Sanctuary (1998)

Directed by
Better than expected
Reviewed by Simon on 2002-01-07

SANCTUARY was Mark Dacascos' first movie after the excellent Drive (1997), I think, and it shows all the hallmarks of direct-to-video Hollywood junk on the surface. I really wasn't expecting much from it at all, but found myself pleasantly surprised. Mark plays a priest who has something of a dark past... in fact he was a CIA secret agent, trained from childhood to do the dirty off-the-book jobs for the agency without questioning. But he couldn't help questioning, and fled the agency after one particular job. He ended up becoming a priest in an attempt to atone for his past life. But his past life doesn't want to let him escape so easily.

The plot sounds incredibly cheesy and free of subtlety, but the script and direction manage to flesh it out into something with a bit more subtlety. The movie splits its time between flashback to Mark's past and the hunt-chase after he is found doing his priestly work. Mark shows much better acting skills here than in Drive, perhaps because the movie is generally darker & serious in tone. He could have been more expressive and convincing, but I think he did a passable job.

It's not really his acting that has got Mark noticed by the HK cinema crowd though, it's his extremely impressive martial arts skills, which are arguably the best of anybody working in movies anywhere in the world at this time (if we assume that Jackie/Jet/Biao etc are unlikely to ever match their early work again). Although there's a moderately high degree of action in the movie, there's not all that much acrobatics or hand to hand fighting required, so we don't get to see Mark's skills to anything like the extent that they're showcased in Drive. He still handles the action well though, and I really can't imagine how some reviewer came to the conclusion that he was "a poor man's Jean Claude Van Damme".

The action scenes are better filmed than I expect from a Hollywood movie, and quite realistic - bullet impacts in particular are almost disturbingly convincing. It has to be noted that Mark gives up his priestly vows a little too easily, and could have been much less lethal at times than he habitually is. I guess it's just his training :D

A less forgiving reviewer might dismiss it as the Hollywood b-grade movie it probably is in objective terms, but I found myself pleasantly surprised and am glad I bought the DVD, as I'll probably watch it again a couple of times. It's a shame the DVD distributors chose, in their infinite wisdom, to release it Pan & Scan though.

See also