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Redemption
(2003)

Director: Art Camacho          
Cast:
Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Sam Jones


It's kind of strange when you think about it. When it comes to the B movie world, Don "The Dragon" Wilson is unquestionably one of the better known acting personalities. Though when it comes to his rank among B movie actors when it comes to genuine popularity, this rank runs significantly lower than the first one. Why is this? Well, a lot of the blame undoubtedly falls on the shoulders of schlock producer Roger Corman. While there's no question that Corman really started Wilson's career with Bloodfist, Corman also pretty much finished this career by subsequently putting Wilson in a string of movies that were almost all garbage (Bloodfist 3 being the one exception). Though Wilson at the same time flirted around with more competent B movie outfits, like PM Entertainment, the damage had been done by the time Bloodfist 8 had been cranked out - Don then could only find work with seedy companies like Royal Oaks, which did nothing to help his reputation. Still, while most of the blame to Wilson's downfall goes to Corman and other producers who didn't give a damn about quality, I think Wilson himself shares a small part - because of how he keeps billing himself as Don "The Dragon" Wilson. Plenty of action stars have gotten by without adding a grandiose title to their name; this kind of thing smacks of pretentiousness, not to mention the fact that it also sounds goofy as hell - you can't take it seriously. This use of a nickname in quotes probably also explains why martial artist Bill "Superfoot" Wallace never made much of an impression in his acting career.

There are also signs that maybe Wilson has simply stopped thinking about his fans (or his reputation, for that matter) anymore when picking projects. Take the time a few years ago when he not only returned of his own Wilson was disappointed that Rothrock wouldn't tell him why she leaves "24 Hours To Midnight" from her official resumefree will to Roger Corman to star in Moving Target, the script of that movie turned out to be a (very) thin rewrite of Bloodfist IV. You have to wonder why Wilson did this. Even when you consider the sad fact that Asians still frequently get the shaft in Hollywood, surely Wilson could have found work from some other low-budget producer who would be eager to get a star even of Wilson's diminished value. Keeping that in mind, when you subsequently see that Wilson hasn't done much of anything in the B movie world for the past few years, it now seems likely that Wilson now only now doesn't care about his reputation, he doesn't care that much now about making movies, period. His latest movie, Redemption, carries a 2001 copyright date, and the IMDb as of this writing lists him in no movies completed or currently in production since then. Though on the other hand, it must be pointed out that Wilson not only acted in the movie, he also took on the reigns of executive producer. Possibly it was because the movie had several elements atypical (and even peculiar) to his filmography, that all combined somehow managed to unlock his interest level and get him to put in some extra work.

One of those atypical things is that the movie managed to round up a number of notable actors to play several of the supporting roles. Two of them happened to be marital art stars in their own right, Cynthia Rothrock (Angel Of Fury) and Richard Norton (Mr. Nice Guy, The Blood Of Heroes). Both actors play members of a S.W.A.T. team in Los Angeles, headed by John Collins (Wilson). When we first meet Collins, life is looking pretty good for him. Though divorced, he is friendly with his ex-wife and her boyfriend. And while he occasionally butts heads with Tom (Norton), who feels he should have received leadership duties, he receives the support he needs from Erin (Rothrock), who he has just started dating. But during his pursuit of drug baron Joey Lam (Eddie Mui, Gone In Sixty Seconds), his ideal life is shattered one night when his team attempts to catch Lam and his gang during a drug deal. Not only does Lam get away, but Erin is killed in the raid, and Tom uses the incident to goad the other members of the team to testify against Collins and get him canned. Out of work and desperate for money to get the house he had repeatedly promised his son to buy, Collins decides to do something previously unthinkable upon a suggestion from streetwalker friend Tara (Carrie Stevens, Black Scorpion) He offers his services to minor mobster Tony Leggio (Chris Penn, Reservoir Dogs), who soon has him running various errands of dubious legality.

Although this premise certainly sounds like an ideal plot for a B-grade action movie, it is a surprise to find out that Redemption is actually interested more in using this "*I* say it's because of its generally cheap and dull nature!"plot to examine and influence the characters, rather than using the plot as an excuse for multiple scenes of action. Wilson's character is pretty interesting in several aspects. To begin with, John is not portrayed as being your typical flawless B movie lead character - while commanding the S.W.A.T. team, he makes several decisions that are indeed questionable, and actually make us wonder if Tom and the other members of the team are justified in getting him fired. He still comes across as a pretty sympathetic figure, even when he ultimately decides to cross into the wrong side of the law. By the time that happens, we have seem him spend time struggling to get out of a pit of seeming hopelessness. Not just with his need for money, but we see that his knowledge that the other members of the team lied to Internal Affairs in the investigation. If he was screwed by the police, why not screw them in a sense by going to the other side? You can't help but sympathize a little with that logic.

