Starring : Dominic Purcell, Natassia Malthe, Craig Fairbrass, Conan Stevens

Director : Yusry A. Halim

Release Date : 12 Sep 2013

It’s not A-list yet, but at long last, the lads have made a movie that approaches the international standard they’ve longed for.

YOU’VE got to hand it to the KRU boys. They can never be faulted for lack of trying. It’s no cakewalk to find good things to say about the films made by KRU Studios, the only consistently good one in the bunch being the sadly underappreciated 29 Februari. Sitting through the Festival Filem Malaysia-conquering Magika and Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa was and always will be a chore for this moviegoer, who has diligently paid to watch every one of their productions.

But the boys have kept on trying, and now they’re back with their most ambitious attempt to break into the international market yet: Vikingdom, an English-language swords-and-sandals epic starring famous and semi-famous names like Dominic Purcell (Prison Break, Equilibrium), Craig Fairbrass (The Bank Job, Cliffhanger) and Natassia Malthe (This Means War, Elektra).

What’s it all about? Perhaps they should have gone with the more B-movie-ish title of Thor Vs Vikings because indeed, that describes the premise exactly. Inspired by Viking legends and epic poems, the film treads the familiar ground of recent films like Clash Of The Titans and its sequel Wrath Of The Titans, and Immortals. It also tells the story of how the old gods are in danger of being forgotten, this time because of the mortals’ abandonment of their belief in them for the newer religion of Christianity.

Enter the villain of the film – Thor, the god of thunder (played by Conan Stevens, familiar from TV shows like Game Of Thrones and Spartacus: War Of The Damned), who takes human form and wages war against the mortals. His ultimate aim is to open the gates of Valhalla, Midgard and Helheim, and the film begins with him retrieving one of the relics needed to do so – the necklace of Mary Magdalene.

The other relic, his own hammer, is already in his hands so it is just a matter of waiting for the Blood Eclipse (which happens every 800 years) to occur for him to perform the ceremony and open the gates.

The only way to stop him is by blowing the Horn of Helheim, and this where our hero Eirick the Bloodletter (Purcell) comes in. After being slain in battle but revived by his lover, the Goddess Freyja (Tegan Moss), Eirick is the only one capable of entering and leaving Helheim as he is now considered one of the undead.

Assisting him on this mission is his good friend Sven (Fairbrass), Brynna (Malthe), a Chinese slave named Yang (Jon Foo), and a merry bunch of Vikings with names like Bernard the Killer of Women & Children (no kidding!), Warick the Wise and the verySaruman-like wizard Alcuin.

As formulaic as the script by James Coyne may be, it has a B-movie tightness, focus and clear sense of purpose that has been lacking in previous KRU Studios movies (except for 29 Februari, of course).

The dialogue is never more than functional, the acting quality varies greatly (my vote goes to Patrick Murray, who plays Alcuin quite memorably, while Purcell’s po-faced delivery unfortunately reminds me of Stallone in the Rambo movies, which is not a good thing) and even the action scenes are not that impressive, once you are wise to the film’s default action gimmick of the slow-motion leap that we all associate with 300.

But director Yusry A. Halim offers some genuine surprises in the form of imaginatively conceived visual set-pieces. My personal favorite is the scene where Eirick, searching for the gates of Helheim at the bottom of the ocean, begins hallucinating horses kicking around in the water. This has to be one of the most beautifully shot underwater sequences in the history of Malaysian films.

Or take the scene at the Gate of Souls, which involves probably close to a hundred women painted and dressed in gold, attempting to seduce Eirick while he tries to retrieve the Horn from them. Such strikingly fantastical and expressionistic sights are a rarity in Malaysian movies, and it is a pleasure to see some of them here, no matter how familiar the storyline may be.

Even the sets and production design are marked improvements over previous KRU Studio efforts; check out the zombie scenes in Helheim and you’ll know what I mean.

While this is by no means on the same level of polish as the Hollywood fantasy films mentioned above, it is undoubtedly a great stride forward from the shambles that was Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, definitely a step in the right direction for the KRU brothers, and something we can almost be proud of.

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