The trailer for Revenger wastes no time associating itself with Gareth Evans’ The Raid franchise — and for obvious reasons. The Raid films are some of the most respected action films of the 21st century and are widely considered the best filmed and choreographed martial arts movies of all time. The mere mention of Revenger having ties to The Raid is enough to pique the interest of action movie fans to the point of clicking play in Netflix. But once you click play, it doesn’t take long to realize that the comparisons are barely more than smart marketing.
Revenger eschews the current martial arts action film trend of minimal plot and heavy action. Instead, its narrative structure and story pull straight from 90’s action movies. Gone are the fast-paced, non-stop action sequences and in their place is an unnecessary focus on story and side characters. The film’s mood is consistently upended by misplaced silly comedy and odd transitions from Korean to broken English. Worse, there are several long stretches during which the action is overly generic or non-existent. If you remember renting a Van Damme or Seagal movie back in the day and then being disappointed when there was hardly any fighting and action, Revenger will feel very familiar. Favoring plot and character development over action is not a death knell in and of itself. But the story put forth in this film is sparse, cobbled together, and riddled with so many questions that it’s hard to believe it got more focus than the fighting.
All is not lost though. Bruce Khan’s transition from stuntman to recognizable martial arts star is underway. Revenger, at the very least, was a showcase for his physique and abilities. As the writer of this film, it’s understandable that Khan would want to make himself the hero. However, his performance in this film was much more suited for a brutish, path-of-destruction-type villain. Had he partnered with a more competent director and starred opposite an existing star like Iko Uwais or Donnie Yen, we could be viewing Revenger as a true breakout role for Khan.
If Timo Tjahjanto’s 2018 Netflix actioner The Night Comes For Us was at least in the same ballpark as The Raid, then I’m not sure Revenger is even playing the same sport. It lacks both the quantity and quality of action from the aforementioned films and despite some blood and broken bones, the visceral nature that defines the current run of successful action films is completely missing. What should have been a high-paced bone-crunching film instead feels like a boring mash-up of 90’s plot and early 00’s