The Purifiers (2003) Movie Review

“How the hell does six kids with kung fu police a city block, much less their section of a major city, which when totaled, must be hundreds of blocks?” That was the question that kept popping into my head as I watched writer/director Richard Jobson’s ultra slick martial arts film “The Purifiers”, billed as the first Scottish martial arts film ever made. Not being Scottish, or even aware that the Scots had a film industry, I can’t confirm or deny Jobson’s claims. (That last part is just cheeky fun, so don’t send me letters, you Scots.) Visually speaking, “The Purifiers” is a pleasure to look at, with its dark colors, nighttime narrative, and a host of slow motion and elaborate set-ups that attests to Jobson’s talents behind the camera. When it comes to the story, the word “poor” is simply inadequate, as the script for “The Purifiers” belongs somewhere between “atrocious” and “You know what, I don’t think they’re even trying”.

In any case, “The Purifiers” is a straightforward action film set sometime in the near future, where an unnamed city has been broken up into sections run by their respective “karate clubs” (the movie’s own words, not mine). One of these clubs is the Purifiers, led by the silent but deadly tough guy John (Gordon Alexander), who leads a band (well, 5 kids, anyway) of kung fu fighters that protect their turf from other gangs, serial killers, and whatever bad karma crosses their path. Then one day the Purifiers, along with the city’s other gangs, are called to a secret meeting hosted by the ambitious and ubiquitous Moses (Kevin McKidd), who we know is immediately eeeeeevil because he’s not only ambitious, but he — gasp — wears a suit, and so does the two or three members of his gang.

Moses wants the gangs to unite, hoping to use their combined might to take over the city and then expand, because I guess in the near future 20 or so folks who knows karate is apparently a pretty big deal. Point is, ol Moses has big plans for the gangs, but the Purifiers aren’t buying into it. At least not John, who has a past with the shady Moses that has put the kibosh on that whole trust issue. Determined to get his way, Moses (remember, he’s eeeeeeevil) tells the other gangs that in order to come into his plan, they must first knock off the Purifiers. And so John and company are forced to run the gauntlet back to their own turf, karate kicking all the way.

As a straight remake of the American ’80s gang film “The Warriors”, Jobson’s film is basically 70-plus minutes of random fighting built around a flimsy excuse that no one would mistaken for a story, even if they stumbled across it in a dark alley while half drunk on tequila. To say that the script is full of holes is an understatement, since if you bothered to think about any of the script’s elements (take your pick, it doesn’t matter) it doesn’t hold up. Chief among the scripting deficiencies is the notion that the Establishment would allow 5 or 6 karate kids to run an entire section of a city according to their own brand of justice. And since it seems as if the Purifiers are the only “good guys” in the bunch, that means most of the city are run by piss ant karate kids and lesbian bikers. Riiiiiiight.

Which doesn’t necessarily mean “The Purifiers” is doomed, as there are plenty of B-grade action movies that were made from a thick sheet of paperweight someone tried to pass off as a movie script. Asinine script notwithstanding, if you were looking for 70 minutes of pointless, mindless, and semi-competent action, “The Purifiers” is your cup of tea. It’s almost condescending how little effort Jobson puts into setting up the introductions that lead into his film’s many action sequences. A character runs into a restaurant and for some reason some Chinese people helps her out; another character just runs into an ice rink for no apparent reason to be confronted by a gang wearing ice skates and wielding hockey sticks. Say what?

Of the main cast (i.e. those with speaking parts), the only big name is Dominic Monaghan, he of the “Lord of the Rings” films, whose character mind as well have the word “traitor” written on his traitorous forehead in glowing red letters, as it’s obvious he’s been assigned back-stabbing duties, a character trait made painfully apparent the first time his character opens his mouth. Of the primary cast, I will go out on a limb and say that only Gordon Alexander (also the movie’s action choreographer) knows any real martial arts. The rest barely gets by through slick choreography and camera tricks. The bulk of the film’s decent martial arts action is courtesy of Gordon and the film’s stunt people, i.e. the characters that don’t get dialogue, or even a name. The film’s climactic fight has Gordon fighting McKidd — or, to be more precise, McKidd’s stunt double.

As such, “The Purifiers” suffer terribly from too much choreography whenever leading man Gordon Alexander isn’t around to provide believable ass kicking. It might be too harsh to say that no one in the main cast besides Alexander bothered to train for the film, but if they did train, they sure didn’t train all that much, or they didn’t get a whole lot out of it. Or maybe Jobson thought he could sell the faux action by delivering three times as much with the overblown sound effects. As a result, giant swooshes and kronks and thuds abound. Needless to say, they certainly weren’t going for realism with this one.

One of the film’s bright spot is the polished gloss Jobson and cinematographer John Rhodes puts on the whole thing. The other big plus is leading man Gordon Alexander, who has all the makings of an excellent cinematic action hero. The man is handsome enough, and certainly knows his way around a dojo, that he could one day rule the martial arts film scene if given a chance. As an actor, Alexander is better than average; plus, he has that quiet but powerful intensity that has served Jet Li well. In a better movie, with an actual script this time, Alexander could give “Ong Bak’s” Tony Jaa a run for his money as the next international martial arts action star.

Richard Jobson (director) / Richard Jobson (screenplay)
CAST: Kevin McKidd …. Moses
Gordon Alexander …. John
Dominic Monaghan …. Sol
Amber Sainsbury …. Frances
Rachel Grant …. Li
Robyn Kerr …. Sam

Buy Purifiers on DVD