A film review: 'Vikingdom: The Blood Eclipse'... is one bloody epic!

Oleh / By: Iki.Ali

Director: Yusry Abdul Halim
Producer: Norman Abdul Halim, Shireen Hashim
Screenplay: James Coyne
Genre: Action / fantasy
Starring: Dominic Purcell, Conan Stevens,
Natassia Malthe, Craig Fairbrass, John Foo,
Tegan Moss, Jesse Moss, Patrick Murray
MY - September 12, 2013; US - October 4, 2013
Studio: KRU Studios
Distributor: Universal Pictures, Epic Pictures,
United Pictures 
This is one of those films where you don't really know what just hit you. In this case, it hit me and my old roommate (also still faculty-mate and currently also course-mates), where he suddenly asked me for an impromptu movie-watching session just before my Italian Language class, and surprisingly, we watched on the day it was released... and it was also surprisingly kinda good! Huh!

What do you know? The urban legend finally comes true. What does that mean? Well, I first heard of its initial title, known simply as Vikingdom, from a classmate of mine who told me he was somewhat involved in the film as an uncredited labour as his part-time job. And I was like... KRU (partially-active musicians and now kinda-devoted film making/producing trio of siblings), a bunch of MALAYSIANS, making a film about VIKINGS of SCANDINAVIAN legends? Questions in my head would be.. how is THAT gonna be possible, how are these two related and HOW is it going to relate to the local audiences since it is NOT from our local culture? Being skeptical, I was highly doubting this crap and accepted it as a rumour and nothing else... until I saw its teaser trailer.

Apparently, the film is a real deal. And what they showcased really did give some shockers.

The film features an all-international cast, where most have starred in lesser roles in some big films/TV series or totally crappy/flopped ones. The lead actor, Dominic Purcell, is said to have appeared in a quiet popular TV series both in the States and Malaysia called Prison Break. And I think I saw John Foo of the dreadful Tekken live-action film too. Also, the only chick in the ensemble of male actors, Natassia Malthe, is a Norwegian-Malaysian who starred in direct-to-video sequels of the also dreadful Uwe Boll-helmed BloodRayne (based on many angry reviews I read) as its titular character. And at last but not least, the ACTUAL reason why I was shocked in the first place; the awesomely-different spin on Thor, now a redhead, super brutal...ly cheesy, and an antagonist (as opposed to the famous Marvel Comics' heroic and blonde depiction of the deity), played by Conan Stevens of Game of Thrones (again... NOT because of his appearance in GoT! I only knew about this when I Wiki-ed him!). Wow. Not one locals in sight (Malthe doesn't really count, since she's based in Hollywood, see). They might not be big stars, but they're not from around here... and that's impressive!

In Vikingdom: The Blood Eclipse, Yusry is letting his imagination even wilder than its precursor, also an epic (which was based on ancient local scriptures) called Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, given the fact that this is an outsider's myths he's toying with here. While the previous epic adheres closely to the heroic/villainous alignment in its source material, this is not the case here when it comes to the depiction of the culturally famous Thor, as mentioned above. Basically, it's about Eirick Bloodletter (Purcell), an undead king who, with the help of a bunch of voluntary Viking warriors, must travel and fight their way across the unforgiving lands of ancient Scandinavia to prevent the third and final piece of three powerful relics from being collected by Thor (Stevens), a power-hungry God of Thunder, or else he will use it to unleash unspeakable oblivion onto the middle lands once he does... with an unexpected help that even the hero can't foresee.

Okay, so this story of a mighty hero going somewhere to stop someone with some company are rather a bit overdone and standard by now (Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit anyone?), but you know... it's the plot twists that sets it apart from many other fantasy sword-swinging films that came before it. Not something that complex or anything like that, but the final revelations that they suddenly throw in at the audiences right before the final fight between Eirick and Thor and after it (which I can't obviously tell you)... are comparable to having a sudden, yet very shockingly powerful adrenaline rush to the head and heart at the height of your drug excitement before it goes away just like the wind (I never had drugs, but the film Trainspotting tells me that it feels something like that... I think). Maybe it's just me and my friend, I guess... since we didn't really have any expectations AT ALL other than this being made by KRU who also made this film's aforementioned spiritual precursor of Old Malay origin which was kinda flawed but not a horrible film... and it should impress in some degree. It is for this reason that made me enjoy the film's storyline; it's a little different and much more enjoyable from many other local films that has ever been released thus far.

