Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits his favorite Scott Adkins film, Avengement.
Scott Adkins is something of an international treasure for action fans. He’s been kicking around the action movie scene since 2001, and two decades later he’s showing no sign of slowing down. Everyone has a favorite among his filmography with highlights including Undisputed 3: Redemption (2010), Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012), Ninja: Shadow of a Tear (2013), and Accident Man (2018), to name a few. He’s also stood out with appearances in a handful of big budget films like Doctor Strange (2016) and Ip Man 4: The Finale (2019).
For my money, though, his best feature so far is 2019’s Avengement. It’s his sixth collaboration with director Jesse V. Johnson — who got his start as third assistant director on Clive Barker’s Nightbreed (1990)! — and is a mean, action-heavy blast of anger, pain, and revenge. Adkins is phenomenal here, like an uncaged animal hungry for blood, but in addition to stellar action chops the film also manages some surprising emotion. It’s fantastic stuff, and after recently picking up and rewatching the new 4K UHD release (from Germany!), I decided to give it yet another rewatch with the commentary track.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for Avengement!
Commentators: Scott Adkins (actor/ass-kicker), Stu Small (co-writer)
1. Adkins may not be credited as a co-writer, but they both agree he played a large role in crafting the story that would become Avengement.
2. The film was originally titled Runt which works in a similar way to Jet Li’s Danny the Dog (2005) in setting up a passive character to become a furious beast. “And it sounds like the c-word,” says Adkins, “which is even more apt for me.”
3. Small thinks the core of the film is that Cain (Adkins) “loses his mum,” which is enough to turn even the toughest prick soft… while also serving as an understandable motivator for his bloody vengeance.
4. The pub where most of the action unfolds is called Horse & Jockey which is the name of Small’s favorite boozer back home.
5. “We knew we didn’t have a big budget,” which is the main reason the bulk of Avengement is set in the pub.
6. Adkins is a patron of The Fighting Spirit Film Festival, an annual celebration of action films with a focus on shorts. He first met Beau Fowler there a few years back, and when they began casting for this film Adkins reached out to bring him on board. Fowler plays Vern, the long-haired tough guy who’s sitting down when Cain enters the pub.
7. The cast of baddies are essentially doing double duty as fighters/stunt men. That goes for the group already in the pub and the guys who arrive later with Craig Fairbrass‘ character. “We didn’t want them in there for the whole movie because you gotta pay them everyday and they’d be standing around saying nothing.”
8. Easter egg alert! There’s a poster in the pub for the Satanic Mechanix, the thrash metal band that Adkins takes on in Accident Man.
9. Tune (Thomas Turgoose) is Small’s favorite character as he offers the film some lighthearted humor and laughs.
10. Adkins wasn’t so sure about the coat he’s stuck with for most of the film, but once he put it on he changed his tune.
11. The leg wound at 12:56 — courtesy of a blast from Cain’s sawed off shotgun — wasn’t coming together visually, so Johnson sent someone to a local butcher shop for fresh meat. They stabbed it with a pen knife and dressed it with fake blood.
12. Adkins’ father was a butcher so he’s seen some sick stuff. “I’ve done some sick stuff.”
13. Bez (Kierston Wareing) is named after Small himself as that was his nickname back in school.
14. Early drafts of the script let Cain reach the hospital in time to spend a few moments with his mum, but they wisely changed it for dramatic effect.
15. Adkins knew he wanted Fairbrass for the role of Cain’s older brother, Lincoln, because he wanted someone who was going to be “instantly intimidating, and that’s Craig Fairbrass. He comes from this world, he is like one of these guys, and the size of him, the muscle he’s got on him, the attitude.” He does add, though, that he has more chest hair than Fairbrass, “more testosterone.” Small isn’t so sure about that.
16. Cain’s journey, once revealed, shows a man making a seriously jarring transition, and they initially considered having Adkins play Cain and his twin brother — one who Cain would be avenging. They wisely merged the two into one, though, and Adkins does terrific work showing how a nice guy can be transformed through violence and pain.
17. Lincoln was never named Abel, not even in the earliest drafts. “It was a bit too on the nose, obviously,” but Small did touch on the idea by naming the woman who Cain robs and “kills” Mabel.
18. They filmed at the real, albeit currently unoccupied, Canterbury Prison in Kent. “Pretty depressing stuff.”
19. Joe Egan plays Lump, the first guy Cain fights in prison. He used to be a sparring partner for Mike Tyson and has “a mean left hook.” Adkins had to stay on his toes as Egan is “a great guy who likes to improvise and come up with his own choreography in the middle of it which can be a bit disconcerting.”
