Hellbinders is a low-budget action/horror crossover flick written, directed, and starred in by martial artists and stuntmen who all have some seriously impressive Hollywood resumes. Ray Park, who plays the European accented mercenary who now operates in the City of Angels, was Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode 1 and Toad in the first X-Men movie. Johnny Yong Bosch has done stunt work for numerous Power Rangers movies and television series, as well as a ton of motion capture and voice acting for video games in the Resident Evil all the way to some of the latter Final Fantasy games. Our third and final hero Cain, played by Esteban Cueto, has been an actor who normally plays beefy henchmen in movies such as XXX, Bloodrayne, and The Scorpion King. Behind the camera, Mitch Gould, Hira Koda, and David Wald have all worked on movies as either stuntmen or actors with some large projects such as Ultraviolet, Domino, Avatar, Rush Hour 3, Serenity, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End to their collective credits, just to name a few. It becomes abundantly clear that all three of these men, who also split directing duties of the film, know how to orchestrate fun and propulsive fight scenes, but after sitting down with Hellbinders, I also came away fiarly impressed with their ability to direct a feature length film, especially one that with such a small budget.
Hellbinders is the tale of 3 very different warriors on 3 very different paths through life who must join together to stop Beelzebub from being risen from Hell and whipping up a unholy shitstorm on Los Angeles. There’s more to it than that, but just go along with it and rest assured that you will be subjected to some picking and choosing about different myths from different religions in order for Hellbinders story to be played out. The Key here is, that a lot of ass gets kicked, and the ass kicking is extremely fun to watch. The rest of the tale more or less falls into places around the action set pieces, and is essentially of little to almost no importance. And that is NOT a bad thing at all.
The first thing you will notice is that Hellbinders borrows quite liberally from Sin City with its constant comic book panel transitions between scenes, similar to what Angel of Death (click here for my review!) did. While Angel of Death used the device as more of sprinkles on top of its stylish action mafia movie cake, Hellbinders uses it as often as it does bullets nd dialogue, which is to say A LOT. I wasn’t quite sure how an overload of shots in panels and multiple panels on screen all moving was going to sit with me, but damn me if it didn’t work better than I originally anticipated. It really helps to move things along, because the directors can show you, in essence, 3 scenes at once, provided the scenes don’t have much or any dialogue in them. As a transition mechanic, it is slick and sexy, and helps to firm up the lighthearted and fun vibe of the whole picture, while paying homage to the directors and video games that I am sure had influenced them in the past. Outside of the snazzy comic book panels, the lighting is just as heavy-handed and inspired by comic books. Heavy reds, purples, and yellows help to give a larger than life feel to the 3 combatants. CGI is used heavily for blood splashes and a few other scenes, but taking into consideration the budget restrictions, I can’t fault them for resorting to a cheaper method of getting the job done. Plus, it isn’t all that intrusive and it helps to give the movie more a coin-operated arcade feel that it certainly seemed to be shooting for. The flick moves quickly, and as I mentioned before, is built entirely around when the next person is going to get their skull caved in, which is exactly how action, in particular low-budget action, should be constructed from the ground up. The trio of directors pass with flying colours, and I would love to see what they could produce if they had the money to produce a more daring and full-fledged adventure with any or all of these actors returning to work with them again.
It would be asking a lot for anyone to have high hopes for the acting in a movie starring, written and directing by a handful of stuntmen, but let me assure you the acting, save for a few melodramatic and over the top moments played for laughs, is not at all cringe-worthy. Ray Park is electric as Max, and you just want to see more and more of his slick, suave, and sophisticated persona walking, talking and shooting at all times. Johnny Wong Bosch is also splendid in his role as Ryu (there is no doubt that in my mind that there are video game references littered in this movie. C’mon, Max AND Ryu?) the honorable assassin who has a bit of a shadowy past (when does a ninja ever NOT have a shadowy past?). Cain is just as enjoyable, but not nearly as featured as the other two, as the 800 year old Templar Knight who is a beefy pugilist determined to obliterate the orbital bones of anyone possessed by a demon. Removed from our big 3 “stars”, the supporting cast is all well and good, but they smartly kept in the backround where we can enjoy quick flashes of their prowess when needed to further drive the movie along and nothing more. The writing deserves a pat on the back too, because it gets some of the history of the Knights Templar right, and Ryu and Max have some wonderful moments of banter and conversation.
After counting up all the cards on Hellbinders, I can safely say this is something I would show to a lot of disgruntled action fans who miss the days when people just had to kill people because they did/are planning to do some bad shit. No giant robots, no Aliens, no shady government corporation or wrestlers pretending to be actors. Just some humans possessed by demons who are trying to Earth-birth one of the worst demons in the underworld, and three characters ripped straight from late 80’s beat-em-up arcade games who feel obliged to utilize their unique skills in order to kill a whole hell of a lot of people and prevent aforementioned bad things from happening. The directors knew what they were working with and pushed with their best feet forward with the comic book inspired panel transitions, great fight choreography, and some very likable, in not stereotypical, heroes in cool outfits firmly planted in the foreground. Turn off your mind, and drop in for some fisticuffs because Hellbinders delivers.