Fantasia 2017: Savage Dog
Vietnam in the 1950s, per the Keith David voiceover, is a place in turmoil. Between two proxy wars, the country then called Indochina is populated by locals, corrupt officials, fugitives, and war criminals. Those in power play the powerless against each other for sport and wager. Martin Tilman (Scott Adkins) is just one such of the powerless.
We’re introduced to his character via a pit fight organized by a former SS officer, Steiner (Vladimir Kulich) and overseen by Rastignac (Marko Zaror), the latter of which uses a large blade to murder the fighter Tilman defeats. Tilman is eventually granted his freedom from forced gladiatorial combat to avoid scrutiny from the West in Steiner’s affairs. But it’s not long before he’s in a position to need to fight once again, because this is a Scott Adkins movie and we all know what we’re here to see before the credits start.
There’s not a lot of meat on the bones of Savage Dog, and that’s for the better since the action comes fast and frequent that way. It’s also because Adkins takes a lot of meat off the cannon fodder between him and the pit fight organizers in revenge once the third act ramps up, and this movie feels like 60% third act.
Again, that’s for the better, because the fist fights are very well choreographed, with great grapples and acrobatic but realistic strikes being the main feature. The arterial blood sprays Adkins gets from his machete rampage (yes, machete rampage) are glorious, and practically done--minimal CGI blood in this movie, and that detail was greatly appreciated. The blood is thick and flows like a fountain when Adkins goes for revenge. Heads, hands, throats, major organs—all get slashed and ripped in equal measure.
Some parts of this film are macho to the point of becoming iconic for their over the top nature, such as Tilman shaving with a newly sharpened machete or the local military leader throwing his gun aside when he has Tilman point blank. But they just add to the charm.
Savage Dog, put simply, is a symphony of carnage that feels incredibly personal despite the somewhat predictable plot beats. You won't find anything new storywise, but you will find something to appreciate in the violence. The camera is placed in such a way that the individual attacks and parries of the fights he gets into are never missed. You see every strike, every miss (and just how close some of those get), just to feel drawn into the path Adkins carves through Southeast Asia on his search for vengeance. The why is perfunctory, as it often is with these movies. Savage Dog smartly focuses on making the execution of that revenge where the fun lies.