The Austin Chronicle

Brush With Danger

Not rated, 88 min. Directed by Livi Zheng. Starring Ken Zheng, Livi Zheng, Nikita Breznikov, Stephanie Hilbert, Norman Newkirk, Michael Blend, John McFarland, Melissa Pang.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 17, 2014

The Indonesian-born brother/sister filmmaking duo of Ken and Livi Zheng scores high points for creating a new take on the undocumented-immigrant badass story (hola, Machete), and for their obvious martial arts skills, but this first feature from the pair is ultimately hobbled by a paucity of credible acting. Oaken line readings reverberate between the well-choreographed kickboxing action and the narrative through line, which finds the Zhengs, as Ken and Alice Qiang, arriving in the port of Seattle via shipping container. Their gateway to a better life in the West hits multiple snags when they’re robbed of their “92 American dollars” fresh off the boat, and Alice, a painter, isn’t racking up many sales of her “Asian” art in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. Luckily (kinda sorta), oily art dealer-cum-forger Justus Sullivan (Newkirk, all but twirling his mustache) views Alice’s skills with the pigments as a means to an end. Ken, meanwhile, begins training at a local gym and eventually finds himself going mano-a-mano in Bloodsport-lite-style underground combat.

There’s precious little here that hasn’t been done better before, at least when it comes to the martial beatdowns, and apart from the Zhengs, the cast – for the most part Seattle locals – are cookie-cutter archetypes with bad hair and worse delivery. As for backstory on the siblings’ characters, there’s talk of a dustup between Alice and a would-be sexual predator in the old country, as well as an ailing father, but that’s all. Director of Photography Ryan Purcell wrings as much drama as he can out of the Seattle scenery and Ken Zheng (who is currently a student in UT’s Department of Radio-Television-Film) has an amiable way about him, even in the ring. As a filmmaking team, the Zhengs might be people to keep an eye on, but Brush With Danger isn’t the most promising of starts.

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