Screener Review: CONCRETE: GANGS OF UNION CITY (2014)

One Night. 11 Blocks. One Way Home. 
John ‘Concrete’ Hong has one night to fight his way across a violent city and rescue the one he loves. 
John and Bethany Hong live on the streets of Union - a violent city where street gangs control the lower blocks. When John journeys to the bottom of the city to find work, the WCC gang corners him. After fighting his way out, he becomes the target of the corrupt Police Chief and his hired assassin, Finger. Finger locates and holds Bethany hostage. John is now forced to do the impossible – travel 11 gang-controlled blocks at night to rescue the only one he loves.


It's been a month of firsts for me, having had the privilege of reviewing some exclusive projects this year. This week, however, I got the chance to view a film that has already seen a few noteworthy quotes from a few critics as of late. The project debuts the latest feature vision of executive producers Matthew Bennett and Sasha Moric for their new film, Concrete: Gangs Of Union City.

Bennett and Moric co-directed the film together, presenting a grim tale of urban street kids forced to fend for themselves in a town full of high poverty and crime. The cops are corrupt, and the town is filled with gang activity, with each block alphabetically sectioned and controlled by their own gang. Caught in the middle of it all is John (Craig Henry), who shares a heavy-hearted and bittersweet past with his adopted father, Dirge, (Vivek Patel). Dirge has trained John in martial arts for much of his young life through methods which some might find brutal, inhumane and maybe even questionable - a story element that lends itself to John's character throughout the first and second act of the film.

From there, we meet actress Bo Martyn's portrayal of John's sister, Bethany, whose own desperate measures to make some money force her to run for her life. Simultaneously, John's search for work with new friend, Gremlin (Patrick Whelan) goes awry when they end up passing by a group of crooked cops dealing with another local gang - a classic case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. It is here that John's fighting skills prove useful, managing to escape with his life and a bag of dirty money, which happens to belong to the town's crooked police chief (Ryan Singh). The chief learns who John is and sends professional hitman and hired hand, The Finger (Tyler Williams) to find him, The Finger finds and captures Bethany instead to use her as bait to lure John with the money in exchange for her life. Now, time is running out and with eleven blocks of clandestined, unrelenting killers, muggers, rapists and vultures lurking in the night, his fighting skills, bred through a hard knock life full of unforgiving abuse and pain will be testament to whether or not John can rescue his beloved sister once and for all.

The film is a pretty good effort in visually showcasing a graphic novel approach to its setups. Frenetic flashback sequences are used to depict our hero's earlier evolution as he struggles to meet his father's standards, and some of these scenes are repeatedly shown in one capacity or another - sometimes as setups for later, extened shots of those scenes. To be honest though, a lot of these clips feel a little more like a filler to help sustain the first and second act of the film to make the movie longer - a method that does have its ups and downs for some movies and may not sit well for some critics and fans alike.

Some of the acting really isn't at all perfect and lacks subtlety in a few minor places that didn't need to be so obvious. However, the performances are generally is adequate enough to help keep the movie going from scene to scene, and you can see the potential for some of the actors in the movie. I did enjoy Henry's performances, both dramatic as well as physical, and his fighting sequences were very entertaining, lending homages to a few well-known styles of cinematic action; There is least one homage to the hallway fight in the 2003 film, Old Boy which is great, but would have looked way better if it didn't cut in and out with another scene. It was pretty annoying.

I also enjoyed Williams's performance throughout the film. I have written about Williams's work from time to time on my site, and it's a delight to see him apply his craft with some of Canada's most talented and gifted stuntmen and action auteurs of this generation. On top of acting, he helped choreograph and coordinate the film's principle action sequences with Henry and Patel, and it all served the film very well throughout, right down to the final fight.

The film does suffer from a few plot holes among other things that I did and didn't mention. Thankfully, Bennett and Moric make up for many of these flaws with good production quality and some well-to-do performances, as well as a few gory scenes and great fight sequences for martial arts action cinema fans who love a good fight flick. Henry was very entertaining to look at as the film's lead actor and I really do want to see more of him in the not too distant future, and Williams, as I said before, was terrific to watch at as well.

Concrete: Gangs Of Union City is a noteworthy example of good action-noir storytelling. The film's framework is made poetic throughout, courtesy of co-writer Matthew Campea, as well as Bennett and Moric who make a great pairing for this kind of film. Action fans will undoubtely like what is presented here in its homages to classic films - its most obvious one being the 1979 cult hit, The Warriors, coupled with the indie action talent assembled here.

China will be first to get a look at the film when it is released on DVD and Blu-Ray before other territories, so stay tuned for more info. And, if you enjoyed this review, feel free to share it and spread the word to help give the film awareness.


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