Archive for June, 2010

Review: The Karate Kid (2010)

Posted in Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith, Reviews, Yu Rong Guang with tags , on June 27, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan

Fight Choreography by Jackie Chan

Directed By Harald Zwart

The mere idea of doing a remake to any beloved movie takes a lot of balls. A lot has to go right, and usually doesn’t. So, take an unknown quantity in Jaden Smith, seen to many as being given the film by his parents like a child gets a Christmas present. (Trust me, it isn’t as easy as that. The studios funding the film has the last say on that) Also take one Jackie Chan, whose last US films have been dreadful (not because of him), and add one director whose last two films were Agent Cody Banks and the Pink Panther 2, and you have the makings of a disaster of Ishtar-sized proportions. Not only did the disaster not occur, but a rather successful update of a somewhat classic film.

The film starts as Dre Parker(Smith), a 12-year-old from Detroit, travels to Beijing with his Mom, who has been transferred there from her car company. (What kind of mid level job does that? Hell, sign me up for that one!). No sooner has Dre arrives than he meets the girl of his dreams, and the repairman of his apartment, a grouchy man named Mr. Han (Chan). Now back to that girl of his dreams bit. She plays the violin in the park when he meets her, and tries to impress her with dance moves, but that sort of thing evidently can get your ass kicked by the local boys, and one in particular, named Cheng, who looks like a future martial arts villain in the making. They start to abuse Dre, and the beatings he takes are far more brutal than anything Daniel Laruso went through in his version, and even tries to learn Karate on videotape, and is beaten up miserably again, and seeks out the Red Dragon Dojo to learn Kung-Fu, but finds that Cheng studies there, and soon Dre simply wants to go home, as taking multiple beatings daily just isn’t really cool. He is soon helped by Mr. Han, who agrees to teach him Kung-Fu in a scene where the dialogue is taken almost word for word from the original, and soon Dre is in training, and learns to become a better person just as Mr. Han learns to care again. The film culminates in a tournament fight where they put it all on the line. Guess who wins?

The films walks a line that really is a Catch-22: stick to the story, and everyone will criticize the need to remake it anyway. Stray too far away from the original and people go “so why call it Karate Kid?” (Note the film is only called the Karate Kid here, and is called the Kung-Fu Kid internationally except for Japan where it is called Best Kid.). The film makers probably did the best thing they could by keeping the story beats the same, but changing around the character, situations, etc. Jaden does a pretty good job as Dre, acting, well, like any 12 year-old you’ve ever met. His fight and training scenes are well done, but as he lived with Jackie Chan for a year to train with him, he damn well better be good, and is. Jackie Chan does a great job giving an understated performance as Mr. Han, a lonely man whose soul you can tell is in dark place, but trains Dre for reasons explored later in the film. The other actors acquit themselves okay, but none are given much to do . Master Yi isn’t as memorable as Martin Cove’s Kreese, but isn’t meant to be. In fact, the film rests with Smith and Chan and the relationship they forge together, and they both do a pretty good job, although Chan holds the scenes together more than Jaden.

The fight scenes are well done, as I suspected they would be. The camera moves around a bit too much during the tournament scenes, but are well staged other than that. Jackie’s one and only fight in the film gives the film a jolt of energy at just the right moment, and I think it gives the audience a warm feeling at the return of an old friend. The fight looks more like some of his 90’s film fights, but as he is playing a sightly older character, he keeps his movements at a premium.

The Karate Kid is a remake that does the job of retelling the story with a quality job by all involved, a rousing and fun film that shows the friendship between two people who turn out to need each other far more than they think. Whether you enjoy it or not depends on how married you are to the original. If you can separate the two, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Choreography: (8) Good fight scenes crafted for the boys by Jackie Chan, and a good fight midway between Chan and the bad boys. The tournament fights were kinetic and fun, and I wish the camera would’ve stayed still a bit longer.

Stuntwork: (9) Holy crap. I didn’t have high expectations for this, but these kids must be trying out for Jackie Chan’s junior stunt team. They take brutal looking hits and spins, and fall just as the adults would. Even Jaden does a great job here selling his many, many abuses.

Star Power: (8) Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith, one star who is winding down while another is coming up. In what form Jaden’s career will take remains to be seen since Jackie has offered to train him in Kung-Fu for the next 3 years, and since the film is already a success he’ll be training with Chan again, no doubt. I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll see some of the fighters in the tournament turn up in other things in the next 10 years or so. Maybe one of them can be the next big Martial arts star? Hey, it happened for Chan.

