When a low-budget movie truly nails what its going for, despite a lack of resources and everything else around it, that’s a film worth forgiving its lack of quality. In the case of Alex Chung’s Contracts, here is an action movie that does what it set out to do despite its rough filmmaking. It’s a brutal martial arts experience that has everything an action fan could want, from intricate choreography to every bone being broken in a human body. Thus, Contracts is easily forgiven for its low budget and cringe-inducing performances by virtue of the fact that it kicks so much ass.
For Chung’s feature debut, it’s clear that he focused on the fight scenes first and foremost. The film is already a brisk 75 minutes, and unfortunately it still spends too much time on a narrative that flails between double crosses and politics. Boiling down to “an assassin hunting down assassins,” Contracts tries to create a world of assassination without anyone to really root for within it. Chung leads the film as Anthony, whose backstory is slowly revealed throughout the duration of the film. Unfortunately, while a fantastic fighter, Chung just isn’t up to the task of carrying the narrative like this. The same goes for most of the supporting cast, who all feel like they’re in a soap opera when they’re not busting skulls.
The reality is that Contracts feels cheap, and that’s because it is extremely low budget. One could harp all day on the quality outside of the action, but it becomes immediately apparent how little that all matters. Despite attempting a narrative and world building, this is a movie all about the quality and intensity of its action. Which (and I cannot stress this enough) is ridiculously well done. The choreography alone propels this into the same style of filmmaking as Indonesian martial arts films like The Raid or The Night Comes for Us. Almost always brutal, with tons of blood to spill by the end, this verges closer to The Night Comes for Us because of how often it teeters into excess gore. If a leg can be cut open, it will be, and if a bone hasn’t broken yet, it will be.
The sound design is loud, and adds to the visceral feeling that Contracts captures in each act of violence. This also isn’t a movie that cuts between shots at a rapid clip; instead, it moves with the action and ensures that every gunshot to the head or stab to the neck is observed. Perhaps the most incredible feat is that the action becomes increasingly intense, paralleling Anthony’s descent into a cold, savage monster. It’s the one little bit of character building that works, and serves as an excuse to shed as much blood as possible. All of which leads to a fantastic climactic fight that is both thrilling and well-executed.
For all that the movie fails to accomplish, it’s evident that Contracts has its heart in the right place, and is a piece of visceral filmmaking that many action movies wouldn’t be able to achieve without the financial support. The intensity of its fight scenes and the abundance of them is what helps forgive the movie for its flaws. Action junkies will truly appreciate the craft on display, so long as they acknowledge that it will be a bumpy ride in between those adrenaline-fueled setpieces.
Toronto After Dark 2019 runs October 17-25th.