J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Black Salt (short): Launching the Franchise

He has Shaolin training and an Interpol badge, but the most dangerous thing about Samuel Lincoln Tharpe, a.k.a. Black Salt, is probably his hardnosed attitude. He will need every possible edge to save the world from an apocalyptic Yakuza sect in Ben Ramsey’s Black Salt (trailer here), a short film intended to launch an ambitious multimedia franchise based on the comic book characters created by Owen Ratliffe. Genre fans can get a dose of martial arts and WMD when Black Salt airs on Cinemax on Demand and MAX GO.

When young Tharpe’s mother relocated to China, it ended in tragedy. However, a rebellious Shaolin monk took the boy in, teaching him the secrets of Shaolin Kung Fu. Not so surprisingly, many in the monastery were not happy with this breach of tradition, so they were not sorry to see him leave before completing his training.

Of course, the very grown Tharpe is a badder customer than just about anyone else in the West, which makes him quite valuable to Interpol and the allied agencies they lend him out to. The stakes will be particularly high when Tharpe is sent on a mission to recover a vaguely defined doomsday device from an evil Yakuza death cult. However, things seem to go pretty smoothly thanks to intel acquired Li Jing, his dissident source inside the Yakuza—at least until the sect’s super villains turn up in an untimely fashion.

Even though Black Salt is pilot-like thirty-minute short film, it features two centerpiece-worthy fight scenes, in which Tharpe first faces off against the icily sadistic Rain and then the mysterious and stealthy Horse Ripper. Both feature plenty of highly cinematic fight choreography, co-directed by Ron Yuan (who appears in a non-action role, at least thus far, as Japanese agent Mamori Shiga).

So far, so good. True, Black Salt the short will totally leave fans hanging, but that is really to be expected, given the concept-proving, audience-teasing nature of the project. As Tharpe, Kinyumba Mutakabbir has a suitably steely presence and all kinds of action cred. Sheena Chou’s Li Jing is an intriguingly vulnerable femme fatale, but we maybe shouldn’t get too attached to her. The same caution goes for Panuvat Anthony Nanakornpanom, who tears it up as Rain.

It looks like Ratliff and Ramsey plan to combine Eastern spirituality with gritty street action, in much the same way the original Power Man and Iron Fist comics did, which would be terrific. They clearly understand the genre and know how to deliver the goods to satisfy aficionados. Based on the thirty minutes of Black Salt, we would definitely welcome a full length feature or episodic series. Recommended for martial arts and comic books fans, Black Salt will be available on Cinema on Demand starting today (4/28) until May 26th and continues its current availability on MAX GO until June 30th—with a limited edition DVD coming soon.

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