Issue 29 (2010)

El’dar Salavatov: Antikiller D.K.: Love without Memory (Antikiller D.K.: Liubov’ bez pamiati, 2009)

reviewed by Florian Weinhold © 2010

Stephen Hutchings writes that “[f]ilm sequels are of three main kinds [but] as with most abstract generic classifications, few actual textual examples fall neatly within any one category”. He continues by giving examples such as Aleksei Balabanov’s Brother (Brat, 1997) and Brother-2 (Brat 2, 2000). The film sequel here spans the triadic spectrum of 1) the commercially motivated replication of a once-proven formula, 2) the continuation and conclusion of a single narrative, and 3) the transposition of some of an original film’s structural dimensions “into a different situation, enabling the director to develop new concerns” (Hutchings). The dominant use of a particular category thus does not forego the performance of others; that is with respect to text/film and category/genre, there are hardly, if ever, any cases of clear-cut, one-to-one matchings.

One thing is certain: unless a sequel’s genre and narrative are modified copies (sequel type one), an acquaintance with and understanding of the original film is usually necessary (type two) or at least desirable (type three) for an appreciation of the subsequent and often concluding part/s. The first approach, for example, predominates in the Die Hard (various directors; 1988, 1990, 1995, 2007) and Lethal Weapon series (Richard Donner; 1987, 1989, 1992, and 1998); these are films, which can, in principle, be watched in any order. An example of type two is the Night Watch (Nochnoi dozor, 2004) sequel Day Watch (Dnevnoi dozor, 2006, both directed by Timur Bekmambetov); both films are, in fact, modified or free adaptations of Sergei Lukianenko’s novel Night Watch (1998). Brother-2, while ostensibly conforming to type one and also performing the function of type two, is dominantly influenced by the third category in its revisitation of the original Brother for the purpose of “exploring new issues” (Hutchings).

antikillerAntikiller D.K. similarly charts new territory whilst continuing and concluding a single narrative and replicating a previously proven formula for commercial purposes. The Antikiller trilogy began in 2002 with Egor Konchalovskii’s restoration-nostalgic support for Putin’s law-and-order image. The film introduced the symbolic figure of an ex-KGB Major (Gosha Kutsenko) with the metonymic-metaphoric name Korenev (with a name derived from the word koren’—root) aka “Fox” (Lis) in his initially reluctant, but noble and successful fight against both the commercially driven in-fighting Russian Mafia and drug-taking, Techno-loving perverted sociopathic Russian youths. The main villain, a Russian crime lord with the symbolic name “Shaman,” whose machinations had resulted in the imprisonment of the eye of the law (Fox), was defeated and perished at the knife of one of his soldiers, “Mongrel” (Metis; i.e. a tough hybrid played by Viacheslav Razbegaev). The film ended with law and order reinstated on Russian turf, but Fox’s existence still depended on the decisions of the new local Mafia king-pin, “Cross” (Krest; played by Sergei Shakurov), who was portrayed as a principled and tough Russian father-figure. This overlong boevik, which drew for its disjointed and unfocused narrative on some formal features and thematic structures of the gangster and action thriller genres, conveniently finished with an open ending (see Prokhorov).

antikillerAntikiller 2 (2003), which saw the ex-KGB Major reunited with and leading the Russian special forces, duly followed the next year. This xenophobic action and crime thriller—the structural dimensions of the gangster genre which characterized Antikiller are largely gone—shows Korenev work as a crime investigator and action hero. Together with the state organs and some help from the Russian Mafia, they defeat a common ethnic enemy of Caucasian and/or Central Asian origin. Russia’s former inner Other, the local Mafia, seems an accepted and acceptable part of contemporary life and Cross has truly become part of Russian society: Russian gangsters are ethically infinitely superior to their terrorist counterparts. “Former” Russian baddies (e.g. Metis/’Mongrel’) co-operate with the police, albeit for their own ends, which is tacitly accepted by the latter. At the end of the film, the external ethnic Others are defeated, with their leader symbolically running headlong into a Russian truck driven by the Russian action hero Fox. [1]

