If the name Marko Zaror doesn't ring a bell for you, you're not alone. Although odds are you might have seen him from behind. No, it's nothing like that. Up until now Zaror was best known (or rather unknown) as Duane "The Rock" Johnson's stunt double in The Rundown. But that was before he got together with his best friend Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and decided to do something completely unheard of. They set out to make the world's very first martial arts films made in South America.
Based in their native Chile and produced by, of all people, an American producer from Denver, Colorado, these films are unlike anything anyone else has tried to make. And while Zaror and Espinoza had to assemble and train a stunt team from scratch, convince investors to put money into something truly foreign in that region and even try to get insured by companies that had no clue how to insure such a thing, they made not one, but two such films.
And here's the kicker. They're really, really good.
Marko Zaror isn't Jet Li, nor is he on par with the acrobatics or punishment taking of current sensation Tony Jaa. Instead he is attempting to do something completely different. He's focused on crafting characters that are both exquisite martial artists and richly drawn with big hearts. He's a hulking giant of a guy with swoon-inducing good looks that convinced many a woman (my wife included) to take in a martial arts film even when they didn't want to. But unlike many martial artists, the last thing he is focused on is looking cool. On the contrary, he plays dorks, un-hip, nearly brainless oafs who instead make up for their shortcomings with their sweet natures and martial arts abilities.
The result is a pair of lovable characters who are incredibly believable. Add in the total lack of wires and the unconventional methods used in stunt choreography and you end up with a pair of films that are incredibly fun to watch and make you want to stand up and cheer. The first film, Kiltro, is Ernesto's riff on Kill Bill, telling a revenge story about the son of a great martial artist who falls in love with, but is repeatedly spurned by, the daughter of his father's best friend. When an evil martial artist arrives hell bent on decades-old revenge, Marko's Zamir must track down a great martial artist and convince him to return to save the woman he loves.
The second, and far superior film, Mirageman is a spoof of sorts on superhero films. It tells the story of a lowly bouncer who becomes a superhero in hopes of helping his superhero obsessed little brother out of his comatose state. A mix of great action and a comedy (stemming from the problems of trying to be a superhero in the real world) create an adventure that won the Audience Award for Best Film at this year's Fantastic Fest where it played for the first time in North America. Making the film even more remarkable is the total lack of planned choreography: it was shot from the hip and the fights evolved naturally between the martial artists, creating a very realistic and exciting vibe.
Marko Zaror. Remember that name. Magnolia Pictures has secured the rights for both films and my guess is that a year from now everyone will know that name. These are a pair of movies you really need to keep on your radar.
C. Robert Cargill - - - Email Me
Austin-based Cargill, who not only loves but owns The Cutting Edge, writes on movies and DVD five times a week.