Reviewed by: James Gracey

Written and directed by Chee Keong Cheung, 12 is a surprisingly slick low-budget indie actioner that could give the latest big-budget Hollywood action flick a run for its money – both in terms of writing and onscreen action. Exhibiting self-assured flair and a penchant for creating breathtakingly choreographed fight scenes, Cheung has concocted a high-octane and bloody romp that blends melodrama with martial arts. Twelve fighters come together to compete in an illegal underground tournament. With a huge cash prize and some pretty desperate and dangerous individuals – the stakes are high.

Cheung puts his cast of usually behind-the-camera martial artists, stunt co-ordinators and athletes through their rigorous paces. This is where his talents really lie, as the scenes involving no fighting are succinct and really only offer us the most necessary information before we’re whisked off to the next fight scene. We’re given only the most relevant and basic of information about each character. Some awkward melodrama is milked from the interactions and dynamics of the various fighters, and their highly strung backers (including Danny John-Jules, Gary Webster and Leonard Fenton), who sit in a plush office and verbally spar with one another.

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Everyone is depicted as being somehow desperate to better themselves. be they family men out to protect their wives and children, or down on their luck souls desperate to move up the ranks of their social circles. Because of this, we’re constantly reminded that the stakes are high and becoming increasingly higher. In a film like this, however, one doesn’t really require an intricately woven tapestry of delicate and layered characterisation – its all about the bloody, adrenaline-fuelled action - and in that department director Cheung really delivers the goods. The graphic, tightly edited and impressively choreographed fights scenes prove effectively blunt and brutal.

While it may be stunningly shot and frenziedly action-packed, 12 very quickly falls into an all too repetitive format: we’re given the slightest background information on a couple of fighters, their reasons for fighting and then watch as they kick many shades of red out of each other. The range of stock characters, including a priest, a homeless guy, a teacher, a cop and a delinquent, ensures we often see polarised factions of society face off as amusingly dichotomic opponents in exciting duels in which the stakes seem ever higher.

When certain characters seem to be expressing regret at their actions and to disapprove of the remaining fights towards the end of the film – like they suddenly have epiphanies and have become morally superior to the fights’ backers, who are made out to be the bad guys of the piece – it feels slightly contrived. A random death also attempts to inject poignancy into proceedings when it really isn’t required. Otherwise 12 is a well-oiled and exciting pizza ‘n’ beer flick.

Reviewed on: 06 Jul 2010
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Twelve fighters are brought together for an underground torment. There's £500,000 at stake... if they can survive.
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Director: Chee Keong Cheung

Starring: Mark Strange, Joey Ansah, Danny John-Jules, Gary Webster and Leonard Fenton

Year: 2009

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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