Antikiller D.K. begins with a frame narrative that is told from a contemporary setting (2009). Fox has left the Russian services and written a book that tells the story of what happened to him and his “family” after they liquidated the Central Asian or Caucasian terrorists (the motif of the family remains from the first Antikiller’s gangster genre but is also consistent with the conceptualization of a nation). Fox, the intra-diegetic author, tells us that he went to a clinic after his wife left him to cure his alcoholism and related issues in peace and quiet. Despite, or rather because of, his unorthodox methods in crime-fighting, which had caused work-related problems in the past and contributed to him being laid off, it is the aging, alcoholic and pill-popping Fox whom the foolish, drinking Banker (Mikhail Efremov) turns to when evil intrudes upon the lives of Fox’s former circle of “friends.” Somebody calling himself the Shaman—Fox’s main adversary in the first Antikiller—has returned to take revenge. He tries to assassinate both Mongrel, the former tough and decent gangster lieutenant, who had killed the original Shaman, and “Banker,” a whimsical alcoholic who had enriched himself by stealing Shaman’s money. The assassin is also a hacker who steals a large sum of money from the Banker through the internet.

antikillerThe Banker is tailed by, and enamored with, his young pretty director of finances, Ekaterina Ivanovna (Ekaterina Klimova), who becomes Fox’s main motivation for helping his former associate. Initially, Ekaterina is portrayed as a sexy but strong New Russian business woman, whom Fox, however, soon impresses and “feminizes” with his hands-on thug-bashing, paternal masculinity and disregard for etiquette. The more he comes back into his own, the more she conforms to the female type. Under his hyper-masculine influence, Katia soon loses control of her fake image of an “emancipated business woman,” betrays her rebellious Russian streak and gets drunk in an incredibly filthy public convenience before submitting herself completely and happily to Fox’s sexual advances inside the same location. There is simply no time for romance, which Katia instinctively understands. Her rescue from evil and temporary conversion into Fox’s submissively loving female provides a mirror to the main narrative and the narrative twist at the end of the film.

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antikillerFox is thus once more unable to stand aside when danger befalls his Russian “family.” His main drive, however, is his love (at first sight) for and the protection of a Russian woman going astray. Fox is already largely undefeatable, and he can always count on the help of his knife-wielding sidekick and now retired special forces commander, Litvinov (Sergei Veksler). The latter duly returns to help Fox get rid of a few villainous, ass kicking underlings of the new threat to both Fox’s “family” and Katia’s integrity. As before, the two brothers-in-arms can rely on the hands-on help of members of the Russian Mafia and together they seem to prevail. However, all was not as it seemed and the injured Fox, who, in the end, keeps chasing Katia by (police) car, is losing his memory (and with it, her) because of a drug injected by his evil adversary.

antilkillerThe action hero and criminal investigator of Antikiller D.K., Fox, is quite obviously modeled on the homicidal Riggs of the Lethal Weapon series, played by Mel Gibson. Korenev’s relationship-induced alcoholism, his initial withdrawal from society and service, suicidal antics and unorthodox methods in crime fighting introduce a similarly tragicomic maniacal (anti?)-hero, who is drawn back into service because of both his sudden love for a woman and his inability to stand by and watch his community being threatened by hostile outsiders. Since nobody else can, Korenev, like Riggs, saves the day with his genre-confirming, unorthodox, yet surprisingly effective method: that of a happy-go-lucky bull in a china shop. Antikiller D.K.’s intertextual influences also include Die Hard with its indestructible lone ranger John McClane (Bruce Willis).

Generically speaking, the film deploys the action crime and detective thriller modes, incorporating comic and tragic elements as well as some formal features associated with the war genre. Target audiences for action thrillers are generally young males, but Antikiller D.K.’s blend of melodramatic, comic, tragic and mystery elements should ensure its popularity with female audiences, too.

antikillerIts tightly knit, fast paced action, which correctly focuses on the action hero and his damsel in distress, makes this Russian boevik resemble more the Western genres that influenced it than, for example, the first Antikiller. Fight scenes, ambushes, dialogues, car chases and explosions are cut much faster than in the latter and more according to Hollywood standard. The soundtrack draws on a range of songs by popular Russian bands as well as piano sequences effectively underscoring the sadder moments of the narrative development in Fox’s love story and reminiscences of a past full of betrayal and loss.

The two main themes are the fight of Russian heroes against barbarians within their own community, and their love for their country. The Russian evil-doers (male and female) grew up and were trained in one of the Western world’s centers of finance and crime; London. Here, these internal-external others learned and excelled at the trades of an assassin and hacker (the male) and a finance expert (the female). The ultra-evil maniacal male, who by his professional choices and filial opposition to the Russian father-figure, Fox, is unredeemable, also kept in touch with the more repellent elements of the Russian underworld. His female counterpart’s “legal” trade and professional association with the Russian Banker, gender-related weakness for, and submission to, the Russian "he-man" and father-figure save, redeem and reinstate her as Russian mother.[2]

