Savage Dog is a good ole martial arts flick, though it should be noted that it is on the gritty realism side of the genre. So instead of wire-fu and magic there is just punching, kicking, and shooting. In Indochina during the 1950s’ and is about Martin Tillman who is a war criminal imprisoned in a makeshift facility run by other war criminals. He is forced to street fight for their enjoyment and is guaranteed his freedom after winning an unknown number of bouts.
In Indochina during the 1950s, Martin Tillman (Scott Adkins) is a war criminal imprisoned in a makeshift facility run by other war criminals. He is forced to street fight for their enjoyment and is guaranteed his freedom after winning an unknown number of bouts.
The story begins with Martin digging himself and an unknown woman out of a grave. It then transitions to a flashback and we are thrust into the events leading up to that moment.
This detail is one of my first criticisms. Flashbacks automatically put the film at a disadvantage because the audience now knows what’s going to happen. The tension for the circumstances significantly decreases because of the known outcome. The audience will be spending time predicting the next series of events instead of being engaged with the story. Another issue with the flashback is that it is narrated. Interestingly enough the narration is conducted by Keith David, who plays another character, and not by Scott Adkins. David does a fine job but it just does not fit by taking away any cerebral effort needed from the audience, and most of the time just states the obvious.
Other than these issues, the screenplay is pretty good. There is a balance of action and drama and never a moment that seems out of place. The gritty realism of the action scenes remain prevalent and so they feel earned by also moving the story along. Scott Adkins is a veteran martial arts star so he knows how to throw a punch and take it so that it looks real. It’s not until the end that it feels a little fantastical because the odds are stacked so highly against the protagonist. It is a little jarring because in the beginning there was so much emphasis on realism and yet by the end the protagonist turns into a mini-Rambo.
The characterization is also well done. The motivations behind these characters feels honest and their development is expressed as such. Martin Tillman is presented as a criminal and he never rises above being an anti-hero. He is not fighting for a noble cause and every action he takes is somewhat selfish. The villains are also not completely malevolent and every action they take has a purpose and is not meant to be just evil.
One final criticism is towards the special effects. It has become an unfortunate trend for filmmakers to become too reliant upon CG. Not only does the CG blood and wound FX come off as cartoonish, but they lead to sloppy film-making. There is a fight scene towards the end that has blatant continuity errors and it almost ruins a wonderfully choreographed fight. Be that as it may, CG effects are still useful because they can add more magic to practical effects. It’s when they’re used alone when problems tend to occur.
Savage Dog is a visceral, gritty, and solid action-packed experience that is further enhanced by the phenomenal martial arts skill of Scott Adkins. If you are a true fan of the genre and can ignore the bad effects and awkward narration then this film is worth an afternoon watch.