The Fall season showed great prospects for comic book creator Owen Ratliff in the several years it took for his latest live-action endeavor to come to fruition. The new half-hour martial arts superhero short, Black Salt, took to the stage last month at the Urban Action Showcase & Expo winning the shortfilm competition and securing digital distribution among other potential things to come, and for good reason.
Directed by Ben Ramsey from a script by Phillip Daay with successful online crowdfunding, Black Salt doesn’t hesitate to iterate its roots for fans of comic book lore. Right away, we briefly, but amply begin learning about our protagonist, Samuel Tharpe (Kinyumba Mutakabbir), an MI-6 agent who rose from adversity and tragedy to youthful greatness as a Shaolin prospect until his departure from the temple in China. Soon enough, we meet actress Sheena Chou who plays Li Jing, a mysterious woman and the member of a secret Yakuza sect familiar with the location of the Exterminatus, a deadly bomb being plotted to go off in the city in four days. With the clock ticking, Tharpe springs into action infiltrating the location of the Exterminatus and securing the package, but not without putting up the fight of his life in a definitive sequence that will ultimately detetmine the success and failure of this mission.
Without revealing too much here, I’ll say this: You enter Black Salt as a comic book movie world of its own but it isn’t long before the film grounds itself through a hybrid of different things. Mutakkabir delivers a performance worthy of strong reception as a terrific pick for the title role, especially opposite actress Chou, in addition to shared action sequences between Mutakabbir, actor Anthony Nanakornpanom (Broken Path) and actress Michelle Lee (Mortal Kombat Legacy 2) both well known for their substantial stunt and martial arts credentials.
The film touches on various points of philosophy and literature that aptly help build a few of the key relationships shown in the film, including that of actor James Lew who plays the Shaolin abbot. This, coupled with the use of the film’s elusive atmosphere further translate the film’s more omnious look and tone, fortifying one of the more pivotal moments in the third act as the finale plays out.
Co-star and action director Ron Yuan‘s fight choreography lends something special to Black Salt‘s debut in front of the camera. That said it’s Ramsey’s storytelling vision throgh Daay’s script that offers a lot of the sheer brutality, grit and edgy dialogue he became known for in his 2009 feature Blood And Bone, while paving the way for ample subliminality and luster for a superhero whose potential is yet to be fully tapped.
Accordingly, Ramsey’s Black Salt short film serves as a workable preamble for its presentation of a world still riddled with many questions to answer and plenty of shades of grey to dissect from its millieu of mysticism and danger. I’m not familar with the comic books myself, but considering the source material, suffice it to say I don’t see a reason why Black Salt shouldn’t be grown and nurtured into something larger.
It’s rare nowadays to find something new in the world of comic book fandom to look forward to apart from the mainstream. That said, Black Salt is what happens when great minds, and a little bit of help from the masses, come together. Personally, I found it very rewarding to see Nanakornpanom in action following Koichi Sakamoto’s Broken Path several years ago, which happens to be one of my favorite films; Lee herself dazzles as Horse Ripper, the silent assassin in the film and it’s only just one aspect of her craft as she continually proves her range as a formidable actress capable of tapping into gripping performances.
Ratliff’s universe created in Black Salt brings something purely and truely exciting to the table for both martial arts fans and superhero lore. There’s room for this character to grow, and I certainly hope that space is found soon.
Follow the shortfilm’s updates at the official website for more info on Black Salt!