The idea at the heart of “Daños del amor (Love Hurts)” is exceptionally good, so good that it’s aggravating how unevenly it has been executed. This is perhaps not surprising: Steve Kahn, the writer-director-editor-producer-star of the film is debuting in every one of his hyphenated roles with this project, and a little bit of sloppiness is to be expected. But there’s no shaking the feeling that a little bit more time in the editing room could have pushed the film from fairly good to absolutely great.
It opens like so many independent movies do, with a gooey montage set to an indie rock ballad as Binder (Kahn) and his girlfriend Mia (America Young) flit about, being offensively cute together. This comes to an abrupt halt when Binder starts flirting with a gorgeous young woman dancing on the streets of Los Angeles, and the couple apparently breaks up. The editing is not entirely clear, and this is part of that “sloppiness” that constantly threatens to wreck the whole project.
Some time later, Binder encounters Mia in an alley. He tries to ask for her forgiveness, but she’s not feeling terribly magnanimous, and show she challenges him to a kung-fu duel. What follows is equal parts Shaw Brothers homage and video game parody as Mia and Binder have a knock-down battle right there in the street.
In the long, long history of relationship dramas, the use of martial arts as a metaphor for the confusing gender dynamics of dating has been sadly ignored for much too long, and in this way, “Daños del amor” comes awfully close to being a masterpiece. Kahn gets two very important things right: the fight is well choreographed and played (Young is a black-belt), and the film stops mere seconds before it starts to get boring, leaving behind a funny and completely unexpected bit of high-energy action.
If anything, Kahn has too many ideas to cram into the film’s framework, starting with the indie-drama parody of the opening scene (which works), moving on to fripperies like having the two lover-combatants’ thoughts expressed as subtitles (which worked a lot better when Woody Allen did it). “Martial arts break-up comedy” is already a rich enough idea that much of the additional material feels like overkill.
Then there is the reality that the film is awkwardly edited, in every possible sense: shots go on for a beat too long, there are a lot of distracting mismatches that make the physical movement of scenes confusing, and it happens more than once that a take is clearly over (camera movement, actors breaking character) a few frames before the cut; the film loses momentum and energy. Although what remains is a great deal of fun, I was constantly aware of how much better it had the potential to be.