traditions are utilise, together with dirty tactics, wrestling moves and the odd weapon. They give each performer the chance to pull of a signature move or two if they have them, with unexpected victors and often fights cut short from a lucky hit, upping the realism when compared to the never-ending bouts often played out in big budget blockbusters with a handful of duels. With so many fights here, there’s a variety in the action which will keep pugilists and their admirers happy.
This independent British film helmed by Chee Keong Cheung, born in the UK to a Chinese family, has that dash of flair Asian action film-making exhibits with the rough edge British cinema has become renowned for producing. It’s no surprise that 12 has received a prestigious Accolade Award for best stunts – the blunt brutality is captured in a gritty style that might be mistaken for cheap when it gives it added impact when the blows start hitting home. Although 12 is a one-note movie with no interest in coming close to producing fine acting or clever plotting, it excels in its fight scenes and when they make up more than a third of its runtime and can be classed as a success on that front.
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