Though it's unlikely he'll ever be Academy Award material, Wilson gives a pretty respectable performance here, a marked improvement over some of his earlier films where he seemed to be straining so hard to come across as intense. Here he's much more relaxed and comfortable, even at ease with the task of his character having three major relationships with three different women. He gives off a believable reluctance when his character receives friendly gestures from his ex-wife, since he doesn't want to interfere with the relationship she has with her kindly boyfriend. While his being paired up with Cynthia Rothrock in a romantic relationship does seem strange when you first think about it, it actually works to the movie's advantage. Since John and Erin are taking their first steps to becoming boyfriend and girlfriend, they should be a little awkward and not completely unsure of themselves. There is a effective feeling, like we are peeking in on a real first-date couple, in their scenes. The third and most interesting relationship of John's is the one he has with streetwalker Tara, who he has come in contact with frequently over the years due to his work as a policeman. The two care for each other, but the relationship is shown to be platonic. When Tara eventually starts developing stronger feelings towards John, it leads to a brief but interesting scene with both characters unprepared for the reaction of the other.

As Tara, Stevens shows that not all former Playboy playmates are without acting talent. She's decent enough here to suggest that she has a future in the movie industry that will grow along with her talents. She and Wilson aren't the only actors in the movie who give good performances. While "And *I* say its because of that topless scene, even though it's clearly a body double!"Chris Penn is generally okay as the small-time gangster John starts working for him, he has a standout scene where his character, feeling he is doomed no matter what, throws caution to the wind and goes into a hilarious foul-mouthed rant against his aggressors. And as the other gangster to come into play in the movie, Eddie Lui shows he's an actor to keep an eye on in the future, giving his character a casual playfulness that manages to be amusing while at the same time showing another side that clearly shows him to be very dangerous. Probably the actors you are most curious about besides Wilson are Cynthia Rothrock and Richard Norton. Well, if you are a fan of either or both of those stars, or are simply intrigued by the idea of three famous martial arts stars in one movie, you are almost certain to be disappointed. That's because Rothrock and Norton actually aren't in the movie that much. Rothrock's character gets killed about a third into the movie, and not long after that happens, Norton's character (who only previously appeared for a few brief scenes) disappears and does not reappear until the last few minutes.

You might still be hold hope for some decent martial arts action coming from Rothrock and Norton despite their limited appearances. Rothrock has just one (brief) fight sequence in the beginning, and it's pretty slow, sluggish stuff. Norton has his own slow and sluggish fight in that opening sequence as well, though he later has a locker room fight with Wilson. I was initially excited at the prospect of these two famed martial art actors having a go at each other, but the fight turned out to be a letdown. It turns out to be not much more energetic as those two dull fight sequences before, and the martial art moves that Wilson and Norton use in no way prove the high ranks they have reportedly achieved in marital arts in real life. Making things worse is the terrible way the sequence is directed, with the camera brought up close to the actors, so close that their legs are cut off at the bottom of the screen. But the worst thing about this fight direction is the inclusion of a cursed camera technique that has plagued many action movies in recent years - the shaking camera. You know, where the camera is held by hand and jiggled around in an artificial attempt to put in action, as if what is happening onscreen is so intense that it's shaking the entire area. It's as stupid as it sounds, and it never works. Instead, this kind of epileptic direction seems to be saying to the audience, "What is actually happening in front of you isn't that exciting by itself, so we have to disguise it."

In the case of Redemption, that thought really does seem to be what was going though the production team's minds. When you ignoring the shaking in any action Whatever *his* opinion is on Rothrock's decision, you'd better accept itsequence and fully concentrate on what's actually happening in any particular shot, the utterly dull nature of what's happening comes through clearly. This is most evident in the final action sequence; there's a lot of gunplay, but when you brush aside all that camera shaking, all that is really going on are multiple shots of people standing or squatting still while firing their guns (and usually missing.) Maybe it's just as well that there aren't that many action sequences in the movie in the first place. Aside from the scenes I've already mentioned, there really isn't that more, curious for a movie that rounds up three notable action stars in its cast. Still, that fact by itself does not overall sink the movie. As I mentioned before, the plot in the first place was more geared toward being a more realistic drama than an action-packed exercise. And as I mentioned before, this approach does result in some nice little sequences. But ultimately it falls apart, due to poor pacing. Erin's death, for one thing, doesn't happen until more than a third of the movie has (very slowly) past, and the limited amount of time left before the finale results in many interesting plot threads being hastily wrapped up or simply forgotten about. So the movie not only fails to deliver drama, it's ultimately unsuccessful as a drama as well. It's strange... some very cheap production values aside, the movie had everything needed to make a good drama or a good actioner. Or even both. But too much of the time, Redemption doesn't know what to do with what it's got.

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See also: Angel Of Fury, Bloodfist 3, Deadly Force

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