Final Grade: (8) Jackie Chan returns to form for the first time in a U.S. film, and they succeed in remaking a film that may or may not have needed it. The Karate Kid is a lot of fun for the entire family, and especially for future martial artists…


Review: Drive (1996)

Posted in Mark Dacascos, Masaya Kato, Reviews, Steve Wang with tags , , , , on June 21, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Mark Dacascos, Kadeem Hardison, Brittany Murphy, Masaya Kato

Fight Choreography by Koichi Sakamoto

Directed by Steve Wang

Put together an idea right out of Rush Hour, team a young and talented but relatively unknown martial artist with a has-been actor from A Different World (The Cosby Show spinoff), have them directed by a guy best known for directing many episodes of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and give it all a B-movie budget. By all rights it should amount to a miserable mess, not a martial arts classic many haven’t seen that shows that in the right hands American martial arts films can be the equal of its Asian counterparts.

The film opens with Toby Wong (Mark Dacascos) emerging from a Chinese ship that has just made it to port in the USA. No sooner does he arrive than he is accosted by a group of corporate thugs led by the evil Madison, determined not to let Toby escape, since he has a Drive mechanism in him, an experimental weapon that boosts the reflexes and agility of its wearer. In other words, it gives a plausible explanation for why they can do the few wire fu scenes there are. (Anyone associated with Romeo Must Die take note) He’s a peaceful guy who has escaped with the weapon from the Leung Corporation, and means to sell it to the USA so they can keep pace.

Since the Drive is located near his heart, shooting him only in the legs is the only viable option, which they try to do, and in a great first fight he shows them just how hard that will be, with fight choreography reminiscent of the early Sammo Hung/Jackie Chan days. Mark really gets to display his aptitude for fighting in this scene, and is fast and graceful. Meanwhile, at a nearby bar, Malik Brody (Kadeem Hardison), a failed writer and an about to-be-divorced husband sits writing what he hopes will be a successful song, in an attempt to win his wife back. Toby shows up, still followed by those men who show up, and in grand Yakuza 80’s fashion start shooting shit up. After then gun down the bar owner, Toby takes them on once again, and once again beats them badly in a short but well done fight scene.

Toby finds himself having to kidnap Malik at gunpoint and order him to drive to Los Angeles. The interplay between the two is well done, and it had better be since they are together for the entire film. We also follow Madison, the cowboy killer as he searches for Toby. During this scene we get the running joke of the film as there is a tv show on constantly about an intelligent frog that solves medical cases. You’ll note it’s only enjoyed by the characters in the film with the dimmest bulbs.

Malik and Toby are apprehended by a road block by two cops. When they ask Toby his name, he replies “Sammo Hung”, looks at Malik and shrugs. A great moment where the filmmakers wanted those who know to understand where their influences for the film come from, and who they made it for. It turns out the cops work for Madison, and drive the boys to a gravel pit rig, where they come face to face with Madison and his stupid goons. Soon they find themselves in a fight on the rig handcuffed together (pays homage to the great scene in Project A2 with Jackie Chan fighting while handcuffed to someone else). The scene moves fast and is pretty funny, and once again shows great skills by Mark and top notch fight choreography. Quite a few “ouch!” moments for the stuntment here.

After escaping, Toby explains about the Bioengine(Drive) in his body, and offers him half of the 5 million he’s to make when he gets the Engine to the American Corporation. Malik refuses at first, but then thinks better of it after they stop off at Malik’s home to meet his estranged wife (Sanaa Latham, the star of Aliens Vs Predators) After Malik saves Toby at a train station when he’ s nearly captured, he agrees and the two make their way to LA.

We cut back to the Leung Corporation, where the CEO Mr. Lao is about to engage in the patented, time-tested art form of Evil Deeds, which always involves killing your own men who fail you just to show how bad you are. His employee pink slip comes in the form of the new BioEngine recipient, played by Masaya Kato (he would go on to play the villain in the martial arts epic Fighter in the Wind.)

