Director: Joey Corpora
Writer: Kale Sweeney
Cast: Kale Sweeney, Shannon Lee Haines, Marty Frankenfield, Joey Corpora, Brennen Dickerson, Connor Corpora
We’ve watched plenty of martial arts films on shoestring budgets over the years, but only a few could be described as truly independent. Almost all of them were the products of companies that specialized in the direct-to-video market. As technology has evolved to allow filmmakers of all genres to produce and distribute their own short movies and feature films, small outfits have sprouted up to occupy a new and exciting space. While The Stunt People out of San Francisco, CA are arguably the measuring stick in the martial-arts-on-a-microbudget movement, there are a number of collectives across the United States combining their love of filmmaking with their martial arts training. With their 2012 action-fantasy short film Sins of the Dragon, the gang at Platypus Underground has set a high bar for themselves. We were thrilled to watch it as the first film in a more regular review series of independent shorts influenced by martial arts b-movies.
When I wander aimlessly in the woods, I’m usually afraid of bears, poison ivy, meth labs, and Ted Nugent. Apparently, I should also be on the look-out for masked martial arts psychos who kill you, steal your soul, and absorb your abilities. Portrayed by Marty Frankenfield and voiced by Brennen Dickerson, the treacherous Caligo is the villain at the center of the story. Flanked by a private army of ninjas, he intends to kill every dragon master in his path to gain their powers. This character is on some Bane-level shit, delivering sinister dialogue without the benefit of the full range of human facial features. In any case, he sports a very interesting look, melding some wardrobe out of a Shaw Brothers production with a Shredder-lite face guard.
At some point in the past, Caligo & Friends destroyed an entire village, but failed to account for at least one occupant: the noble and capable Cunri (Sweeney). The son of the village’s resident martial arts master, he’s also stubborn as hell; motivated by vengeance for his father’s death, he travels the countryside, seeking a fatal confrontation with Caligo. His only friend on this journey, Kaia (Haines) -- a student of his father -- hopes to convince Cunri that his single-mindedness is a dangerous path towards his potential downfall. Doesn’t mean she won’t help a brother out by kicking the shit out of ninja assholes along the way, though.
As one might expect with any first-time filmmakers, there are some missteps. At times, the fight choreography is a touch slow and seems too deliberate; I wanted something a bit more frenetic. The ability and creativity is definitely there, though. As Sweeney -- who directed the fight scenes -- and the fighters become more experienced with each other and grow into more of a true stunt team over subsequent productions, I’d expect that the pace and intensity of their fight scenes will increase. Equally important, the filmmakers chose the camera angles well and got all the coverage they needed for editing. The trope of characters coming to a curious stop in the shot’s foreground after completing a move was a nice flourish that we’ve seen a lot in recent action cinema, but it’s a tad overused here and has the effect of slowing down the pace.
One of the biggest surprises in the film was the amount of blood. There were instances where the practical fake variety looked a few shades too light and could have benefited from a tried and true Karo Syrup recipe. The digital gushers, however, would make the folks at Sushi Typhoon proud; they were fairly well integrated with the visual environment. The special effects otherwise were a mixture of both practical and digital: swirling leaves, flaming fists, and some excellent illustrated scene transitions were all highlights. I got the impression that Corpora -- consciously or otherwise -- is putting his video game and anime influences on display with this piece; that he was able to capture some of the more fantastical elements given the budgetary constraints is admirable. The fantasy bend certainly makes Platypus Underground stand out from the pack, but I’d be anxious to see what they’d accomplish with a simpler setting.
On a limited budget that would otherwise net you this backpack bike and a 40-inch HD television, the filmmakers behind Sins of the Dragon have created a professional-grade short that knocks the teeth out of your mouth, the wind from your lungs, and the pomade from your expertly sculpted pompadour. This team is definitely one to watch.
Currently traveling the film festival circuit. You can catch a screening on August 20, 2013 at 6 pm as part of the 9th International Action on Film Festival in Monrovia, CA. Additionally, you can head over to the Platypus Underground website to purchase the 28-minute short on DVD or as a digital download.