By Marty Mulrooney
12 (Twelve) is a British martial arts movie directed by Chee Keong Cheung. Originally released in 2007 as Underground, it tells the story of twelve fighters from a variety of backgrounds, all competing in an illegal fighting tournament for a prize of £500,000. Low budget but made with professional input (the fight scenes were apparently put together by renowned fight choreographer David Forman, who has worked on such films as Clash Of The Titans and Batman Begins), 12 (Twelve) also features a wide range of British martial artists/actors, giving it slightly more pedigree, on paper at least, than your average shot-on-a-shoestring-budget action flick.
12 (Twelve) is a film that wastes no time getting into the thick of its central premise. The viewer is quickly introduced to twelve different fighters, each with their own nickname and background. Sadly, monikers such as “The Homeless”, “The Model” and “The Soldier” do little to separate this indie action flick from your average beat-em-up videogame film adaptation. The fact that the plot of 12 (Twelve) feels lifted from such games isn’t a compliment either: fighting games are often paper-thin plot wise and what we are given here isn’t far behind, the characters sorely underdeveloped.
Luckily, the fight scenes themselves somewhat deliver. Each fighter has their own distinctive style and it is undeniably impressive to see these fully grown men (and one woman) throw themselves around and pummel each other in a variety of different martial arts styles and settings, even if they do all seem to eventually merge into a blurry collage of wet crimson splashed on concrete floors.
In particular, Mark Strange (Batman Begins) and Nathan Lewis (Kick-Ass) are focused on here, with good reason: they are both hulking, burly fighters who flow well together whenever they clash on screen. However, please take their referenced film credits with a pinch of salt: they are first and foremost martial artists rather than fully-fledged actors, and it shows. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, but when it does make an appearance, it’s rather weak.
The one standout of the fighters is Joey Ansah as “The Model”, who actually shows some decent acting ability alongside his fighting work. He later went on to perform as assassin Desh in The Bourne Ultimatum, showing that budget can often elevate creativity in action films regardless of what anyone says to the contrary. Comparing Ansah’s fight scenes in 12 (Twelve) and Ultimatum is like night and day: strong direction and camerawork in the latter feel far more realistic than what is supposed to be portrayed as such in the former.
Sadly, what does work is dragged down by dull direction and a poor script. The look of 12 (Twelve) is undeniably pleasing at times, the camera focusing in tightly on some quite brutal, bone crunching punches and kicks, the colours oversaturated to give a real, dirty feel. Yet slow-motion sequences in black-and-white (usually shown as a replay or flashback) look ridiculously cheap, feeling like a series of low-resolution still images put together by an amateur filmmaker with underpowered video editing software. The idea of the fights themselves being broadcast via cameras also backfires: it is difficult to enjoy and buy into the various reality show gimmicks that are employed. They cheapen an already low budget.
By focusing on these elements, the film quickly becomes clinical and detached. It isn’t enough to simply show that a fighter has children and expect a sudden rush of empathy from the viewer. The film constantly drags between feeling overlong (it is basically one fight scene after another with little variation, for 90 minutes) and falling tragically short, the characters crying out for some real characterisation. Unlike the rich business people backing the fighters, the audience is left with no vested interest. When one of the film’s most exciting moments is noticing that Danny John-Jules (Cat from Red Dwarf) co-stars as a rich, suit wearing bastard, you know it’s in trouble.
12 (Twelve) is only worth a watch if you are a staunch fight scene addict, with a total disregard for emotional investment. Although not entirely unwatchable, it suffers from an uninspired plot and, dare I say it, some pretty uninspired action too. Far too generic for its own good, it only proves a mild distraction at best. Disappointing compared to other action/fight films, even with its low budget taken into account.
4 OUT OF 10