We then go back to Malik and Toby on the road, and a funny conversation of east vs, west occurs, and the views of each others culture is hard for even Malik to argue with. Before the male bonding can continue further, Malik’s car blows a hose and they have to stop at the nearest motel, which is operated by a young girl named Deliverance (Brittany Murphy, before Clueless) whose parent are away on vacation. Note they left her behind, probably because you’ll realize in short order how batshit crazy this girl is. Meanwhile Madison’s reinforcements-or cannon fodder-arrive, and for reasons explained later know where Toby and Malik are at. One of the best fight scenes of the film occurs here, starting from a motel room and leading to the garage, and Mark Dacascos really gets to show his skills in their entirety. The fights are inventive and fast, and a lot of fun, in an old school Jackie Chan kinda way. I love how the others bad guys watch the first guy jump into the fight in the garage. They simply watch the guy get his ass kicked and the body language says it all: Dumbass. Good comedic moments involving Malik and Deliverance (who, once again, is completely looney toons).

In a supreme act of overkill Madison grabs a tri-barrelled rocket launcher and blows up the entire motel, but Malik, Toby and Deliverace get away. Toby and Malik head toward the Apollo 14 bar and diner, leaving Deliverance behind. They meet a rep from Comtech, the American company that they were to meet with, and before you know Toby is so happy he grabs the karaoke mike and sings a song to Malik. I was surprised to see that Mark actually has good singing voice. Of course, that may be what got him the job on the Iron Chef, so ugh to that. The song is interrupted when the new BioEngine, along with a bunch of guys on mopeds show up. Because mopeds are kinda badass, at least in some places. The final fights of the film occur here, with a lot of good stunts and choreographed fights. The line “ Let’s kick his ass and take his coat” will burn into your memory of great quotes after you see this. The final fight between Toby and the BioEngine is pretty good, nearly evoking some of Yuen Woo Ping’s fight choreography.

Before long Toby and Malik have defeated the bad guys and destroyed a diner, and their adventures continue. Which it looks like at the end was supposed to, but alas it wasn’t meant to be.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Good job by Koichi, evoking 80’s style Sammo Hung films with his elaborate choreography. The fights escalate well, as does the complexity of the choreography.

STUNTS: (8) Some good falls here, the stuntmen really threw themselves at it, and did well, which should be expected since the stunts were done by Alpha Stunts, a team that was trained under Martial Arts film legend Yusaki Kurata (Fist of Legend, Shanghai Express, Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, and many more)

STAR POWER: (8) Mark won’t look this good again until Brotherhood of the Wolf, and Kadeem Hardison does a good job with the comedy without falling into Chris Tucker style annoyances. Kudos to the casting director for hiring new comer Brittany Murphy (R.I.P.) and Masaya Kato.

FINAL GRADE: (8) A terrific love letter to Asian cinema from a group that loves them as much as we do, and in doing so made one of the best American martial arts films ever.

Review: Born to Fight (2004)

Posted in Dan Chupong, Panna Rittikrai, Reviews with tags , on June 15, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Dan Chupong

Choreography and Directing by Panna Rittigrai

Hot on the heels of Ong Bak (although it must be said it came out before Ong Bak, but got re-released after its success) came this little film starring one of Tony’s fellow stuntmen, one many says is comparable to Tony, Dan Chupong. The Onk Bak team pulled out the stops to bring a somewhat propaganda style flag waving action film. But does it work?

The film opens as undercover cops Sarge, the veteran, and Daew (Chupong), the younger one go to buy drugs from the dealer they have been working when the dealer gets a call from his boss, General Yang, who wants the two dead because he knows they are both cops. This leads to a John Woo-style gunfight that escalates as the bad guys commandeer two big rigs, one with Yang on board. Daew jump from a moving van onto one of them, and what follows is an absolutely insane scene after scene of crazy stunts the likes of which we haven’t seen since early Jackie Chan films, as guys go ricocheting from moving vehicle to moving vehicle, and it’s a mild wonder no one was killed during the filming of this, but it lets you know early one what you’re getting into. There is not a subtle bone in this film.

The chase ends with the two cops stopping both trucks, by running one off of a cliff (!) into a warehouse below, and the other explodes and runs through a shanty town Police Story style and runs into the other truck. Daew gets General Yang out on orders from Sarge, who has been shot and is trying to disable a bomb Yang set, and I’m sure he wished he had paid attention during bomb disarming class, but he didn’t, and Sarge blows up. Of course Daew feels guilty for not being able to get back to Sarge in time, and takes Yang in.

