Unlucky Stars (2015)

Reviewed by Ken Hashibe
February 6, 2016

 

MOVIE INFO
CAST
Dennis Ruel • Ken Quitugua • Sari Sabella • Vlad Rimburg • Jose Montesinos • Stephen Yu • Geovannie Espriritu • Sam Hargrave
Aka
DIRECTOR
Dennis Ruel
CHOREOGRAPHER(S)
Vlad Rimburg • Sam Hargrave • George Crayton • Ken Quitugua • Dennis Ruel
YEAR RELEASED
2015
MOVIE SOURCE
Seen via a screening at Downtown Independent Theater in CA.
REVIEW

Have you ever heard of the idea that Hong Kong isn’t making “Hong Kong movies” anymore? Some people certainly think that way, so for a proper fix, fans have always gone back to re-watch the films of the Golden Age (’60s-’90s).  Over the years a lot of people have tried to recreate a “HK action movie”, some with decent results. But the filmmakers who made UNLUCKY STARS are not only the most ambitious, but also the most successful in reaching this goal. In 2010, Dennis Ruel and friends had a mission: Recreate the vibe and energy of a HK action comedy from the ’80s with a modern-day feature-length film. Mission accomplished!

After losing another job, Josh (Dennis Ruel) decides to earn some money as a private investigator. Along with his new partner, Ken (Ken Quituga), he quickly learns that this job is much more dangerous than he had expected, and reluctantly gets into a bunch of fights. They later start investigating a case in which they have to find a B-list action star, Tomas De La Cruz (played by Jose Montesinos), who owes a lot of money to a gang. De La Cruz’s biggest fan (Sari Sabella) and a stuntman (Vlad Rimburg) also get thrown into the mix. As things get more and more hectic, Josh and Ken have to decide if they should work for the gang and get some money or if they should follow their morals.

UNLUCKY STARS has just about everything an action movie fan can ask for. There are certainly exciting fight scenes and painful-looking stunts, but having these elements paired with a clever story and exceptionally fun characters is definitely a welcome change from the norm. Even if you don’t understand the abundance of movie references, the movie is still very funny. The filmmakers were able to recreate the nostalgic feel of a Hong Kong action comedy almost seamlessly, yet still make it feel uniquely modern.

In addition, it’s also extremely funny. If you’ve seen your fair share of Hong Kong classics from the 80’s (mainly Sammo Hung flicks), then you’ll likely be able to get most of the esoteric jokes that are all over this movie. They can be as obvious as recreations of classic scenes, to small signs in the background. I’m sure I didn’t see all of the references on my first viewing, which makes this movie appealing for multiple viewings. Even if you don’t get these genre fan jokes, there are still plenty of laughs, mainly thanks to the fun characters and the interactions between the two leads. Another one of the characters, Sameer (Sari Sabella), is like the geeky action fan inside most of us, and is the main source of comic relief . One of the funniest scenes in the movie is an excerpt from the fake 80’s action movie, MULTIPLE IMPACT, starring Tomas De La Cruz. I simply cannot spoil anything that happens in that scene, but it’s amazing.

Most of the cast members get their chance to individually shine in the film. Dennis Ruel in particular leaves a strong impression, as he gets a chance to prove that he’s a terrific lead (he usually plays “the bad guy”), and he really knows how to kick. Ken Quituga is also great as a happy-go-lucky private eye with serious fighting skills. Along with Sabella, Steven Yu is also hilarious, and racking up the laughs as the overly aggressive Stan. Every film needs a good foil to the heroes, and Sam Hargrave plays the incredibly hammy, Richard Norton-type main villain perfectly.

There are many action highlights to behold. As action choreographer, Vlad Rimburg really proves that he knows his craft, and makes all of the fighters look really good. I have to commend every one of the actors and stuntmen who perform in the fight scenes, as they get to show off aplenty. Rimburg definitely created some amazing set pieces, from a stand-out church fight, to the terrific factory finale. If you’re looking for weapons work, you might leave disappointed (except for one fight including a stick) as most of the fights are bone-crushing hand-to-hand combat. All of the performers do a great job, and I must mention the many, painful-looking stunt falls they contributed. When you watch the outtakes during the end credits, you can see (brutally) how many times they did each stunt. I don’t remember any “death-defying” stunts in there, but I doubt most people reading this would be willing to perform some of these falls (unless of course, you’re a stuntman). Extremely impressive stuff!

This movie really shows that some independent action filmmakers are moving in the right direction, and it even made me want to go out and try filming something myself. UNLUCKY STARS isn’t perfect, but it’s still an extremely fun action comedy with amusing characters/performances, hilarious film parodies/tributes, and amazing fight scenes. If you want to relive the glory days of Hong Kong action cinema while seeing something new and fresh, look no further. I only wish all action movies could be as good as this.

FINAL NOTES

I was lucky enough to attend the LA premiere of UNLUCKY STARS on March 29, 2015 at Downtown Independent in CA. It was a cast and crew screening, and I was greeted by actor/producer/action choreographer, Vlad Rimburg. He was kind enough to invite us inside to talk (he liked my blue ONE FOOT CRANE shirt). I later got to meet director/writer/star, Dennis Ruel, and co-producer/star, Ken Quituga. It was really cool meeting these guys (especially since I’m already a fan of their previous projects), but frustrating that my camera’s battery was out of power.

The screening started at 2 PM, and afterward, the cast and crew had a brief Q&A where I got some insight about the making of the movie. The church fight was filmed in only three days, with one day spent doing all the dialogue. I was very surprised to learn that no one was seriously injured while filming, meaning no fractures nor concussions. I had a lot of fun watching this movie and meeting up with some of the cast members. Hopefully, they’ll make another feature sometime soon.

After its run at various film festivals, UNLUCKY STARS was released digitally and on VOD on Feb 2nd. You can find it at iTunes, GooglePlay, VimeoOnDemand, Amazon, XBox, and Vudu, so check it out. When a DVD does get released, make sure that you buy a copy. You won’t regret it.

For updates and more information, please check out their website and follow their Facebook page: www.unluckystarsthemovie.com

Here is the trailer:

RATING