There’s a twist in the Malaysian director Adrian Teh’s “The Assistant” that’s so outlandish you can’t help but love the sheer force of its swing. The timid Zafik (Iedil Dzuhrie Alaudin) has recently been released from prison. Ten years prior, a mystery man planted cocaine in his car. Two years after that, the same person, presumably, killed his wife and son. Now, he wants answers. For help, he first turns to his best friend, Dato Sam Lee (Henley Hii), a wealthy frontman for a local gangster. Then he links up with his wife’s cousin, Feroz (Hairul Azreen), who also wants to find the culprit behind the murders.
Together, Zafik and Feroz investigate the cold case, but the latter runs by a different set of rules: Feroz, played with zeal by Azreen, is a sociopath who doesn’t hesitate to kill. In fact, he giggles whenever he delivers a death blow. The balance between Zafik and Feroz represents a vicious psychological struggle of the grief felt by the two men. The ensuing twist seemingly arises from nowhere, blurring the line between intent and spontaneity for a wellspring of kinetic, jagged violence that slyly invites the possibility of more stories to come.
Agent Mark Patson (Louis Mandylor), renowned for his ability to take down large syndicates, is loved and revered by everyone except his daughter, Alisha (Samm Wiechec). Ever since Mark’s job led to the death of Alisha’s mother, a retribution killing, he and Alicia have been estranged. Mark wants to make amends; he takes an early retirement to spend more time with her. She agrees to live with him in Tijuana so she might meet Stephen, a peculiar online flame living in Mexico.
The ghosts from Mark’s past, however, threaten to upend his life. Alisha is being pursued by a nameless man, possibly the killer of her mother.
The writer/director Yadhu Krishnan’s film isn’t out to reinvent the wheel. Workmanlike fistfights and riveting choreography are the hallmarks to this sturdy, rough-around-the-edges B-movie whose easy pleasures arise from its assuredness in the genre.
‘Blood & Gold’
In its basic conceit, the director Peter Thorwarth’s “Blood & Gold” bears similarities to the Jalmari Helander combat flick “Sisu.” Both are set in the waning days of World War II, as Nazis desperate for a postwar parachute are pursuing a trove of gold. Both mine the landscape of exploitation and spaghetti westerns to imbue their narrative with unrepentant gore. The protagonist of “Blood & Gold,” Heinrich (Robert Maaser), also has a tragic back story: His wife died during a bombing; his young daughter is now living with foster parents.
Unlike the hero in “Sisu,” Heinrich is not alone. He deserts the German army as a conscientious objector, leading to his capture and hanging. A local woman, Elsa (Marie Hacke), cuts down and nurses the moribund Heinrich. Along with Elsa’s brother, Paule (Simon Rupp), the pair flee from the Nazis. Though lean and tall, Heinrich isn’t a white knight savior. Elsa is just as capable with a rifle. The climactic gunfight, taking place in a church, is a showcase of their shared prowess, which blends together romance and death for a dark victory.
A crushing void pervades the life of Nina Nowak (Agnieszka Grochowska), a former special forces soldier presumed dead. After the slaying of her husband, Nina gave up their son, Maks (Adrian Delikta), to a foster family for safe keeping. Now an alcoholic, she spends her days pining for her kid’s love: She watches through binoculars from her car as Maks leads a happy life with his foster parents. When a local drug kingpin, Woltomierz (Szymon Wróblewski), kidnaps Maks, Nina must rush out of hiding to save him.
In this film from the Polish director Mateusz Rakowicz, Grochowska’s performance often recalls the bleak vacancy of Nicole Kidman in Karyn Kusama’s “Destroyer.” Like Kidman, Grochowska is weary and stoic, and intensely savage as she tears through Woltomierz’s army of mob goons in the hopes of one day being acknowledged by her child’s love. The best set piece involves Nina attacking a band of hired guns through an abandoned loft as the lighting switches to infrared hues, denoting not only Nina’s bloodlust, but also, her gashed open soul.
A trio of revenge plots engulfs Roman Perfilyev’s genre-bending Ukrainian samurai spaghetti western. The first arises from Taras (Roman Lutskyi), a feudal slave whose wife, Maria (Kateryna Slyusar), is kidnapped into sex trafficking. The second stems from a Jewish man (Andriy Borys) whose younger brother was murdered by a Cossack revolutionary. But it’s the plight of Akayo (Sergey Strelnikov), a warrior born in Japan to a Ukrainian mother that instigates the ensuing bloodshed. The sword belonging to his slain master is in the wrongful possession of a feudal lord, and Akayo wants it back.
Unlike most samurai films, the swordplay here isn’t based in air-defying gracefulness. The action moves with a surprising ruggedness. This is a pro-workers film about a rural class tied not just to the terrain but to the symbolism of the land itself. Their attachment to the countryside is reflected in the grounded fights, demonstrating a resiliency that speaks to those who are fighting a ceaseless war right now.