Fast forward to a short time later (they don’t explain how much later), and Daew (I’ve been nice enough to put his name-and anyone else’s- into this review so far. They don’t name anyone until this point in the film!) sits sulking while watching a news program talk about Sarge’s death. About this time his high -pitched-voiced pain in the ass (Sister? Cousin?) arrives to tell him that she has been chosen by the Tae Kwon Do association to accompany a group of sports athletes to give relief efforts to a small impoverished village near the border. For reasons unexplained Daew decides to go with her.

We are then introduced to the rest of the group, which really amounts to “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I play soccer!” and that’s about it for any character development in this film. We then get into the opening credits where we are treated to a montage of the group arriving to meet the villagers and each of the kind-hearted characters then form some sort of bond with one or two of the various villagers-so you just know shit’s about to go bad. Of course every village has a douchebag, and in this case it’s a guy named Tub, which his name alone makes that his damn destiny, so blame his folks for that. He tries to start shit with Daew after seeing Daew getting goo-goo eyes from the cutest girl in the village, whom Tub wants for himself. Think of an Asian Biff from Back the Future. Of course Tub’s Dad knows he’s a giant dirtbag and proceeds to tell anyone who will listen. No sooner has Tub and his posse stepped off than the crap does hit all kinds of fans as armed mercenaries start running into town shooting everything and everyone in sight in scenes that look lifted right from the last Rambo film.

Dozens of innocent people are killed, including Tum, the village “policeman” and the village monk. Even Tub’s father, the village elder is killed. You know there’s gonna be a serious ass-whupping for all of these guys at some point. Soon the Big Bad guy and his entourage arrive and set up shop, and contact the Prime Minister of Thailand to off an exchange of the villagers’ safety for the return of General Yang. What they don’t tell the prime minister is that they’ve brought a nuclear missile to the town and are going to launch it at Bangkok no matter how it all ends. The local swat team tries to go in, and they only succeed in getting more villagers killed. Daew, Tub and the Gymnast are the only ones still roaming free, and Daew goes to get help , but Tub soon gets captured. Daew sneaks around all day and finds out about the nuke that evening. Before he can leave he gets into a fight with two guards, all holding pieces of flaming wood, knocking the crap out of each other. It’s a pretty decent fight, kind of a Tony-Jaa lite kind of scene (That’s not really fair. It’s been said that Dan is just as good a martial artist as Tony Jaa. We’ll find out when he fights Tony in Ong Bak 3)

Because fighting does cause a lot of noise, Daew is captured as well. The next day Daew challenges everyone to fight or die on their knees. At that moment everyone is like,”Meh, knees are okay.” Meanwhile General Yang is freed and is on his way to the village. While everyone ponders what to do as Yang arrives by chopper, the Thailand national anthem plays on the radio the bad guys have on, and everyone gets jacked-up and goes “screw it”. What follows are tons of actions scenes as the entire village rises up to fight, led by the relief workers. These scenes are well done scenes of carnage and rah-rah cheer the little guy moments. Standouts include Daew’s sister fighing the resident bad guy’s best female fighter, and even a little girl using Muay Thai, channeling Tony Jaa to take out the bad guy who killed her dad. Hell, even Tub gets into the act by killing the leader of the mercs with a grenade launcher. Stallone would be proud.

Daew goes to stop the nuke on his own and gets into a series of fights with assorted baddies, showing that Tony Jaa isn’t the only one who can do those acrobatic flips and kicks. The rocket launches, and falls into the sea, thanks to Daew using the lead henchman’s head to bash the navigation controls. Of course, the nuke means there ain’t no fishing in Bangkok for oh, 100 years. Not to be outdone, the baddies rigged explosives around the entire village to have the town wiped out completely. Everyone gets out just in the knick of time as the village is literally blown off the map. In the end good prevailed against evil, and the people stood together, and kicked much ass.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (6) What martial arts there was well done, but nothing we haven’t seen done by Jeeja Yanin and Tony Jaa’s films, and done quite a bit better.

STUNTS: (10) Sweet lord did they do a great job here. Just watch the closing credits to see what kind of work they did. Haven’t seen this level of devil-may-care stuntwork since early Jackie Chan films.

STAR POWER: (4) Dan Chupong doesn’ t have a lot of charisma, and doesn’t really get a chance to showcase his skills among all of the other actors.

