A dozen seasoned fighters, each from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, are assembled to compete in a knock out, no holds barred underground tournament. As the 12 warriors in waiting train for the battle of their lives, six wealthy businessmen back two fighters apiece, then pit their beneficiaries against each other until only one is left standing to collect a cool half million in prize money.
This is Chee Keong Cheungs first real venture into the world of filmmaking and while this inexperience shows elsewhere, when it comes to action he demonstrates a skilled eye. With a clear appetite for the genre, the newcomer shows considerable flair and aptitude throughout the films fight sequences, of which there are many. Each scene is expertly choreographed, well oiled and highly imaginative; courtesy of some industry leading fight arrangers and a central cast of bona-fide martial artists. The end result is a potent mix of authentic looking scrapes, topped with a welcome garnish of acrobatic showmanship.
The brutal bouts come in quick succession, and while these are undeniably the crowning achievements of this debut, Cheung smartly opts to keep things varied. Each scuffle unfolds against a new backdrop, with a rotating crowd of baying onlookers on hand to keep the punch-ups feeling fresh and energised.
Unfortunately, once the dust settles on each thrilling bout, the film suffers from a marked decline. The cast are far from seasoned, and while theres a couple of decent turns, the majority struggle through an unimpressive script of stilted dialogue and dreary melodrama. Granted, the martial artists have been picked for physical prowess, not acting ability; but theres little to excuse the tedious boardroom sequences where the sinister suits sneer and snipe their way through painful exchanges of dialogue.
Generally speaking, the script is ill conceived. Brief snippets of back story and exposition are awkwardly shoehorned in around the fight sequences, while the more expansive and potentially powerful storylines are never realized. Admittedly, the film is at its best when two of its fighters are knocking ten shades out of the other, but a more focused and assured framing device would have made for a more balanced and consistent film.
Nevertheless, when stripped down its bare knuckles, 12 provides an entertaining enough romp that any self respecting martial arts fan should enjoy. It suffers from pacing issues, the editing is repetitive and the script is downright awful; but the top notch fight scenes bare all the hallmarks of a talented action director. Given a half decent script, and propped up by a healthier budget; Chee Keong Cheung could make same real waves in the world of action cinema.
Overall Verdict: Chee Keong Cheungs directorial debut falls a long way short of martial arts masterpiece, but packs a meaty punch all the same.
Behind the Scenes
Anatomy of a Fight Scene Featurette
Reviewer: David Steele