20130917

A film review: 'Vikingdom: The Blood Eclipse'... is one bloody epic!

Origin: Malaysia
Language: English
Director: Yusry Abdul Halim
Producers: Norman Abdul Halim, Shireen Hashim
Writer: James Coyne
Genre: Action / fantasy
Casts: Dominic Purcell, Conan Stevens, Craig Fairbrass, Natassia Malthe, John Foo,
Tegan Moss, Jesse Moss, Patrick Murray
Release: September 12, 2013 (Malaysia), October 4, 2013 (US)
Studio: KRU Studios
Distributors: Universal Pictures, Epic Pictures, United Pictures 

This is one of those films where you don't really know what just hit you. In this case, it hit me and my old roommate, when he suddenly asked me for an impromptu movie-watching session just before my Italian Language class, and surprisingly, we watched on the day it was released. And it was also surprisingly kinda good! Huh! What do you know? That urban legend WAS true after all. And what do I mean by that?

Well, I first heard of its title, known simply as Vikingdom back then, from a classmate of mine who told me he was somewhat involved in the film as a labour or something as his part-time job. And I was like KRU (siblings of three who are known as musicians first before seriously venturing into film making), a bunch of MALAYSIANS, making a film about VIKINGS?

Questions in my head would be:
  • "How is THAT gonna be possible?" 
  • "How are these two related?" 
  • "HOW is it going to relate to the local audiences since it is NOT from our local culture?" 

Being skeptical, I was highly doubting this crap and accepted it as a rumour and nothing else... until I saw its teaser trailer. Apparently, the film does exist. And what they showcased really did give me some shockers.

Oh, right. This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS. So, be wary.

In Vikingdom: The Blood Eclipse, Yusry is letting his imagination even wilder than its precursor, which was also an epic (but was based on ancient local scriptures) called Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, since this is an outsider's myths that he's toying with here. Basically, it's about Eirick Bloodletter (Purcell), an undead king who, with the help of a bunch of voluntary Viking warriors, must travel and fight their way across the unforgiving lands of ancient Scandinavia to prevent the third and final piece of three powerful relics from being collected by Thor (Stevens), a power-hungry God of Thunder, or else he will use it to unleash unspeakable oblivion onto the middle lands once he does... with an unexpected help that even the hero didn't foresee.

The film features an all-international cast, where most have starred in lesser roles in some big films/TV series or totally crappy/flopped ones. The lead, Dominic Purcell, have starred in two popular TV series both in the States and Malaysia called Prison Break and John Doe. And I think I saw John Foo of the dreadful Tekken live-action film. Also, the only woman in the ensemble of male actors, Natassia Malthe, is a Norwegian-Malaysian who have starred in direct-to-video sequels of the also dreadful BloodRayne (based on many angry reviews I read) by Uwe Boll as its titular character. And at last but not least, the ACTUAL reason why I was shocked in the first place: the awesomely-different spin on Thor, now a redhead, super brutally cheesy, and an antagonist (as opposed to the famous Marvel Comics' heroic and blonde depiction of the deity), played by Conan Stevens of Game of Thrones (I only knew about this when I Wiki-ed him AFTER I watched the film). Wow. Not one locals in sight (Malthe doesn't really count, since she's based in Hollywood).

Okay, so this story of a mighty hero going somewhere to stop someone with some company are rather a bit overdone and standard by now (Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit anyone?), but you know... it's the unnecessary plot twists that sets it apart from many other fantasy sword-swinging films that came before it. Not something that complex or anything like that, but the final revelations that they suddenly throw in at the audiences right before the final fight between Eirick and Thor and after it (which I can't obviously tell you)... are comparable to having a sudden, yet very shockingly powerful adrenaline rush to the head and heart at the height of your drug excitement before it goes away just like the wind. Maybe it's just me and my friend, I guess, since we didn't really have any expectations AT ALL other than this being made by KRU who also made this film's aforementioned spiritual precursor of Old Malay origin which was kinda flawed but not a horrible film... and it should impress in some degree. It is for this reason that made me enjoy the film's storyline; it's a little different and much more enjoyable from many other local films that has ever been released thus far.

