Chilean action star Marko Zaror will no doubt be known amongst martial arts fans, but to the casual viewer he will be less known. His supporting role in the recent John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023) will certainly help open him to a wider audience, with it being a fine showcase for his talents.
However, for a true display of what he is capable of, I would suggest looking at his back catalogue. While he can be seen in an assortment of U.S. productions such as Undisputed III (2010), Machete Kills (2013) and Savage Dog (2017), personally I would suggest to seek out his collaborations with director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza to see the actor at his acrobatic best.
Kiltro (2006), Mirageman (2007), Mandrill (2009) and Redeemer (2014) are all admittedly rough around the edges, with their lack in finances sometimes being in evidence. Even so, Espinoza surely knows how to stretch his budgets to the limit, with each of his collaborations with Zaror featuring enough style and their own distinct flavor to make them stand out amongst similar fare. It does help that both clearly have a love for old school martial arts films and cinema in general, with their multitude of influences being homage throughout their work.
It’s been almost a decade since their last team up, but Zaror and Espinoza are back together again for Fist of the Condor, another old school style martial arts tale that may not be their finest collaboration, that honor goes to Redeemer, but has a lot of interesting touches to make this another worthwhile feature from this dynamic duo.
Like many classic martial arts films, Fist of the Condor is about a fabled manual which contains the secrets to a mysterious martial art, Rumi Maki. This manual was written by 16th-century Incas with it containing the secrets behind their deadly fighting technique. For centuries this manual has been protected from falling into the wrong hands, but it is now once again at risk. Fighters from around the world are now searching for the manual, some with purer motives than others.
One who isn’t so pure is the evil Gemelo (Marko Zaror) who wants the manual in order to rule over others. Thankfully his twin brother Guerrero (also played by Zaror) is there to try and stop him, but before he can do that he will have to fight off an assortment of villains Gemelo has sent his way, chief amongst them the deadly Kalari (Eyal Meyer).
During this time we are also filled in on Guerrero’s training where he is taught by martial arts master Mother Condor (Gina Aguad), with Guerrero being one of her only students to have the patience and perseverance to learn her true teachings. With what he learns he goes out into the world on a quest to keep the manual out of the hands of his brother.
Ernesto Díaz Espinoza clearly has his influences on display during Fist of the Condor, with homages ranging from 80’s martial arts classics like Kickboxer (1989), old school Shaw Brothers movies and even 70’s television series Kung Fu (1972), a show he clearly has a fondness for, with him clearly referencing it previously in Kiltro.
Espinoza kicks things off straight away, opening the film with a beach set fight scene where Guerrero takes on an opponent who mistakes him for his twin brother. As well as showcasing Guerrero’s abilities, the scene also shows his achilles heel, with him having a serious issue with light sensitivity, with it alluded to that he will one day lose his sight. This makes Guerrero’s quest to find the ancient book something of a race against time, with him hoping to learn the secrets of the book before he will be unable to read them.
A good deal of the film is told in flashback with Zaror narrating throughout. As well as filling in some backstory, this narration also delves into the deeper mythos around the ancient martial art of the title and what it means for Guerrero. The flashbacks deal with Guerrero’s training and show how he becomes the bad ass we are introduced to in the opening moments.
The modern day set scenes are where the action comes, with Guerrero’s training shown to full effect. The fight scenes are evenly spaced out throughout the film’s swift 80 minute run time, and are as bone crunching and energetic as expected. Zaror worked on the fight choreography himself, with each of the fight scenes being distinct from the other.
For the most part the fight scenes play a part in the story, but like many martial arts films there’s a fight included squarely to keep things exciting as well as further proving how tough our hero is. Here this scene comes in the shape of a bar fight where Zaror takes on a group of unruly bikers, who frankly have it coming. Other than this, the other fight scenes of the film are one on one bouts.
Like his previous film, Espinoza is working with a relatively small budget. At times this does become somewhat limited with locations being kept to a minimum and the cast list being considerably short, with the cast being kept to those essential to the plot. Even so, Espinoza manages to include some striking visuals, helped no end by his cinematographers Benjamín Luna Vaccarezza and Nicolás Ibieta.
Espinoza also creates an interesting atmosphere. Like his previous film, Fist of the Condor is set in the real world but there’s always something slightly off that gives events an otherworldly feeling. It’s a heightened sense of reality that is part Spaghetti Western mixed with a modern day crime story.
Some may be disappointed that Fist of the Condor turns out to be the first part of a larger story. I had an idea this would be the case when the film opened to read Fist of the Condor: Chapter One. Although the film does lead to an action packed finale, Guerrero doesn’t face off against who you would expect. Typically a film like this would have our hero face off against the main villain, which in this instance is Guerrero’s twin brother. Instead that fight has been kept for a later time, with Guerrero instead going toe to toe with Eyal Meyer’s Kalari.
It’s better knowing this going in, as I feel you will get a lot more enjoyment from Fist of the Condor knowing this isn’t the full story, and I feel there’s enough here amongst the quality fight scenes and interesting mythology that would make viewers want to return for the sequel.
A great deal of the film’s runtime is focused on its leading man. This is partly due to Zaror playing a dual role, although the villainous Gemelo is used sparingly. For the most part Zaror does well in both roles, although I didn’t feel there was much variation between the two characters other than one has hair and the other doesn’t. Well that is until we see Gemelo carrying out his evil acts which cements his villain status. The idea of him playing his twin brother did make me think of another martial arts legend, Jean Claude Van Damme. Mr. Van Damme hasn’t been adverse to playing a double part during his career and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is what Espinoza had in mind when making the film.
Zaror doesn’t have the same level of charisma of say a Scott Adkins etc, but there’s a raw energy he brings to his performance and can brood with the best of them. Saying this, most people will be here to see Zaror’s martial arts skills and they won’t be disappointed with Fist of the Condor being yet another fine showcase. The film features a handful of fight scenes that not only shows how good an on screen fighter Zaror can be but what he is capable of as a fight choreographer.
He isn’t the only one getting to show off his fight skills. I wasn’t aware of Eyal Meyer before this but he does very well as Gemelo’s henchman Kalari. His ego knows no bounds, with him believing he’s more than a match for Guerrero. Meyer shows considerable martial arts skills of his own, with the end fight between him and Zaror being particularly noteworthy.
The remainder of the supporting cast including Gina Aguad, Man Soo Yoon and Jose Manuel all do good work but aren’t really able to do much with their characters down to the film’s short runtime.
Fist of the Condor is in no way a game changer but I must admit I appreciated its slightly offbeat approach and the numerous homages to old school action cinema that Espinoza includes. While he and Zaror have certainly done better work together this in no way negates some of the quality on display here.
Hopefully he and Zaror get a chance to take this series further and that further entries will allow for a larger budget. The film is due to come to Hi-YAH! on the 7th of April and will later find its way to Blu Ray thanks to the good folk at Well Go USA.
Plot: 3/5 Acting: 3.5/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 3.3/5