Far from his maritime documentary exploits and a long ways before The Trigonal would surface, ex-soldier, martial artist and film-hyphenate Vincent Soberano would find himself in award-winning territory with an action horror proof that found its prominence en route to feature film fruition.
Casting Chinese American international martial arts champion athlete, actress Sarah Chang, our story for Blood Hunters: Rise Of The Hybrids dives head first into the origins of its narrative, immersing you in a world where Aswang, a fabled, bloodthirsty beast of Filipino folklore, exist.
The film’s preambling flashback scenes are comprised of the inaugural shortfilm that foundate the current story going forward. That story introduces Gabriela (Chang), a former cop-turned-rogue hunter in search of the Aswang beast that killed her family, Naga (Temujin Shirzada).
A close call with death finds her suddenly resuced and awakening at a remote jungle training facility led by Monte (Monsour Del Rosario) and his subordinates Max (Ian Ignacio), Kali (Roxanne Barcelo) and Ishida (Levy Ignacio). Aside from hunting the Aswang, Monte’s strategy to infiltrate the lair eventually reunites him with Bolo (Soberano), a fellow Blood Hunter whose own stoic solitude has since drawn him into maverick vigilantism, using syringes of Aswang blood to enhance his strength and survive.
Years since the death of an Aswang queen led to a military commander’s own resolve to do the same, however, a new breed of Aswang have surfaced to stake their claim. Aided by his lieutenants, Naga and Gundra (Mekael Turner), and a distant dark horse in the midst, their plan is to do well more than lure Monte and his squad for a fateful bloody battle, one that will further decide mankind’s chances against an elusive and growing threat.
The driving force for Blood Hunters: Rise Of The Hybrids, lies in the burgeoning levity drawing Bolo and Gabriela together. They both have a mission in mind, and it’s one of absolute vengeance. It’s well acted and applied in terms of romantic arcs next to that of the beautiful Kali and boyfriend Max who stands out with some pretty cool line delivery in the third act, on top of fight scene action.
Del Rosario’s screentime serves prominently in the action department as well along with the requisite backstory between Monte and Soberano’s Bolo; the original short film is put to ample use in terms of keeping the story substantive in its layers and as cohesive in its weaving as possible.
Actress Mayling Ng, in her astute career progression to date following appearances in Lady Bloodfight and Wonder Woman, provokes fierceness and menacing as Maya, the Aswang queen of the lair. That Naga’s mind is set on his lust for killing Gabriela more than on Maya becomes an albeit humoring point of ire that later adds to the intensity of the film’s action-packed final leg. Mekael Turner’s own Gundra shows more gravitas in the acting department whereas Shirzada’s portrayal Naga admittedly comes across like less-enthusing Joker akin to Jared Leto who suddenly knows how to fight like a supreme being. He’s not alone either as there are definitely a few performances that feel almost distractingly rehearsed.
What counts more than anything from that point on is the action, designed by Jeff Centauri and lensed by Takeyuki Onishi and Miguel Cruz. The Aswang are presented with an essence of super speed to couple with their prowess, using a shadow-like effect throughout nearly each action scene they’re shown in. The fights scenes, for the most part are energetic and oftentimes fun, watching Soberano and his cast at work, including and especially del Rosario who gets to go all-out against the Aswang. It’s the proverbial icing on an imperfect, albeit delicious cake that is Soberano’s freshman directorial outing.
Chang, whose own film career in China notably serves her well in her trevails, serves her well in her English language lead acting debut. She easily matches the talent she showed in The Trigonal and Jeremy Weiss’s online action short, The Teacher, providing plenty of visble references to the notion that she can offer plenty to an action film production that requires a feminine role with a workable skillset in drama and experience in stunt and action.
Small in budget and reasonably done with its own fair share of hurdles, Blood Hunters: Rise Of The Hybrids opens the flood gates for new mythology that bodes with an enriching allure for fans of macabre and action. Topped with sweet visuals and a feasibly talented cast, and enhanced with the stronger physical and dramatic talents of Sarah Chang and Mayling Ng among others, there’s plenty to enjoy and Blood Hunters: Rise Of The Hybrids, some of which moviegoers may still not find in some recent Hollywood productions, surprisingly, even in the wake of methodical tastemakers like Deadpool, Atomic Blonde, the John Wick franchise, as well as other outstanding examples of exceptional action cinema.
It’s been several years since Soberano completed this project and began moving onward with a small array of others potential film properties to help build his brand at IndieGo Pictures. In the wake of this, he may be new nowadays as an emerging director, but his consistent growth as a filmmaker with an eye for action will certainly land him among the pantheon of directors listing the likes of Wilson Yip, Isaac Florentine and Jesse Johnson. It is a reasonable badge to tout for Soberano given his current stride, and action fans who are regularly hard-up for a new action movie, for what it’s worth, would be wise to take notice.
10:29am – a previous version of this review incorrectly noted Soberano’s name as the director of ‘The Teacher’