FINAL GRADE: (6) A good ode to the action films of the 80’s. The lack of character development, or even the attempt to do so mars the terrific effort the stuntmen made. No single standout star, kind of a Baa Ram Ewe’s greatest hits album. Not a bad film, but not great either.

Review: Rapid Fire (1992)

Posted in Al Leong, Brandon Lee, Reviews with tags , on June 9, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Brandon Lee, Powers Boothe, Al Leong

Directed by Dwight H. Little

Fight Choreography by Jeff Imada and Brandon Lee

In between Showdown in Little Toyko and The Crow, Brandon Lee released his starring vehicle, a film that showcases a talent taken far too soon, and also pays a loving of tribute/homage to many things, from Jackie Chan to his father Bruce Lee.

The film opens with Italian mafia boss Tony Serrano arriving in some nameless country, Thailand, perhaps? Maybe it’s one of those ‘leave it to your imagination’ kind of things. If you think it’s China, great! Taiwan, better still! I hate it when a writer or director gets lazy like that. Nick Mancuso plays Serrano, and chews up every scene he’s in. Anyway, Serrano came to meet his old friend Tommy , an Asian drug lord who has been providing Serrrano the drugs he sells. Well, with the economy being as crappy as it is, a mafioso just can’t sell drugs like they used to, so he want Tommy to pay him back for favors done long ago by giving him a good percentage of the drug sales. While all this is going on we are witness a staff fighting scene that was done very well. Tommy isn’t too keen on Serrano’s way of asking for help, and proves his point by beating down the two staff fighters in front of him, just to let the audience know that yeah, he ain’t gonna get Seagaled (Seagaled is a term I invented for whenever Seagal would meet any bad guy at the end of his films, they would be clearly no match for him, and he would toss them around before breaking a bone painfully and then killing said bad guy with absolute ease. They posed no threat whatsoever), so after dropping a few Sicilian proverbs Serrano bids Tommy a very nice mob way of saying goodbye.

We then move to a college campus in California where Paul Yang conducts a demonstration for Chinese rights after the Tiananmen Square incident. He is played by Dustin Nguyen (he who was one of Johnny Depp’s partners in 21 Jumpstreet, and has since become a new voice in martial arts films, having just directed and co-starred in the hit Vietnamese martial arts hit The Rebel.) Jake Lo (Lee) shows up, and due to things that happened during Tiananmen Square, he wants nothing to do with the demonstration and turns down Paul when invited to a fundraiser. So Paul gets Jake there using the tried and true method-a beautiful woman. They arrive at the fundraiser, which is at an art museum run by one of Tommy’s guys, so of course Serrano happens to be waiting in his office already, like some sort of Italian Ninjitsu. Immediately afterward in a move decidedly NOT ninjitsu Serrano shotguns the art curator out of the office window, the first of many, many stupid things Serrano does in this film, making one wonder how the hell his dumb ass became a mob boss in the first place. You know his ass lucked into it. So of course, folks have to start shooting shit up Yakuza style. They aren’t in this film, but I’m sure they appreciated the hundreds of wayward bullets and innocent bystanders killed in the cross fire. Unfortunately for Serrano Jake sees him kill the curator, and in his attempted escape Brandon gets to show off some great moves, and hops onto a motorcycle, and in a tribute (or ripoff depending on how you feel) to Jackie Chan’s Police Story Jake jumps on a motorcycle and since Serrano is in the streets shooting like a 60’s Batman villain, rides back into the museum and hits a guy, sending him through a bunch of glass. Jake soon gets arrested after fall off of said bike.

Soon Jake gets interrogated by that Black dude that played the Jamaican Screwface in Seagal’s Marked for Death. The FBI blackmail Jake into flying to Chicago to testify against Serrano before a Grand Jury. Jake goes along with it because he has no choice, and is scared of Screwface.

We then meet-and I kid you not- a Chicago cop named Mace Ryan, played by Powers Boothe, one of the manliest men ever, and this film knows it. Hell, look at his character’s name! He’s so macho his police squad has their headquarters in a functioning bowling alley. Does that make any sense? Hell no, but shit that’s manly. Screw Bruce Willis and Eastwood, they never had that. Powers. Boothe. He and his cohorts decide to follow Jake, which is a good thing, as the safe house he’s taken to isn’t very safe, as the FBI agents assigned to him work for Serrano, and once again, how does this moron get these guys? I wouldn’t trust his ass to count cola in a six pack. Jake pwns the feds pretty good in a decent fight scene, before he gets away. (Note to self: the angrier Brandon gets on screen, the more he looks like his Dad.)

