Contracts (2020) review – solid, brutal action, but a shame about everything else

November 10, 2020
Jonathon Wilson 0
Film, Film Reviews
2

Summary

Alex Chung’s Contracts has some truly brutal action, and a lot of it is quite good, but the movie around the choreography is truly woeful.

2

Summary

Alex Chung’s Contracts has some truly brutal action, and a lot of it is quite good, but the movie around the choreography is truly woeful.

What you get out of Alex Chung’s Contracts is going to depend on what you go into it looking for. Those in the market for a coherent narrative with even passable acting and writing will be left sorely disappointed, but anyone looking for a brainless, bone-crunching martial arts experience will find themselves mostly catered to, especially in a climactic three-way – no, not that kind – that is about as brutal as any other fight sequence I’ve seen this year.

Chung, who leads the film as Anthony, clearly prioritized these fight sequences above any other consideration, including his own writing, direction, and acting, all of which leave something to be desired. The narrative is packed with cabals of deadly assassins, political machinations, double-crosses, and characters named things like “Headshot”, but even at a lean, mean 75 minutes there’s altogether too much of this nonsense to be forgiven. Attempts at crafting a John Wick-style mythology only invite very unfavorable comparisons with other, much better movies, with Keanu Reeves’ late-career gun-fu guru one of the more notable among them.

It’s clear that Chung does have one noteworthy talent, though, which is his ability to choreograph and perform fights. With more money – Contracts was made for pennies, and it’s never not obvious – and a better script penned by somebody else, I’d be happy to see Chung continue to flex these muscles because the fisticuffs here are good enough to almost make up for the shortcomings elsewhere. Comparisons to The Raid and The Night Comes For Us are more earned than those with John Wick, even though there’s a fair share of shooting too, since the bulk of the combat is comprised of bloodthirsty hand-to-hand scraps and excessive stabbings. Bones will be broken, throats will be slashed – and bitten out – and entrails will be messily displayed. A good, if eventually slightly uncomfortable, time is to be had here.

This puts me in a slightly awkward position as a critic since, despite everything that Contracts gets right in terms of its violence, which is obviously the primary selling point, the woeful execution of everything else just can’t be excused. The acting and writing are both truly embarrassing, and I couldn’t cogently tell you what any of it was about if someone held a knife to my throat – which judging by some of the stuff here might be quite likely should Chung read this.

With that in mind, then, let me just be clear that Chung has talent, and would be better served by more resources and someone to tell him not to act or write anything down. The creative decision to mimic his character’s descent into savagery and madness, though, is kind of a masterstroke, ensuring that Contracts becomes increasingly brutal in a way that almost beggars belief. The aforementioned beach-set climax is quite something; visceral, nasty, exciting filmmaking. But the whole thing is really just one long fight sequence with something resembling a movie awkwardly grafted on. It would have been better without the baggage.


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