Imagine a dark, gloomy back street full of tired Grindhouse theatres. Imagine the gutter running in front of these dilapidated pillars of nostalgia, full of the overflowing filth from the scarcely populated cinemas and the detritus discarded by staff and patrons as too questionable even for their tastes. Floating amongst this unwanted unpleasantness is where you’d find Joe Chien’s Zombie Fight Club, the latest film from a director determined to offend with excessive levels of flesh and violence, but who in truth warrants only a tired sigh.
The plot of this film, if it can indeed be called such, relies entirely on casting an envious look at 30 years’ worth of cinema and sampling the best parts without homage, awareness or even a hint of guilt. There are clear references to The Raid, to Braindead, to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Nods to Gladiator and Romero’s zombie back catalogue are frequent, with the titular Fight Club only getting scant attention in a final third that bears no real connection to what has gone before. Instead of moulding a narrative that makes any kind of sense at all, Chien has instead chosen to populate his film with as much blood and boobs as possible. Scarcely a scene passes in the opening third without an act of violent, often uncomfortably voyeuristic sex or over-the-top gory violence that tries to intimidate its audience but simply, slightly tragically, just bores.
The two leads, Andy On and Jessica C, clearly cast solely for their looks, are at least better at the acting lark than the majority of the cast who fortunately never actually last too long. Andy’s story shadows that of Rama from The Raid, only with less convincing fighting, and as for Jessica, well, she just screams a lot. Presumably that is down to the tragedy of the script rather than being actually required by it; there is reference to sinister under-age sex in Chien’s film alongside scenes so distasteful in tone as to push the boundaries of what is truly acceptable.
Strangely, surprisingly and as frustrating as anything else to be discovered lurking in Zombie Fight Club, Chien clearly has talent. The visual effects are at times hugely impressive and there are moments, however misguided they might be in practice, which theoretically hint at a filmmaker with an eye for how to frame a scene. Some of the set pieces, in particular the ill-fated fight club, are striking in their visuals but so few and far between are these moments of clarity that they are easily forgotten amidst the bottom-of-the-barrel scrapings that make up the majority of the film.
Zombie Fight Club is a film with a violent, distasteful sensibility that tries to provoke its audience through shock and awe but ultimately is just an unpleasant journey through an alley of grubby titillation. If Chien could only find a way out of the gutter and focus on what he actually does well then it would be interesting to see what he comes up with. For now, as much as your interest might be piqued by his latest feature, avoid Zombie Fight Club at all costs.
ZOMBIE FIGHT CLUB / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JOE CHIEN / STARRING: ANDY ON, JESSICA CAMBENSY, MICHAEL WONG, TERENCE YIN, JACK KAO / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 31ST