The Challenge (Kampfansage - Der letzte Schüler)
Studio: Dark Horse Indie / Image Entertainment
Film Length: 98 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: German DD 5.1, English DD 5.1
Subtitles: Optional English subtitles
US Release Date: April 24, 2007
The Film - out of
"The Challenge", written and directed by Johannes Jaeger (The German title translates to "Challenge - The Last Disciple"), is the story of Jonas (Mathis Landwehr) the ‘last disciple’ to the ancient and noble combat form of Martial Arts. He sets out in search of a book, written by his slain master that contains the secrets to their noble and powerful form of fighting. The story takes place in a ‘post-apocalyptic’ future destroyed by decades of war and carnage, where the world is a dusty, rundown terrain filled with the decaying carcasses of buildings and cities. No destitute future would be complete without an evil warlord. Here, that warlord comes in the form of Bosco (played by Christian Monz) who provides an ample amount of violent oppression with his diabolically sexed up sister Kleo (played by Zora Holt).
Our hero, Jonas, meets up with and befriends Vinzent (Volkram Zschiesche), his beautiful sister and a ragtag group of vagrant ‘street urchins’, turning them into a sort of band of merry men to Jonas’ Robin Hood.
I am not sure where to begin with this film. Every second of it reminded me of my time watching almost any and everything growing up that was filled with a no name cast, well traveled storylines and budgets that would barely cover lunch for twelve. That was a time when I could marvel at films through mostly untrained eyes and with a mostly undiscerning mind on the quality of what I was watching.
I applaud the filmmakers for an obvious love of the genre and for bringing out some quality looking sequences on a budget that might accurately be described as "some loose extra cash found in the back of the sofa”. But while I was affectionately transported back to my childhood years of watching the films that fall through the cracks, I could never shake the feeling that this really wasn’t a very good movie.
However, to its credit, "The Challenge" doesn’t spend much time in between fight scenes on unnecessary filler. So many low budget films (Sci-Fi Channel’s Original Movies do it all the time) spend too much time trying to build drama and romance. Such scenes are usually awkwardly written, stiffly performed and only serve to slow down the fun.
There are also some obvious borrows here, most notably during the well staged sewer fight scene, even going as far as employing copycat music from "The Matrix Reloaded’s" burly brawl sequence.
The Video - out of
The picture quality of The Challenge is pretty bad. I might even have to go so far as to submit some new words to the keepers of the Thesaurus just to describe it. An overexposed, VHS like presentation and a low-grade, high-in-the-mountains-over-the-air-antennae 'TV quality' were the first thoughts that came to mind. At first I considered that the film was aiming for an end-of-the-world sense of grungy quality that you can find on Danny Boyles marvelous ’28 Days Later’. I even thought back into to my youthful love of post-apocalyptic movies to the likes of ‘Hardware’ (and where on earth is that on DVD?). But I was over thinking it, the film suffers an excess of unwanted grain, overexposed colour-bleeding and just flat out poor looking black levels that, at times, actually physically hurts to see.
The Sound - out of
Mixed in both the original German 5.1 and English (dubbed) 5.1 with English subtitles, the sound quality is nowhere near as offensive as the picture quality. The surrounds are not particularly lively and too much action is concentrated in the center channel, but there are moments when the subwoofer is given a moment to shine that does not go unnoticed.
I listened to both the original German and the dubbed English versions as a comparison, there really isn't too much different between them, but the Original German track sounds more natural. Also, the dubbed English messes up the translation a few times (when compared to the English subtitles).
The Extra’s - No Stars out of
One slightly overcooked theatrical trailer with a side of poor picture quality and some past its prime sound dressing to boot. Oh, and it comes with cheese.
I have a soft spot for martial arts action films, from the fine quality of "Hero" or "Jet Li’s Fearless" to the dumbed down Van Damme and Steven Seagal flicks like "Cyborg" and "Out to Kill", all the way to the camp fun of some early Jackie Chan films like "Wheels on Meals" and "Winners & Sinners". So when I think with the brain I had when I was 14 and enjoying these kinds of movies with a giddy passion, I can appreciate what this film tried to be and not to be. There are even hints at genuinely solid film-making, and characters that, in spite of themselves, are likeable. But the grown up in me starts to wag the finger and tell me to “grow up for once in my life”. So, I am compelled to warn most of you that this movie, and its lackluster picture quality, isn’t good enough to recommend. But, as always, those die-hard kung-fu fans out there will certainly get a ‘kick’ out of the action.
Overall Score - out of