Barring some kind of catastrophe it’s probably a safe assumption that John Wick 3 will be 2019’s best action movie, but while it looks to have budget, skill, and style to spare it will also have plenty of attention thrown its way. We’ll definitely be talking about it here when the time comes, but our love for the genre means we also love singing the praises of smaller action films that deliver the goods. Last month’s highlight was South Korea’s Revenger (our review) which premiered as a Netflix Original and pairs terrific fight scenes with an otherwise generic narrative. This month’s action gem hasn’t been released in the US yet — a goddamn travesty — but it ups the ante by delivering thrilling fight sequences, likable characters, and a truly funny script. Nightshooters is an absolute blast.
It’s a simple enough setup as a low-budget film crew works late into the night in an abandoned high-rise on their no-budget horror movie before the building is due to be demolished the next morning. They’re a six-person crew grabbing pick-up shots with their over the hill “star” whose action days are behind him, and that’s why a stunt double named Donnie (Jean-Paul Ly) is along for the ride. The night’s going as well as could be hoped for an indie production, but it takes a turn for the worse when they witness a double murder in the building next door. A gangster named Tarker (Richard Sandling) is taking care of business with a bevy of henchmen, and now they have another mess to clean up. Trapped in a crumbling building by armed thugs the film crew is forced to fight their way with every skill at their disposal.
Which, lucky for them, includes Donnie.
It’s lucky for viewers too as Ly is an incredibly skilled martial artist with an exciting, fast-paced fighting style, and he doubles here as action choreographer with thrilling results. From a fun early sequence that sees him taking on multiple opponents and shooting several in the feet to a later kill involving a knife and a spinning body the action beats here are frequently cheer-worthy. He previously wowed us with 2017’s Cambodian action delight Jailbreak (our review) — making him two for two in criminally underseen action movies — and this time around he’s given a more rounded character to play with too. He’s just an ex-accountant who want to live to see another day, and his humanity is a refreshing change of pace from the usually flat action heroes.
It’s a trait shared throughout writer/director Marc Price‘s film as all seven of the protagonists find moments to remind us they’re more than mere genre fodder. We like these people and their personalities, even the grumpy ones, and time spent early on introducing viewers to each of them pays off once the shit hits the fan. Not all of them make it out alive, and there’s real emotional impact in their predicament as none of them feel safe against some extremely cruel villains. The film is surprisingly effective in this regard, especially for how goddamn funny it is too. Jokes and insults fly early on every bit as fast as the fists and bullets to come, and it’s due to sharp writing and smartly comedic performances.
It’s true for both our heroes who are forced to move from reluctant co-workers to desperate survivors and the street gangsters who’ve walked straight out of Guy Ritchie’s central casting and into a fight of their own. Their banter offers up some of the film’s biggest laughs as the crass bastards mouth off with abandon, take turns playing tough guys, and continually underestimate their own growing situation.
Nightshooters is every bit an indie gangster comedy, a knowing nod to the struggles of independent film production, and a thrilling action movie. Characters reference the likes of Scott Adkins and John Wick with some funny, self-deprecating dialogue, but it’s no joke to say this film belongs in the same conversation with those higher profile players. Sure it’s a much lower budget — like, much, much lower — but heart, humor, and high-kicking brilliance have never been dependent on the price tag. It would make a great double feature with another incredibly fun, action-packed, low-cost gem, namely 2016’s Plan B. Seek them both out, and enjoy the ride.
[Note: As mentioned, the film has yet to find a US distributor for some stupid reason or another, but action fans with region-free Blu-ray players should consider picking up the UK Blu-ray. You won’t be disappointed.]