In the filmmaking and technical department? Expect CGI and lots of it; especially due to the fact that this is a movie about ancient times and because of budget constraints, practical sets are very limited (save for some of the costumes [obvious example: the obviously fake wigs and body armor with ugly aesthetics], weaponry and location sets) and trying to replicate everything from that era from scratch is time consuming and is not yet a thing in the Malaysian filmmaking scene. So KRU Studios, who is known to be the only company so far to consistently utilise CGI in most of their films, decided to also do that again in this film in order to recreate what old Scandinavia would really look like in the eyes of their CGI artists. Well, I daresay that although cheap-looking and not that realistic, its visual and special effects still and will always beat the heck out of seen in films made by The Asylum Productions (an American production house keen on doing B-grade mockbusters [cheap knock-offs of up and coming blockbusters] and originals like the social media-hyped Sharknado) by a long shot, with just enough dash of something you don't really expect to see before by local filmmakers before this. I mean, I can't believe that the opening scene, the aerial forest shot that is seen before the Eirick/black bear showdown, and one of the war scene was shot in Kellie's Castle in Perak, somewhere in Pahang (probably), and desert-looking lands in Puncak Alam, respectively. How the hell did they totally mask that? I REALLY thought that AT LEAST ONE of the location is overseas, but NO, ALL of them are shot in Peninsular Malaysia! And the undead land scene? That creature thing and the design of the whole place is pretty imaginative too. Damn!

But I do have some issues with scenes like that especially religiously-sensitive and brutal opening scene not shown in the teaser, the gold-painted women at the Gate of Souls, that woman with a glowing pattern on her body with a very revealing outfit, and that very awkward, totally unnecessary-for-plotline-advancement love scene (especially the last three which I can never pinpoint the purpose of its existence other than a sorry excuse to show SOME glimpse of boobs in Malaysian cinema). I can't believe Malaysian P13 sensors actually allowed those scenes to make the cut! Thankfully, the level of violence is still intense nonetheless; I mean, what would a Viking movie be without all of the hand-cutting, organ-splitting and chest-stabbing goodness (although PG-fied, still pretty violent stuff), right? So thank goodness for that!

Acting wise? Whatever man. To many, it's very troubling to them. It's static, awkward, yadayadayada... but what are you expecting from a bunch of B-listers like these guys? Jack Sparrow's flare? King Leonidas' bravery? Too bad! These guys drive the story just fine, despite Purcell's somewhat restricted voice and facial expressions and Foo's very fake Chinese accent. I honestly don't care. They're working on that, so forgive them! Jeez! At least, they're aware of the whole film's ridiculousness, and that's all that really matters (I mean, have you heard Thor's constant growling? There's no way any seriously angry person would do something like that!). It's already bold enough to have Yusry call of these people to work on his most ambitious film yet, so cut them all some slack, will ya?

Forgive me if this does not sound like a review (or if only parts of this long entry is the actual review), for I am still in shock in what just got to me. This is a surprisingly smashing entertainment being brought to you by a filmmaker who knows how to say Malaysians have indeed possess balls of steel when it comes to producing decent filmmaking effort for the world to see. It might not have the layered complexity that the much more compelling Bunohan possessed (I know; totally unfair comparison, since these are two TOTALLY different films) but hey, these two actually MADE the world to open their eyes on Malaysian cinema, and that's a good thing.

Hopefully, this overblown piece of opinion is able to make you move your sorry ass and support this decent effort from a hopeful homegrown production company who wishes to break through the international market. Help our brothers out, man! If not to support it, at least go marvel on Vikingdom's entertaining story, decent action scenes inspired by the likes of 300, and the still laudable (if not highly impressive) visual and special effects works. Trust me, it's worth it. And this is coming from someone who only watches good local films and don't-care-if-its-good-or-bad international films. Peace out.

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