Jake calls the head of the agents, and yes, this douche works for Serrano too. Jake goes to meet him in a dark alley, and so does Mace, since he and his men had the agent’s phone tapped. The Fed almost gets Jake to come with him when Mace appears and tells him to get into the car, and a bunch of Serrano’s men arrive and start shooting, but dammit they shot at the wrong dude. At this moment Mace goes all Tombstone on them, and his sheer level of manliness alone (he has a +10 charisma for this, D&D fans) keeps the bullets from hitting him as he stands straight up and returns fire.

After saving Jake and leaving lots of property damage and the burning bodies of about 3 mafioso’s in a flaming car in the middle of the street, Mace has Jake agree to help him take Tommy Tau down, because even he knows Serrano is a doofus.

Soon Jake and the Fed they blackmail in a reversal go to see Serrano at his restaurant/base of operations, with Mace and his team waiting outside ready to shoot shit up. Soon Serrano, idiot though he is, figures out the Fed is wearing a wire, and blows him away, and Mace goes ‘oh well’ and orders his men to shoot at-well everything. Wanting to match manliness with insanity Serrano orders the same thing to his guys, and Jake dives off down to the first floor and we get a terrific one against-a-dozen-dudes-who-don’t-know-anything fight. Brandon does a great job selling the physicality of his movement, and there were parts of it where he seemed so natural, like Papa Lee. Amid all the gunfire the fighting is well done, and before long they capture Serrano.

Soon after we are treated to the thankful death of Serrano as Tommy has him killed by his lead henchman played by the great Al Leong intercut with Jake getting to have sex with the only female cop in Mace’s squad, Whithers. After Mace does the manly thing and shoots the 1 pin his bowling ball can’t touch Jake shows up and agrees to go undercover to the factory Tommy owns to find out where he keep his drugs at. It is here that Brandon wears a costume not unlike what Bruce wore for his disguise in Fists of Fury and sneaks in, not knowing that Mace and the Whithers get captured by Tommy outside, and it’s up to Jake to save them in a great series of final fights, and yes, they reference Police Story again when Jake fights with a clothing rack, fending off the bad guys the same way Jackie did.

We are then treated to the best fight in the film, Brandon Lee vs Al Leong, and the two have a memorable if short fight, and as he always does, Al dies incredibly well. Jake then chases down Tommy to a subway station, and the two fight, and Tommy gets what he deserves in true 80’s fashion, which means he had to die multiple deaths, by being electrocuted and then run over by a train. Jake kills the bad guy and gets the girl, and Mace lives after being shot like 10 times. He’s the man. Really.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) Jeff Imada does a pretty good job staging the fights, and the execution is very well done. A little American 80’s style with a bit more HK influence than most. The fight between Brandon and Al was great.

STUNTS: (8) Good job from all of the stuntmen involved. They all sold it well, and Al was the cream of the crop as always.

DIRECTION: (7) Dwight did a good job of keeping the camera at good angles to follow the fighting. The dialogue was well done and the story was actually a bit different than most.

STAR POWER: (8) Brandon Lee. Powers Boothe. Toss in a good heap of Al Leong, and that’s all you need to see. Lee had the makings of a great star, but alas that wasn’t meant to be.

FINAL GRADE: (8) A great first film for Brandon, showcasing his skills. This is really his only mainstream pure martial arts film in which he was the star, and that alone makes this film special, if a bit sad.

Review: Bloodsport (1988)

Posted in Bolo Yeung, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Reviews with tags , , on June 2, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jean Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Bolo Yeung, Forrest Whitaker

Directed by Newt Arnold

Fight Choreography by Frank Dux

When No Retreat, No Surrender came out, many didn’t take notice of anyone in the film except one: the Russian bad guy, played with charisma, if not with good acting, by a young man from Brussels who went by the long name of Jean Claude Van Damme. Hollywood decided to take a chance on him in a little martial arts film that would reveal a secret tournament that would be a secret to the world no longer: The Kumite. The rest would be history, but it starts with the tale of Frank Dux, the first westerner to ever win the Kumite, an illegal fight tournament held for 3 days in which the one rule is you can kill your opponent in combat.