The directorial viewpoint fears foreign intrusions: its moral tone suggests a binary representation of good Russian Russians versus bad Western Russians, a divide bridged by the love relationship of the Russian father-figure to the (future) Russian mother. The implied Russian viewer of the Antikiller series thus sees a third dominant Other defeated (the West and its bastard son, the latest, youngest generation of New Russians). By implication, young Russian viewers are expected to understand that the love story-within-a-story mirrors the action hero’s love for his country.

antikillerRecurrent images of Lenin, in conjunction with a repetition of one of the first Antikiller’s main statements (Fox’s answer to Shaman’s remark that “Times are changing” is “But not for me!”) serve the rhetorical function of catching the Russian viewers’ attention and reinforcing populist moral judgments as well as restoration-nostalgia. The sequel Antikiller D.K. duly follows its forerunners’ use of symbols of, and phrases relating to, the Soviet past.

Finally, thanks to the meta-textual frame narrative, viewers can be sure throughout the film that Fox survives after his latest ordeals. Having taken up the reputable and therapeutic profession of a novelist, it is implied that, after defeating the evil three and handing over the reins of (rescuing) Russia to somebody else, the ex-KGB major remains potentially available.

antikillerWith Antikiller D.K., El’dar Salavatov’s second feature film, the director jumped on the populist bandwagon of Egor Konchalovskii’s two highly successful cult Antikiller films. It thus conspicuously and successfully conformed to sequel type one, both allowing fans immediately to identify with their old hero Fox and satisfying their expectations regarding the upcoming narrative and genre. The film, however, is more than a mere copy. It concludes what one could with hindsight call a single narrative. It develops the former lone ranger of Antikiller and leader of the Russian forces (Antikiller 2) into something like a supposedly charming Russian holy fool (iurodivyi) and alcoholic pill-popping thug, who by battling against his failings and succumbing to amnesia, can grow on certain audiences. Here, Salavatov enters into a dialogue with similar Hollywood films and genres, which he successfully deployed in a fast-paced Russian boevik that shed the editorial shortcomings of Antikiller and the stiff, hyperbolized self/other representations of Antikiller 2. Antikiller D.K. quite clearly also succeeded in transposing some of the original film’s structural dimensions “into a different situation, enabling the director to develop new concerns” (sequel type three).

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antikillerBeside the film’s apparently straightforward nationalist populism, sexism and somewhat critical yearning for the return of a powerful heroic leader, there is also a questionable overload of genre elements. Despite Antikiller D.K.’s successful reliance on formal Western genre features, its aestheticizing of grisly and disgusting images of fighting and death, for example, is in the West related more to the war rather than the action genre (but then, Russia is depicted as being “at war”). Some scenes, supposedly funny for young Russians, simply seem gross to a Western viewer, given the genre expectations of an action thriller.[3] The film, moreover, presents a strange roller-coaster ride from the supposedly comic (defeating an adversary by urinating into his face during hand-to-hand combat), through the tragic (Fox’s regretful memory of his “betrayal” of the gangster Mongrel), to the melodramatic (the formulaic and unnatural development of the love story). This was presumably intended to add variety and depth to the film’s high-octane action features. However, its generic hotchpotch leaves nothing to be desired but a little peace, and a little more believable character development.

Florian Weinhold
Manchester University

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Notes

1] See also Prokhorova 2004.

2] A symbolic reading of the film’s narrative is supported by the fact that the number plates of all cars show a code, i.e. 00, which does not pertain to any (particular) region of Russia and thus acquire an overarching “all Russian” meaning.

3] If the film was a war or horror film and marketed as such, some of the imagery could be expected rather than appear incongruous and over the top (from a Western perspective).


 

Works Cited

Hutchings, Stephen, “Petr Buslov’s Bimmer 2,” KinoKultura 14 (2006).

Prokhorov, Alexander, “Egor Konchalovskii: Antikiller,” KinoKultura 5 (2004).

Prokhorova, Elena, “Egor Konchalovskii: Antikiller 2,” KinoKultura 5 (2004).


Antikiller D.K.: Love without Memory, Russia, 2009
Colour, 91 mins
Director: El’dar Salavatov
Writer: Denis Neimand
Cinematography: Sergei Alekseevich Kozlov
Music: Maksim Golovin
Main Actors: Gosha Kutsenko, Ekaterina Klimova, Viacheslav Razbegaev, Mikhail Efremov, Ivan Bortnik, Sergei Veksler

El’dar Salavatov: Antikiller D.K.: Love without Memory (Antikiller D.K.: Liubov’ bez pamiati, 2009)

reviewed by Florian Weinhold © 2010

Updated: 01 Aug 10