Black Lotus will be available on Digital Download beginning June 19 in the UK from Strike Media.
If you’re like me and never knew who Todor Chapkanov was until seven years ago apart from his lengthy resumè, you can almost imagine the excitement that the man who delivered what currently sits as the final entry in the Undisputed franchise was well on his way up with another feature actioner to entice fans. Enter world-class kickboxing champion Rico Verhoeven in his first feature film role for a package that now brings us Black Lotus. Added to the mix is a script by Tad Daggerhart who now sits among the credited scribes of Expend4bles, which ought to draw some more relevancy to this newest chase thriller inspired by the likes of Taken and Man On Fire.
Thus, the concept itself is simple enough and therefore marketable and easy to understand on a commercial level. It’s a plot that many of us seen unfold a million times over, and really, at this juncture, you can still tell the same kind of story as any director has – it all just boils down to how well you do it. For Chapkanov, Black Lotus isn’t the banner action thriller anyone might have expected. Still, it gets the job done where it counts, as a slow-burn drama at times, and as an action thriller with palatable sequences, and a cast amply suited for the task.
This gets put to the test straight away as the film immediately throws you into the thick of it when a Matteo (Verhoeven) and his special forces unit infiltrate a concert hall in Germany that’s been taken over by terrorists. Just before team leader and Matteo’s best friend John (Roland Møller) can take hold of the situation when a hostage is executed in cold blood, Matteo takes matters into his own hands, resulting in a deadly shootout that not only ends in John’s death, but with Matteo five years later working as a lumberyardsman in Romania, still stoic and grief-stricken.
Matteo then quits his job and travels to Amsterdam to reacquaint himself with the late John’s family, Helene (Marie Dompnier) and daughter Angie (Pippi Casey), in a bittersweet reunion that gradually allows for him to have a place in their lives again. Little do they know that his return would likely be crucial with Helene’s new husband and low key weasel Paul (Peter Franzèn) busy nowadays getting himself into more trouble than he can afford. Enter Saban (Frank Grillo), the Amsterdam branch head of a major global criminal organization, and part-time restauranteur whose latest drug shipment has just been pinched by Interpol agents Shira (Rona-Lee Shimon) and Fischer (Kevin Janssens).
Adding further to Saban’s troubles here is that thanks to Paul’s haphazard investment banking, Saban is fifteen million euros in the hole, and pissed. So, it’s up to Paul to do whatever it takes to get Saban his money back, or risk putting Helene and Angie in harm’s way – such is what happens when Paul proves to be ineffective. In no time flat does Matteo find himself thrown in the whirlwind when Angie is kidnapped by Saban’s goons, and a chase ensues that winds up putting Matteo under Interpol’s radar as a potential suspect due to his redacted background. With time running out though, it’s up to Matteo to take the initiative and live up to his duties as Angie’s godfather, find her and save her no matter what.
It takes a good long while for the energy to pick up right when the core leg of the film’s plot finally kicks in. That leaves maybe a little less than two-thirds of the film devoted to character development and introductions. To this end, while Verhoeven doesn’t emote as well as his co-stars, he’s not entirely wooden, and can still carry a scene with the right partner. This still leaves plenty of room to service the drama and action well at times, even for a 6’5″ athlete at close to 280 lbs. The film is sure to reiterate this as a point of humor when it can, especially through the course of his godfather/goddaughter relationship with Angie, which can be charming at times.
Grillo doesn’t get much to work with in the role of Saban, but he makes the most of it with an acting caliber and screen persona that continues to grow on fans and be a selling point for just about any film he’s in. The restauranteur aspect of his character comes when we see him in an empty dining room and being served a bowl of mushroom stew that he is sure to inform the chef his disproval of, along with a warning to boot. There’s another scene later in the film where Saban promotes the stew to another character which gave me a chuckle.
Don’t expect Saban to throw down any time soon with Matteo though. That task goes to our screen villain’s two assassins, the tall and stocky Ber (Magnus Samuelsson), and the silent-but-quick Lo (Simon Wan), with both sharing a feasibly bloody two-on-two rooftop showdown with Matteo and the tenacious Shira as the film winds down to a close. Fight sequencing duties go to Radoslav Parvanov who has done some of the amazing work seen in shows like “The Witcher,” and in films such as William Kaufman’s The Brave and Le Van-Kiet’s The Princess. The action is kept a bit more simplistic and rather arcane in areas pertaining to editing and cinematography, and VFX for at least one shot in the film, but action fans won’t be left entirely unsatisfied to the point of writing Black Lotus off.
Thanks to some decent character development and serviceable action, along with some thrilling high-speed pursuit stunt work to whet the appetite for the film’s fair runtime, Verhoeven gets to deliver his DTV John Matrix/Brian Mills moment for action fans looking to get their fix. As far as I’m concerned Black Lotus is just the beginning.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.