Films by stuntmen-turned-directors invite certain action expectations. That broad umbrella includes the works of Sammo Hung, Chad Stahelski, Sam Hargrave, as well as films such as Eric Jacobus’ Hong Kong-homage Death Grip or Koichi Sakamoto’s 90-minute-fight-scene Broken Path. Contracts slots neatly into that latter category of low-budget/no-budget passion projects celebrating the art of choreography; come for the bone-crunching hand-to-hand maiming and murder, don’t come for plot or performances.

Alex Chung has doubled and coordinated stunts across a variety of media, but Contracts is his feature debut. The Schrodinger’s plot of this movie is simultaneously exceedingly simple and jarringly convoluted. Among the assassin underworld, an unknown “Ghost” is leaving a trail of dead hitmen, and the killer-for-hire apparatus is in desperate disarray as the corpses pile up. Chung himself plays Anthony, a retired hitman recruited to root out and stop this killer-of-killers. That summary seems basic enough, but the script decides to clutter its 75 minutes with internal feuds within its murder-for-hire organization, aliases like Headshot (Michael Carter) and Malice (Margaryta Soldatova), a political conspiracy, another mask-wearing assassin sect, and philosophical platitudes about killing for profit.

This world of assassins could have been interesting, but Contracts presents that world in the most dull and blunt fashion possible. Its characters are practically automatons, plainly speaking exactly how they feel. One exchange proceeds as “‘We kill for a living…why do you do it?’ ‘Why do you?’” just an example of the thematic heft on display. Story as mere connective tissue between action scenes isn’t inherently a problem; ‘90s Hong Kong cinema and modern classics like The Raid offer exemplary ratios of story and spectacle. Contracts’ attempt at twists and intrigue does not.

Fortunately, Contracts rewards those with patience to endure its narrative with joint-snapping stab-crazy fights. The opening alone is a triple-murder montage, turning a parking garage and industrial corridors into martial-arts arenas. A slew of throat slitting and John Wick-esque gunplay maintains interest until the forty-five minute mark, after which Contracts becomes a rollercoaster of brutality for its remaining half hour. The final-act surge of fists, slicing blades, shotgun blasts, and merciless finishers is almost thrilling enough to forget the flaws that came before. Alex Chung is tangibly in his element here, staging bruising brawls with clarity inside elevators and stairwells, highlighting every gushing impact. Even the actors – so bland while speaking – come alive with rage and intensity during these sequences. The budget limitations certainly show in the “we filmed this in an office building after-hours” look, but the impressive choreography fills those drab spaces with savage energy.

The final clash itself ends Contracts on a strong note. The two-on-one beatdown could almost qualify as the post-Raid equivalent of The Young Master’s dirt-road finale. Just fists and fury on a beach, an exhausting primal slugfest that reduces its combatants to literally fighting tooth and nail. Contracts may feature an incoherent blunder of a plot with nonexistent characters (and a last-second sequel hook?), but Alex Chung’s deft hand at action makes this a worthwhile watch for genre fans. A movie for fans of Broken Path and Death Grip, and perhaps not many other demographics.

Convoluted carnage
Come for the bone-crunching hand-to-hand maiming and murder, don’t come for plot or performances.
40 %
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