What the critics say.
There are some areas of the international market in which British cinema cannot reasonably expect to compete.
A meaty, martial arts thriller might be one of them. That hasn’t stopped ambitious writer-director director Richard Jobson making a plucky attempt to create his own pulpy Scottish version of a Hong Kong action movie.
Hampered by a derivative script, colourless characters and a low budget, The Purifiers merely proves what a foolhardy endeavour he has embarked upon.
A bold attempt at a commercial, mainstream feature after his acclaimed arthouse debut 16 Years Of Alcohol, this can only wither and die when faced with the competition of the marketplace. Even a cult niche seems unlikely.
The film had its world premiere at Edinburgh after market screenings in Cannes.
If the heartfelt, autobiographical 16 Years Of Alcohol openly acknowledged a debt to filmmakers like Wong Kar Wai and Terence Davies then The Purifiers reveals the influence of John Woo, Bruce Lee and most especially Walter Hill’s 1979 classic The Warriors.
Set in a futuristic inner city Britain where law and order are maintained by organised gangs of karate club enthusiasts, the film follows an all too obvious story arc of turf wars, betrayal from the enemy within and the dastardly machinations of a power-hungry leader called Moses (McKidd).
A self-proclaimed saviour of the dispossessed, it is Moses’ offer of a truce that brings the idealistic John (Alexander) and The Purifiers out of their home territory and leaves them dangerously exposed when his terms are refused.
After that, it’s a simple race for survival with the bursts of sadistic violence in unlikely locations (a Chinese restaurant, a gloomy ice rink) a welcome respite from the incoherent narrative.
The Purifiers has the sleek, steely look of a Jean-Jacques Beineix or Luc Besson film of the 1980s but it struggles for credibility as characters scurry around cramped underground locations in Glasgow or frequently land in conveniently positioned piles of cardboard boxes during the fight scenes.
The balletic martial arts sequences are the highlight of the film but can’t compete with the beautifully choreographed poetry in motion approach that has became a John Woo trademark.
Jobson’s penchant for the poetic in his writing worked to the advantage of 16 Years Of Alcohol but feels pretentious in The Purifiers. His assured visual touch and confidence suggest he might be a much more effective director when working from someone else’s screenplay.
The leaden dialogue here provokes sniggers of derision and whilst most of the actors seem wooden, the usually reliable McKidd gives an uncharacteristically hammy performance, veering between hissing whispers and snarling rants as he desperately tries to inject some life into the underwritten Machiavellian schemer Moses.
Sadly, if Moses supposes this show is all roses then Moses supposes erroneously.