Germany may not strike most action fans as a major contender in the realm of martial arts films, but if “One Million K(l)icks” doesn’t single-handedly turn that around, nothing will! Stunt man extraordinaire, Mike Moeller, steps into leading man shoes for the second time, following 2012’s “Arena of the Street Fighter”, and he and his talented supporting cast set the stage for an hour and forty minutes of gloriously thrilling, energetic and creative ways to kick-ass.
Mike Moeller portrays the lead of Michael Schneider, a small but powerful street fighter who becomes an internet sensation after being enticed to the short cut to fortune and glory by two men named Frank and Salva, played by Martin Bader and Bartholomäus Kowalski. Mike finds a mentor out of a former opponent in the form of Chinese chef and kung fu master Lee Aang-song, played by Li Yanlong, while romancing Lilly, a caring nurse played by Sabine Steinbach. Mike also runs afoul of Ritter, played by Volkram Zschiesche, a corrupt cop who wants the rising internet celebrity all to himself.
Most people walk right past the diminutive Michael Schneider without noticing, and he can’t land a date to save his life. However, Mike turns into an unstoppable fighting machine while defending himself from an attacker in a bar one night. The fight attracts the attention of the establishment’s owners, Frank and Salva, who approach Mike with a unique proposition – picking fights with any opponent who can put up a good match, which they film and then upload to their newly developed website.
After just a few fights, Mike becomes an internet sensation throughout Germany, but his new career choice puts him on the radar of the police and sends his life on a dark path. His most worthy opponent, Chinese chef Lee Aang-song, recognizes that Mike is a troubled, misguided young man and becomes a mentor to him right as he finds himself under the microscope of corrupt law enforcement officer, Ritter.
An interesting experiment for any viewer to try when they come out of “One Million K(l)icks” is to look back on the film and examine just how much of it they spent rooting for Mike in situations where he was, for all intents and purposes, the bad guy. Mike spends the entire first half of the film acting like a hot-headed, adolescent jerk picking fights with random people for no other reason than to show off his talents all over the internet at their expense.
Yet, one cannot help cheer for him in the film’s abundant action scenes, and looking at it closely, there are two primary reasons for that, the first and foremost being that the film makes no apologies for Mike’s behavior. Indeed, it openly acknowledges his wrongdoing so much that the latter half of the film is devoted to Mike having to rebuild his entire life after taking a knife wound to his torso. This is where Lee Aang-song, a Chinese chef and kung fu master who proved to be Mike’s only worthy opponent earlier in the film, comes to Mike’s aid and helps him learn to master his chi.
Lee’s character is perhaps a little underdeveloped, since he isn’t given much motivation to lend a helping hand to the man who beat him up earlier beyond just being a wise, compassionate man and recognizing Mike’s potential for change, but it ultimately ends up blossoming into a strong master-student relationship between the two.
There are few sins that a film can commit worse than making the lead character the instigator of his or her own problems and simply expecting the viewer to take pity on them without acknowledging their mistakes. However, “One Million K(l)icks” uses its “Man of Tai Chi”-esque premise to present Mike as a decent man accustomed to being overlooked who quickly becomes intoxicated by the online fame that his fighting skills bring him, while still expecting him to pay a price for allowing himself to be seduced by the allure of Frank and Salva’s offer.
All of that leads right into the second reason why you’ll find yourself cheering for Mike even when you shouldn’t, specifically the fact that the film’s many fight sequences are simply incredible. From the moment the first punch is thrown, the nimble Mike Moeller moves like a “Street Fighter” character; a whirlwind of aerial Taekwondo kicks and takedowns that wouldn’t look out of place in a pro-wrestling match. One of the early battles of the film sees Mike in a Taekwondo school, where he breaks out such maneuvers as a tornado kick that misses, which he follows up by reversing the motion and landing a hook kick with the same leg -a rare, supercool move to behold when it’s executed with such flair. Like stunt pros Brad Allen and Cyril Raffaelli, Mike has a real knack for landing three kicks in a single spinning rotation, (while making it look natural and effortless; floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee!) pulling it out in just about every action scene, something he uses to great effect while taking on an entire team of soccer players for example.
Lee proves to be a much more challenging enemy for Mike, and really only ‘loses’ their initial encounter because he simply lets Mike win while showing some impressive displays of Fa Jing during their first encounter and later on when he takes Mike under his wing. With so many strengths going for it however, the film seems a tad rushed in the last fifteen minutes, and feels almost like it might have wanted to go for another fifteen but perhaps time or budget constraints held it back.
With Mike finding himself on the radar of corrupt cop Ritter, the film clearly aims to pit them against one another in the finale, but the slightly rushed, predictable end of the final act puts together a reason to see them face off that would have benefited from a longer running time to flesh the villain plot out. Still, Mike’s show-stopping scissor-leg take downs are absolutely immaculate, and it’s not often you find a guy who can pull off a jump spinning heel kick with BOTH legs.
“One Million K(l)icks” is exactly the kind of movie you break out the big tub of popcorn for. While somewhat marred by a rushed finale, it avoids patronizing the audience by sympathizing with its flawed hero without handing him a Get out of Jail Free Card. It also delivers one eye-popping action sequence after another where Mike defies gravity, (yep, time for Sir Issac Newton’s laws to rewritten) physics, and every other law of motion that you can think of. For where it really counts, this is martial arts and action junkie’s paradise, stunning! And as for the sequel, “Two Million K(l)icks”, hell yeah, BRING IT ON!
- Some of Mike Moeller’s credits as a stunt man include “Resident Evil”, “Speed Racer”, “Inglorious Basterds”, “Pandorum”, “Cloud Atlas”, and “Pound of Flesh”.
- The film is the first production of Silent Partners, founded by Mike Leeder and German producer Ruediger W. Kummerle.
- The upcoming sequel, “Two Million K(l)icks”, will be directed by British filmmaker Ross Boyask, and will take place in Hong Kong.