Blu-ray Review: MANDRILL

J Hurtado, Contributing Writer
Chilean action star Marko Zaror kinda looks like a jock and certainly doesn't fit the profile for a martial arts hero of his caliber. Most of the really big names in martial arts are smallish men with lightning speed and incredible agility. Zaror's angular features make him look more like a brute than a graceful acrobat, and that's kind of how his style plays out on screen. Mandrill is Zaror's third feature with writer/director Ernesto Diaz Espinosa after his breakout role in Kiltro and it's follow-up Mirageman. Zaror continues to refine his style in Mandrill, though in a very different guise from the previous works.

From the opening frames of Mandrill, it is apparent that Espinosa loves '70s action films. His characters are large and in charge, smooth with the ladies, and always well dressed. Mandrill (Zaror) is a cross between James Bond, The Transporter, and John Shaft, and just in case you didn't get the hint, it is drilled home in a montage featuring a fictional TV hero named John Colt, on whom Mandrill models his life.

What good would a fictional mentor be in a film without a tragic backstory ripe for vengeance, though? Mandrill also has that; its protagonist an orphan from a very early age, raised by his Tio Chone, and hellbent on personal justice. The character of Mandrill is given just enough background to justify his ferocity, but not so much that we are lured from the meat of the film, which is non-stop action. Marko Zaror is the rare breed who can combine size and aerobatics, without resorting to wires.

As much as the '70s aesthetic permeates the film, it is really the action that we're all there for, and Espinosa doesn't leave us hanging for more than six or seven minutes at a time with some punishing looking stuff. One very interesting directorial decision on the team's part is that many of the fight sequences play out with no score or background music at all, so all we hear is the sound of punches and kicks landing, it is odd, but effective. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that the team didn't go overboard on the body blow foley work, so it actually sounds like people hitting each other, rather than your typical martial arts sound effects. The lack of audio manipulation lends an immediacy to the fight sequences that is pretty damned cool, if less than sonically explosive.

As Todd said in his review:
Very entertaining from start to finish with a more fully fleshed out lead character than any of the film's influences ever explored, Mandrill comes at you with emotional fists and a troubled soul.
I think it's a great, well-paced action film with plenty of heavy hitters, a great look and feel, and Zaror layin' it down. Mandrill is definitely worth checking out.

The Disc:

Mandrill is a tough film to review when it comes to image and sound quality. Shot digitally, Mandrill bears the scars of HD filmmaking. This means that there are consistently blown out highlights, occasional stair-stepping, and sometimes wonky color timing. The film attempts to compensate for these shortcomings by making the image warmer than it probably should be and cranking the contrast of the image up pretty high. While I can't say it was particularly pleasing all the time, it certainly looks like they did what they could. Digital cinematography has come a long way in the last three years, and this films which was shot in 2009, would certainly look much better if it were shot today. The sound is pretty damned good, especially when the score and soundtrack kick in, however, as I mentioned above, there are some opportunities for LFE stuff that are missed due to Espinosa's decision to go easy on the foley work during fight scenes. So be it, I thought it was fine.

Unfortunately, the extras on this disc are very sparse. There is one feature labeled "Behind the scenes" that lasts, I shit you not, less than three minutes. Not even worth including. To supplement that there is a ten minute segment that goes behind the scenes of a few of the more intricate fight sequences which is a little bit better. Nothing spectacular, but hey, the movie's good, right?

Mandrill is the first of Magnet's Zaror/Espinosa acquisitions to get a Blu-ray release, and it definitely earns its keep. Recommended.
Bonus Features: - Behind the scenes of MANDRILL - Inside The Action
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