20. “Lots of violence,” says Adkins, adding that they were inspired by the likes of Scum (1979), Bronson (2008), and Chopper (2000).
21. The goal was to make the fights more gritty and realistic and less about martial arts. “I’m a kickboxer, so I do throw some kicks sometimes.” Adkins works with Luke LaFontaine and Dan Styles to choreograph and plan out the fights, and then Johnson “punctuates it with hyper violence.”
22. Adkins likes to shoot fight scenes with two cameras rolling simultaneously. The idea is they’ll be playing to one camera with the knowledge that the second can be cut to in case they need to dodge “any eggy” moments if they need to. “I’ve been doing this for so long I can work between two cameras knowing I’ll make that hit work for that camera and I’ll make this hit work for this camera.”
23. The knife pull at 36:05 was accomplished by attaching a handle to him vie a magnet, and then they added a CG blade when he pulls it away.
24. They intended to shoot the elevator fight in one-take, but one of the cops was an actor, not a stunt man, and it wasn’t quite working for anyone.
25. Adkins credits Johnson with elevating him as a performer. “He trusts me first and foremost, that I can do the things. He trusts me as an actor and gives me the space to really go for it and show a side of me that in other movies I don’t really get the opportunity.”
26. Small originally had Cain involved in an elaborate racetrack heist, but Johnson helped shift that to a smaller, but far more insidious crime involving innocent, desperate people.
27. The shot at 46:09 of the body hitting and breaking the windshield is actually Johnson doing the stunt.
28. “We can get away with it in England,” says Adkins regarding why none of the gangsters are carrying a gun with them. In America? No one would have bought it.
29. Small actually pissed on his brother’s head from up in a tree when he was younger, but he’s embarrassed to admit it now. “Don’t be embarrassed about that, mate,” says Adkins.
30. Adkins acknowledges the makeup looks great, but he despised the experience. “I had to go and sit in this crappy makeup trailer, to be honest, it was a cheap one with a chair that was terrible for my back.”
31. “Everyone rips off John Wick these days,” says Adkins, “we’re not the only one.” And now two years later he’s starring in John Wick 4!
32. Adkins kicks Evans (Ross O’Hennessy) at 59:47, and “a few months later Ross informed me that I’d broken his rib.”
33. The fight between Cain and Evans ends with a hammer to Evans’ head, but they shot it with Cain landing five more blows to the man’s immobile corpse, “which I preferred.”
34. Do not, under any circumstance, offer Adkins a bite of Marmite.
35. Producers wanted to cut a day or so from the shooting of the big end fight sequence, “and I don’t mind saying that I flipped my lid and had a bit of a screaming match, because I didn’t want to shortchange the audience.” So they got to keep the full two days.
36. Adkins trips over a dummy at 1:14:36.
37. His metal grill accidentally come out at 15:05, and they kept it in as it looks cool.
38. Adkins and Mark Strange — he plays a thug named Clif — came back to the set for half a day to film their one-on-one part of the big final fight.
39. Cain slams a guy’s head with a crowbar at 1:16:52, and they took a frame out to make the head snap appear even more brutally fast.
40. Louis Mandylor — he plays Det. O’Hara — saw the film and don’t Adkins he loves it but had just one question. “Why didn’t you kill that bitch behind the bar?” It’s a legit question as she’s a baddie too, and they actually deliberated that before deciding it wasn’t necessary. “I think it would have been a step too far,” says Adkins. “But it would have been interesting.”
41. Avengement did well in England which makes Adkins happy as that isn’t always the case.
42. They mention that we don’t know if Cain dies in the end, so yes, I’m looking forward to Adkins, Johnson, and Small returning for Avengement 2: Return of the Runt.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“How do you create a monster and have the audience get behind him?”
“He’s a bit of a gobshite.”
“It felt like doing theatre to me.”
“I was fighting everyday it seemed.”
“It puts you off going to prison.”
“He’s like a football hooligan in many ways.”
“Sometimes the stuntmen have to keep up with me.”
“I threw a spin kick in because he had a helmet on. Couldn’t help myself.”
“These are just two innocent coppers, but they did stop off for a vanilla latte.”
“I didn’t want to get too shouty.”
“If I don’t have loads of fake blood on my face, something doesn’t feel right.”
Real talk, Avengement is just an absolute blast of bone-crunching action and snarling sass. The action beats are fantastic, and even with the commentary track playing the film pulls you in through the fights, the performers, and the very clear rage building throughout. Adkins and Johnson are lowkey one of our best actor/director filmmaking duos going right now, and here’s hoping we get a dozen more collaborations from them. The commentary is also a treat as both Adkins and Small show a real engagement with the material and an appreciation for everyone who helped make the film happen. More please!
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