How to Train Your Latin Dragon

The Fist of the Condor

by Daniel Baldwin

Since 2006, the Chilean powerhouse team of writer/director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and martial arts superstar Marko Zaror has been delivering some of the best independent action cinema in the world. From raucous martial arts mayhem (Kiltro) to street-level superhero satire (Mirageman) to Eurospy parody (Mandrill), their wild body of work together has been a diabolical fondue of influences ranging from kung fu movies to spaghetti westerns to blaxploitation cinema and beyond. What makes them all the more impressive is that of the four previous films they’ve made together, no two are alike in terms of style and tone. Other than a good time, you never know what you’re going to get from an Espinoza and Zaror pairing.

The Fist of the Condor sees this duo reuniting for the first time in almost a decade. Their last outing, the rogue assassin tale Redeemer, had been their weakest effort to date, but I’m happy to report that they’ve bounced back here and then some. A deep-flowing love of classic kung fu cinema has always run throughout their collaborations, but it’s never flowed as deeply or as lovingly as it does here.

This is a martial arts adventure just as concerned with evoking the philosophy of both the genre and the real-life practices behind it as it is in showcasing expertly-choreographed fights. There is a poeticism behind the fisticuffs on display here that calls to mind the Hong Kong classics of yore, leaving us with a masterful modern piece of meditative martial arts cinema that would make the Shaw Brothers smile.

Espinoza has always had a way with striking imagery that is a delicious mix of exquisite location photography and beautiful artifice that holds decades of movie knowledge behind it. Condor is no different, as it births some of the best sequences his wonderful mind has conjured to date. All backed by another excellent ‘70s-infused score by longtime collaborator Rocco, of course!

Those whose only experience with Marko “The Latin Dragon” Zaror are his villainous turns in Hollywood films such as John Wick: Chapter 4 and Machete Kills might be surprised to see the monk-like heroism of his primary role here. Fear not, however, as he also plays his own evil twin! His heroic (but not innocent) protagonist Guerrero is his best role since Kiltro and one we’ll be lucky to see continue, since this is meant to be the first in a trilogy. The next two cannot get here soon enough.

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