Today I watched Ernesto Diaz Espinoza’s Kiltro (2006)
Chilean martial arts superstar Marko Zaror stars as Zami, an autistic fighter with serious problems in how he expresses his love for a half Korean daughter of an immigrant martial arts master. He outright attacks anyone who shows interest in her, which is not a good way to endear yourself to the ladies. Her father recognizes the pendant Zami is wearing as a symbol of Zami’s long lost martial artist father and he scolds Zami for his unrestrained behavior. Zami has a good heart though, he just doesn’t understand his place in the world and it brings him grief. But when the Korean martial arts school is ransacked by a nefarious villain named Max Kalba, Kiltro finally knows what he needs to do, he finally understands his purpose. Kalba is more than a match for him though, so to develop the strength to beat him, he travels to the wilderness to find his long lost father and learn his spiritual fighting secrets.
Ernesto Diaz Espinoza is something of an innovator in his attempts to make a uniquely Chilean style of action film. These attempts involve taking many influences from very different corners of the action world and trying to find new modes of expression in the blending of them. This film brings in elements of spaghetti westerns, most notably in the soundtrack, and fuses them with some of the more bizarre and mystical elements of kung-fu films. Add a good helping of odd ball romantic comedy and you get a pretty unique flick. But how does this make it Chilean? Well the spaghetti western sounds bring in a lot of latin influence, the sense of humour is unique to Espinoza, and he also shoots the scenery of Chile in a beautiful and reverential manner, painting it as a hub of multiculturalism and natural beauty.
I have praised Marko Zaror before in my review of another Espinoza flick, Mirageman, and here in his first starring role he demonstrates that he is just naturally gifted. Now the film never states he is autistic, that is something I read into it because his inability to deal with his own emotions reminds me of, well, me. I can really identify with this guy who has spent his life devoted to one particular hobby and who has much difficulty with social situations. The way he both performs this social handicap, and the way it is portrayed in the film, lend his character an endearing vulnerability that feels very real in the face of the film’s more absurd elements.
And oh boy does this film get absurd. It takes the martial mysticism of Wuxia and combines it with Mesoamerican shamanism in a really bizarre way. This is one of the main draws of this film though, just going what? at the psychedelic ridiculousness of a magical dwarf teaching Zami the ways of spiritual boxing. The other reason is because Marko Zaror is just that good, an amazingly talented individual, both at kicking ass and at expressing deep emotional vulnerabilities. This is Zaror’s film and all of director Espinoza’s stylish flair would fail to capture that Chilean heart without the baby-faced Chilean hero that is Zaror. Espinoza does help prop him up though, and his varied influences help frame Zaror as one of the top modern action heroes in terms of skill and charisma. 5/5