It’s been sixteen years since I once had a computer that didn’t crash on me. It was my first computer and it allowed me a window into a world of action cinema bigger than what I could find at my local video store (you know, back when those existed?). It allowed me to spy an eye on many a shortfilm from some of my favorite groups from here in the states, to across the pond and beyond as it does to this very day. Little did I know that trajectory would lead me to Germany where once budding action star Mathis Landwehr would become the face of the genre with the post apocalyptic action thriller, Kampfansage: Der Letzte Schüler. That film, directed by Johannes Jaeger and released in 2005, wasn’t perfect, but it certainly served up some of the best action on film for any fan of the genre.
Moreover, it serviced as a platform for much of the veracity there is in European stunt talent, especially for aspiring film professionals who have incidentally sought their inspiration, in part, from the U.S.. Just ask co-star, actor Volkram Zschiesche, who in the German DVD for Jaeger’s film, partly credited premiere independent film and stunt team Zero Gravity for their proclivity toward becoming filmmakers and screenfighters for the martial arts movie fan base. To date, those efforts have somewhat paid off with Kampfansage: Der Letzte Schüler becoming something of a cult hit among those familiar and who find Germany’s stunt and film fighting collective to be an admirable one. And since then, it has become a bit more prolific with a few rising stars worth lending some lip-service to, including then-up-and-comer, stuntman and action character actor Mike Moeller who fought opposite Zschiesche in a terrific three-on-one fight scene in the third act. More to the point, just watch that scene and you can instantly spot something in Moeller that could instantly draw an audience if steered the right way. To that end, I’m pretty thankful that Moeller has kept going, as an athlete and a creative talent strongly suited with talents both in front and behind the camera. That’s not to say that there have not been any slips; Only a few perhaps, but that simply just goes to show the importance of his tenacity whilst having established himself as a viable figure for today’s followers of the genre, such tenacity that has put him dead center in the throes of his latest featured role in Alex Padrutt’s latest, One Million K(l)icks, which certainly hits all the right beats as a watchable action flick along with a few silly ones.
The opening credits are nothing short of a nose dive into a solid action pic with a brief live-action highlight of Moeller just before seuging into an animated intro that borders on a bit wacky and sort of takes the direction Eric Jacobus’s own feature film, Contour took in 2006. Afterwards, we are then invited to the story of Michael, a gifted-yet-impetuous fighter who becomes the center of attention (and essentially, lucrative growth) for two ambitious entrepreneurs, Frank and Salva following an ruckus at a nightclub. The goal, of course, to help make Michael an internet sensation through a viral video site that catches him doing what he does best while making money in the process. Our protagonist isn’t immediately turned on to the idea until much later, and with a phone call and an enduring fighting spirit, Michael emerges as an online sensation – essentially becoming the star of his own reality show, and all seems well until Michael’s own conscience starts taking over, making him question just what all the violence has turned him into, and the behest of his overzealous managers. Soon enough, his uncertainty turns into regret following a near-fatal incident that lands him in the hospital where he then finds himself at the possible starting point of a new life. Meanwhile, lurking in the shadows is a mysterious businessman, and an unrelenting cop with his own corrupt intentions and a fighters’ ego that ultimately threatens to pull Michael back into the world he no longer wants a part of.
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The film gives us plenty to celebrate as an action piece with Moeller as a leading man. Marco Theiss’s script successfully holds itself together from start to finish based on his and Moeller’s own storying, and with just enough characters to balance out the film’s numerous action scenes to accomodate the drama. Most enjoyable are the moments of hilarity where Moeller, in character, is more busy trying to score with chicks, and even more fun are the scenes he shares with romantic interest, Lili, played by actress Sabine Steinbach. Michael Bornhutter appears twice in the film as Michael’s long lost father who appears out of nowhere – an arc that isn’t hugely explored while moreso founded on suggestive dialogue hinting at a tumultuous history as father and son that now contributes to their current beleaguerment. It works if you’re not too critical of the lack of development here and more focused on dramatic delivery than anything.
Actors Martin Baden and Bartholomaus Kowalski propel the story forward as our entrepreneurial pair, Frank and Salva, with Frank becoming more prolific on the antagonistic end of things through a bit of a twist that keeps things afloat. To that end, the addition of Zschiesche as our main fighting baddie, Ritter, spices things up nicely, and, frankly, in ceremonious fashion for fans fond of his shared history with Moeller on Kampfansage and Arena Of The Street. One other morsel to look forward to, however, is the acting debut of a one Li Yan-Long, often confused as a caterer servicing a few Chinese film sets such as True Legend (2010) and Linshan Zhao’s The Assassins (2012) as listed on IMDb, while in other instances, he’s known as the star of the 1984 film, South Shaolin Master, and he shows it beautifully in the role of a chef who becomes a true mentor and friend to Michael when he needs one the most.
There’s not much to muse on the action if you’re already familiar with what Moeller is capable of in that category, and chances are you will need only see it apart from anything any critic or enthusiast like myself could add to the table. However, it’s all worth noting if you ARE new to Moeller’s craft and in need of some input, lest you feel any doubt behind whatever hestiancy you might be feeling should you give Padrutt’s latest offering a shot, in which case, I advise letting go. Prior to this, I reviewed Moeller’s previous film, Atomic Eden, from director Nico Sentner – a film that I hold less dear in the world of action on film, but also one that exemplies diligence when it comes to understanding and executing good stunt sequences where it counts. Moeller is somebody not to be taken for granted in this matter as he’s someone who continually shines with sheer, gravity-defying technique and gusto, and athleticism that begs for answers to the limitless questions surrounding why it is that he and others of his filmic caliber aren’t bigger stars. Indeed, Moeller is someone who fits the category until hopefully he gets the escalation he deserves, and One Million K(l)icks surely sends the message.
The final fight is definitely fun to watch, but I did find myself a bit analytical of Zschiesche’s screenfighting prowess between now and more than a decade ago. He’s been active since 2000 and has done some of the most impressive work I’ve seen as a fan before his brief hiatus to focus on other matters of film and acting, and knowing this as he’s recently moved back into familiar territory as a screenfighting villain, watching him opposite Moeller wasn’t too easy on the eyes as I was comparing size differences. On that note, everything else rested on Moeller’s design of the scene and despite Zschiesche’s lanky appearance, the scene works for what it is and doesn’t take away from the continual tone, energy and pacing of the action. Perhaps and more to the point, is my favorite scene that occurs about 20 minutes in with Moeller paring himself against two of his fellow Reel Deal Action ilk, actors Phong Giang and Cha-Lee Yoon in one of the film’s more electrifying screen fights. Yoon, Giang and Moeller are three of Germany’s best in their field and each with accolades of their own, and watching them gel as well as they do in front of a camera is extremely rewarding.
One Million K(l)icks is one of those titles you’ll likely come across as obscure, largely in part due to the kind of market we’re in, saturated no less by big budget tentpoles that otherwise leave lesser-known titles with original and budding concepts to a limited-theatrical or home release window. It’s not much, I think, but it is a start with deserving results that could land better representation of today’s interwoven community of hungry action film hopefuls. Moeller himself comes from that very cloth, and as the launchpad of production company, Silent Partners, one can only hope One Million K(l)icks will be just the turning point he needs to get him on track toward bigger projects, and even bigger audiences.
This review of One Million K(l)icks comes courtesy of North American distributor Parade Deck Films who will release the film in June on DVD, and through DirecTV Cinema, Dish Network, iTunes, Amazon, Family Video, Google Play and Redbox this August. Stay tuned for more info.