In the film making department? Expect CGI and lots of it; especially due to the fact that this is a movie about ancient times and because of budget constraints, practical sets are very limited (save for some of the costumes [obvious example: the obviously fake wigs and body armor with ugly aesthetics], weaponry and location sets) and trying to replicate everything from that era from scratch is time consuming and is not yet a thing in the Malaysian filmmaking scene. So KRU Studios, who is known to be the only company so far to consistently utilise CGI in most of their films, decided to also do that again here in order to recreate what old Scandinavia would really look like. Well, I daresay that although cheap-looking, its visual and special effects still and will always beat the heck out of the CGI in films by The Asylum Productions (an American production house keen on doing B-grade mockbusters and originals like the social media-hyped Sharknado) by a long shot, with just enough dash of something you don't really expect to see before by local filmmakers before this. I mean, I can't believe that the opening scene, the aerial forest shot that is seen before the Eirick/black bear showdown, and one of the war scene was shot in Kellie's Castle in Perak, somewhere in Pahang (probably), and desert-looking lands in Puncak Alam, respectively. How the hell did they totally mask that? I REALLY thought that AT LEAST ONE of the location is overseas, but NO, ALL of them are shot in Peninsular Malaysia! And the undead land scene? That creature thing and the design of the whole place is pretty imaginative too. Damn!

But I do have some issues with scenes like that especially religiously-sensitive and brutal opening scene not shown in the teaser, the gold-painted women at the Gate of Souls, that woman with a glowing pattern on her body with a very revealing outfit, and that very awkward, totally unnecessary-for-plotline-advancement love scene (especially the last three which I can never pinpoint the purpose of its existence other than a sorry excuse to show SOME glimpse of boobs in Malaysian cinema). I can't believe Malaysian P13 censors actually allowed those scenes to make the cut! Thankfully, the level of violence is still intense nonetheless; I mean, what would a Viking movie be without all of the hand-cutting, organ-splitting and chest-stabbing goodness (although PG-fied, still pretty violent stuff), right? So thank goodness for that!

Acting wise? Whatever man. To many, it's very troubling to them. It's static, awkward, yadayadayada... but what are you expecting from a bunch of B-listers like these guys? Jack Sparrow's flare? King Leonidas' bravery? Too bad! These guys drive the story just fine, despite Purcell's somewhat restricted voice and facial expressions and Foo's very fake and bad Chinese accent. I honestly don't care. At least, they're aware of the whole film's ridiculousness, and that's all that really matters (I mean, have you heard of Thor's constant growling? There's no way any seriously angry person would do something like that almost ALL of the time!).

Forgive me if this does not sound like a review (or if only parts of this long entry is the actual review), for I am still in shock in what just got to me. This is a surprisingly smashing entertainment being brought to you by a filmmaker who knows how to say Malaysians have indeed possess balls of steel when it comes to producing decent filmmaking effort for the world to see. It might not have the layered complexity than the much more compelling Bunohan possessed (I know; totally unfair comparison, since these are two TOTALLY different films) but hey, these two actually MADE the world to open their eyes on Malaysian cinema, and that's a good thing. I guess the only flaw that I see now, after I saw some reviews from the Western countries, primarily from the USA, is that it takes itself too seriously on the director's side but not on the actors' side.

This is overall a fun movie to have fun with, but far from being top quality stuff the director prides itself in making.

Hopefully, this overblown piece of opinion is able to make you move your sorry ass and support this decent effort from a hopeful homegrown production company who wishes to break through the international market. Help our brothers out, man! If not for its director's flawed vision, at least go marvel on Vikingdom's entertaining if not convoluted story, decent action scenes inspired by the likes of 300, and the still laudable  acceptable (if not highly impressive) visual and special effects. Trust me, it's worth it. Peace out.

P/S: This review is amended to reflect my renewed perspective on the film after I watched THIS REVIEW. Yeah. It's a fucking B-movie, that's what it is. It's so bad, it's good!

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