A Case For Better Action Movies: Benny Tjandra's SYNDICATE SMASHER, And The Thinning Line Between Love And Hate

I love independent movies, as we all should. That said, I still stand by this notion even as not all independent films will love us back, and often times apart from the gems that can be found, you will especially find yourself discovering titles that are lesser to your liking.

Some of those titles will often star actor Mel Novak - someone I'm often highly pushed to give attention to because he starred in Bruce Lee's Game Of Death and as it just so happens, I run an action movie blog. Now, I have nothing personal against Novak in the least, nor the PR firm that promotes him, or the filmmakers with whom Novak recently collaborated for the new action thriller, Syndicate Smasher, which you can currently find on Amazon Prime at your own behest.

On that note, it was four days ago that the film was given more press treatment for hitting #1 on the Amazon charts. I can't really speak for those people as I try to wrap my tired brain around putting together constructive analysis, but I can speak freely for myself when I say that this movie frustrated me so much that it triggered my asthma. Twice.

Enter Novak who leads a team of former soldiers-turned-mercenaries often hired to kill specific targets around world. Their latest target, a key witness to a case involving a plethora of gangsters from Triads and the Yakuza to the Russian and Italian mob families, eventually puts them in harm's way. Loyalities are tested and innocent blood is spilled, and with the distant help of a beleagured detective with a score of her own to settle, our mercs have one last task to finish before this is all over: Basically to be the last one's standing.

I love the premise, first off. It reads fine on paper and it's exciting imagining how an action film like this would play in my own head. That's all before we bring in Benny Tjandra, who brought us a bunch of tits and thugs dressed in S&M gear in Blonde Squad, and director Doug Tochioka who debuts here with Tjandra following other projects he's worked on in other capacities.

Their collective efforts to make Syndicate Smasher work as an ode to classic 90s action movies (somehow?) bodes as nothing short of a daunting miss. The drama isn't exactly Samurai Cop-level piss-poor, and you can certainly say that some of the cast members would do well on better-written and produced projects, but you still end up walking away with some of the most low-bar acting you'll ever see in a film of this kind.

Laurene Landon does manage to deliver a convincing performance at times as the film's vengeful detective, but it still feels like a miscast role nonetheless. Death Wish 3 co-star Nic D'Avirro and Revenge Of The Ninja co-star Arthur Roberts help sustain the film's nominal supporting roles among the film's remaining antagonists, but it's an acquired taste if you're patient enough to let it sink in; If you ask me, Bob Hoskins had better-written cartoon villains to work with in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The action is chock-filled in large part with tons of CG-muzzle flashes, blood and ballistics while a few of the more prudent gun battles are actually performed well on average. Of course, those moments only last for so long until you're left doubling down on your facepalms as the film's obligatory gun-touting baddies are perfectly lined-up and waiting to get shot.

Tjandra himself serviced on the fight action and so martial arts fans looking forward to some cool fight scenery can expect to catch actor and stuntman Jon Miguel in a few respite, shining moments of his own. The remainder of the film is an absolute testimony to how paining it can be to watch an action film, as hard as one can be to make on an independent level, only to see it falter right down to the painful end.

Point in fact, the only other thing painful to watch other than the film's cheap, laughable violence and crude drama is seeing a film that moreso stars Mel Novak's botox injections. I grant as much that he's an actor for a reason, and I have no doubt that he's good at his craft; He's okay, but there's no getting past how unnatural he looks and in my view, it does affect how a few other dialogue scenes play out.

To the film's credit, we have Cambodian actor David Prak who headlines with our key cast along with actress and model Olya Lvova; The press announcement from Sunday makes sure to mention that Prak survived the Khmer Rogue Killing Fields, something that Prak himself pay homage to in the film's third act. Undoubtedly, it's worth celebrating having undergone such an atrocity, but it doesn't exactly improve his chances of surviving just how much this film sucks.

On a constructive note, I like the prospect of Tjandra doing an action film given how tethered he is as an action fan himself, saying "I've loved action movies all of my life, grown up with them. I love the classic guys like Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen and international directors like Sergio Leone, John Woo and Takeshi Kitano. I hope my film reflects such a unique hybrid and merging of cultures."

With Syndicate Smasher, it's nice to see that he believes he's attemped such a hybrid. It would have been nicer if he actually achieved the same level of diversity and genre greatness, espeically given the presser describes the film as Tjandra's "labor of love" and reads that it's been called "A non-stop action packed spectacle that makes John Woo films look like Gone With The Wind."....

Now that shit is just disrespectful.

The press release also goes into mentioning the film's submission to the prestigious Guinness Worlds Records organization as the film with "The most guns, bullets and bullet shots ever depicted onscreen in a motion picture." Now, I don't know about all that or even if CG bullets count, but the fact that the press announcement is using this as a selling point on top of how crap unsuspecting film fans are bound to find out this film is, is a simple matter of unbridled jest.

Cinema Epoch President Gregory Hatanaka is also quoted in the press release saying: "Syndicate Smasher is not only a great action thriller but its multi-cultured cast and how it was made reflects modern day America. Benny (Tjandra) is certainly a no holds barred director to watch!"

...To which I add, and without mincing words:

I have no doubt that more movies of this kind will come to pass. As the months roll on, Cinema Epoch will probably go out of its way to quote all of its best press lines to help sell this film on as much of its merits as possible along with anyone else who might be deluded enough to give it a passing grade as the film plans more home release platform rollouts.

Kudos to them for hustling, sure, but as much as I try to pay attention to the independent film scene and with the cracking amount of fantastic online shortfilms and other praiseworthy independently-produced action movies, and other favorable performances I've seen from the likes of Miguel and filmmaker/stuntman Kevin Barile (click here to see a precursor what could have been for Barile's Saving Sara project), who appears in Syndicate Smasher, the last thing I'm going to do is weigh this movie on the same scale and suggest that it some how measures up. It doesn't.


Popular posts from this blog

FANTASIA 2018: Second Wave Reveals Zombies, Bigfoot, Witches, Superheroes, Cynthia Rothrock And Much More!

Donnie Yen And Jackie Chan Will Square Off In IP MAN 4

THE PROPOSAL: Actor And Martial Artist Marc Natoli Headlines New Shortfilm Production Next Month