Twelve is a film you’re definitely going to want to see if you’re in any way interested in mixed martial arts (MMA). However, if you’re a fan of the popular TV show, Dragon’s Den, then you might enjoy it just as much.
Twelve makes no fuss about its plot – twelve fighters, six millionaire backers and a jackpot for the winning fighter of £500,000. The backers are a generic big-shot types – the wealthy wife with questionable marital loyalty, the quiet Triad lord, and of course the old man who sees his son in one of the fighters he backs: a man going by the fighting name of The Homeless.
Now, this is where the film develops beyond the two-dimensional. At first, it’s easy to be sceptical. The Homeless? He’s, yes, a homeless bloke, who happens to be a ridiculously good fighter, having lost his wife after battering her senseless for cheating on him. It’s difficult to empathise with his plight, as he’s actually one of the most morally corrupt of the twelve. However, it’s him the film’s writers have picked as our “hero”, so it’s him we follow.
The other characters, however, aren’t anywhere near as convincing. The Teacher? The Ex-Convict? Surely they wanted a less generic cast than this? But this slightly shonky narrative is only a framing device, a stage on which the fights are set, and if you can put the plot and character gripes to one side, the choreography is truly marvellous. Given the fact it was shot on a low budget by director Chee Keong Cheung – a lot of big-budget fights in films like The Expendables couldn’t touch the slick, focused camera-work on display here.
The fighters themselves are very talented. The Homeless, played by Mark Strange (keep an eye on him, he’s quiet, but he’s good, and also appears in Batman Begins), alongside three-times World Kickboxing Champion Nathan Lewis (Fight School, Kick Ass) and Joey Ansah (The Bourne Ultimatum). Co-starring Danny John-Jules (Blade 2, Red Dwarf) make for a cast of capable actors and fighters.
The issue here is balance – how do you create engaging fight sequences with the best fighters in the world without losing a bit of acting quality in the process? It’s not easy, but the film’s tournament rounds are varied both in environment and action. One particular fight between The Foreigner and The Kid left me surprised when one of them won, and without giving the result of the fight away, safe to say it’s unlikely you’ll see it coming.
All in all, if you’re looking for a meaty fighting film to get your teeth into, it’s worth watching. If you’re after Oscar-winning performances then you might be let down, but if you let that get in the way of the incredible fighting talent on display here, you’re missing the point of the film. Relax, pick a fighter, and cheer him or her on throughout the competition, because the outcome might not be as predictable as you think.