17th New York Asian Film Festival runs Jun 29 – Jul 15, 2018
Kray (Erich Gonzales) works as a stunt woman and stand-in, but her training and skills can’t prevent her from being berated by directors and production assistants alike. It’s meager pay, but it’s the best option she has as she struggles to care for her ailing father and others in her community. An opportunity for quick money comes in the unexpected arrival of four old friends who used to roam the streets with her as teenage troublemakers. There’s a sure thing running drugs for a local gang, but when they arrive they find the thugs have more disturbing contraband in mind.
They’re harvesting organs from street children, and they want Kray and company to go round up some fresh meat. The friends refuse, violence breaks out, and when the dust settles two members of the gang lay dead. Outnumbered, on the run, and with one of the abducted kids in tow, Kray and the others are forced to run and fight for their lives if they want to see another sunrise.
Richard Somes’ We Will Not Die Tonight is a grim and grimy riff on the likes of The Warriors and Judgment Night, and it’s no spoiler to say that some of our protagonists most definitely will die tonight. It’s a low budget affair powered by ferocious, unrelenting action and an eye for streets running red with blood and grit, and it’ll leave action junkies wanting more — after a brief break for a hot shower.
This Philippines-made action/thriller is worlds away from the likes of John Wick or South Korea’s The Villainess in that the violence here is ugly and raw rather than hyper-stylized and elaborately choreographed. (The entire film was shot in eight days which is roughly the time given to rehearsing a big fight sequence on Atomic Blonde.) It means there’s no real jaw-dropping action set-piece guaranteed to leave audiences talking, but what it lacks in graceful and gorgeous violence it more than makes up for with brutally energetic intensity.
The opening twenty-five minutes gives ample time to introducing Kray, her plight, and her friends, but once the pleasantries are out of the way the film drops any pretense at dialogue and becomes a stalk and slash… and slash, and slash, and slash. Seriously, there are more slices, slashes, and stabbings here than you’ll find in a half dozen South Korean films — and that’s no small feat.
Somes immerses characters and viewers alike into the gritty, sweaty streets of a city that’s home to increasing violence and poverty, and he doesn’t shy away from the dead kid angle either. The friends’ realization as to what they’ve wandered into comes by way of witnessing gang members carve up a boy and pull organs from his torso, and it just gets bloodier and more brutal from there. Guns and fists are used early on, but the majority of the running brawl unfolds with machetes, hatchets, and knives.
Energy flows through the fights and chase even as blood flows out of everyone involved, and it’s paired with a percussive score that feels every bit like the film’s escalating pulse rate. When things slow down it’s either for brief breathers or vicious kills teased out for reasons of cruelty alone. The exception to the drum-heavy score comes during one such scene as one of Kray’s friends is massacred slowly, one stab and slice at a time, as a choral track plays over the scene. There’s beauty in the barbarity, and Somes’ use of shadow and light makes the ugliness surprisingly attractive.
Gonzales is the film’s heart and soul despite the limited dialogue, and while she’s no martial artist her physical presence is undeniable as she’s on the move for almost the entirety of the last hour. Her fighting is fueled by guts and desperation, and she wears the intensity on her face (as a nice complement to her sleeveless Metallica tee-shirt). “I am Kray,” she says in a voice-over late in the film. “Woman. Fighter.” And she ain’t kidding either.