I was moderately aware of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland before Battle of the Bone, not necessarily in detail, but I did have a meager understanding of the Protestant vs. Roman Catholic kerfuffle, and that it had been going for quite some time. I later learned that “The Troubles” was a proper name, and that it was an issue that regardless of being somewhat resolved, is still a forefront part of Northern Ireland 's social and political culture. Which makes sense when one considers that the crux of “The Troubles'” violence occurred in the mid-1970's, and that many of the people involved in the military conflict would still be alive today.
I could go on to tell you of all I've learned about this “Troubles” stuff since seeing this movie, but that would be pointless, because even after everything I've read, it still doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. If you're Roman Catholic, you (violently) want Northern Ireland to be a separate country and you are (violently) opposed to Protestants, who are more passive-aggressive and cool with the idea of British rule. It is positively absurd sounding to me. Religion alone seems ludicrous; let alone tying it to feelings of contentious… I don't know. Pride, is it? I don't even know. Absurd.
But I'd be arrogant to believe that what I thought about this subject really mattered. It's not my country and it's not my culture, so my opinion on it is ignorant and invalid. I can take solace though with the fact that a film like Battle of the Bone shares my view, despite its director (first-timer George Clarke) being there to experience the “Troubles” firsthand. It is partly this grounding (the frustration and how he deals with it, not the ideology) that helps make his film so successful.
Zombies are often used metaphorically in cinema to represent sociological problems or looming threats. “BOTB” employs a zombie metaphor that is intentionally vague. It could refer to consumerism, racial intolerance, socialism, etc. Anything. It doesn't matter. What matters is that there are THINGS that are more important to the most recent generation of the Northern Irish, than arbitrary conflict that started long before they were born. “The Troubles” should no longer be relevant.
But like all great kung-fu/zombie films (what?), Battle of the Bone works completely at face value, never relying on its ideology as a crutch. Whether or not you can connect with the undertones of Northern Irish social satire is irrelevant. It is a relentlessly kinetic and joyous picture; always running and usually running away, each character perpetually fighting for his/her life. This is a first effort for most everyone involved, so it is not as much about skill of the martial arts (or the choreography or the editing), as it is about the passion of filmmaking.
This is a film made by and starring people who obviously love what they are doing, and are having fun doing it. This love is so impossibly infectious that I felt while watching “BOTB,” that I had no other choice but to reflect it right back to the screen. Clark knows his kung-fu and being a connoisseur, he knows what it takes to be entertained by the genre. Excitement comes through in every frame and rampant spontaneity drives the film forward. From the stunts, to the violence, to a little scene where two friends play piano and sing a song in a conference room in a nuthouse, while unbeknownst to them zombies are ravaging the building. I wish I could describe every cute little touch and tangible threat, but we'd be here all day and nobody would want that. It manages to be wall-to-wall action without being boring for one moment, and somehow among the mayhem maintains an innocence and undeniable charm. I absolutely adored this movie.
There are people who like to protest when I am offended by certain films that obviously only exist to make money. I got hate mail from people for my negative reviews of Babel and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and I listened people who thought that I was unfair to Swimfan. While it may be true that these pictures may be more technically sound than “BOTB,” I am offended by their lemming quality, their laziness, and their intention (respectively) and I refuse to applaud them. If Hollywood films consistently had even a third of the passion displayed in Battle of the Bone, I'd have nothing to bitch about.