The film has an awesome opening showcasing the different fighters that would compete in that years’ Kumite, showing off their own martial arts styles. Soon we center on Frank Dux, a special forces agent for the USA who goes without permission to fight, which evidently is something the United States military frown on, so they send two bumbling agents, one played by Forest Whitaker. They need to get a life.

We are then treated to a flashback featured really sucky child actors (the one playing Frank Dux is just damn odd. Like alien odd or something.) trying to break into the home of Frank’s future Shidoshi Tanaka (master) and steal his family sword. Of course Tanaka finds out and catches Frank as Frank is trying to return the sword to its mantle after his buddies drop it. So, instead of calling the police (which won’t really do anything) he decides to train Frank (see, now he can make some money charging him for lessons) Frank finds that he’s nothing more than a training dummy for Tanaka’s son, whose childhood dream was to fight in the Kumite. Now if his dream were to actually win the damn thing, he might have survived, but it wasn’t, and he didn’t.

Frank then decides to go for Tanaka, but has to learn much more than he knows. This starts a great training sequence where Tanaka uses throws to make Frank sweep those mats clean with his back. I can attest as I paused in several spots and saw the mats didn’t have a speck of dirt on them. The sequence is actually good at showing off his form, which is some sort of Karate. I still cringe at the scene where Tanaka spreads Frank’s legs with ropes to force him into the splits…damn!

Fast forward to Hong Kong a day or so later and we are introduced to Ray Jackson, a fighter from America played by Donald Gibb, a burly uncouth street fighter also there for the Kumite. We also meet a nosy reporter who did nothing but get on my nerves the entire film, mainly because she serves no real purpose except to have a love interest in the film. The crux of the film really rests on the friendship between Dux and Jackson, and Gibb and JCVD have a good chemistry onscreen to make the friendship believable, and not forced.

After arriving, because the judges don’t believe Dux learned anything from Tanaka want him to show them the Dim Mak or “death touch”. Yes, these guys are a bit too strict. After performing the move on a stack of bricks successfully, the previous champion, Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) utters a phrase paying homage to Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon when he says “Very good. But brick not hit back!”

After that Frank saves the reporter from another fighter, and scores a date with her. Afterward we get to the nitty gritty, the first day of the Kumite, and the fight scenes are actually very well done for an 80’s film. They  showcase the main fighters going toe to toe with various opponents, and is a small montage of fights, but it whets the appetite for what’s to come. We then are back with the two agents who are out to get Dux and bring him back, in scene after scene that takes me out of the film anytime they are on. Who knew that the black guy in this film would eventually be such a great actor? They finally catch up to Frank, which leads to a horrid scene of Frank running around Hong Kong gracefully, while they chase him around a hell of a lot less gracefully. Just a bad moment for weak slapstick comedy. To further bring the film down we go back to the reporter Janice and her date with Frank, which ends in a one night stand where we get to see Van Damme nearly naked, a hallmark of his films from now on. Hell, I guess it beats seeing Steven Seagal’s Buddha belly.

We then get back for day 2 of the Kumite, and the fights live up to their promise here, and I have to say I think this is nearly the best Van Damme has ever looked martial arts wise, which supports a theory I’ve always carried about JCVD: he’s only as good as his fight choreographer is. Some films, like this one, he shows great skills, and in others he shows poor skills or the same two damn kicks. You can tell he really wants to emulate the Hong Kong stars, but he just doesn’t have the skillset. Enough of my musings, back to the film. During this sequence we also get the most brutal Chong Li fight, where he defeats his fighter and then breaks the poor bastards leg at the shin. It made me cringe when I was a kid, and it still does so now. Good fighting by all involved. Look for a funny scene between Dux and a tall African fighter. Dux’ s last fight of the day features him fighting a really big guy whom he takes down by doing the splits and punching him in the nuts really hard. Note to all fighters: do not wear either a kilt or a loincloth as it calls unwanted attention to your nether region, and your oppenent will surely strike you there. Every. Damn. Time.

The final fight of the day belongs to Jackson versus Chong Li. Surprisingly, at least to Chong Li as much as us, Jackson comes out and starts stomping him down. In what would be a final act of stupidity that doesn’t result from brain damage, Jackson starts celebrating before Chong Li is even down for the count, Even Chong Li blesses his lucky stars right before he delivers a world class beatdown to Jackson, culminating in a viscious kick to Jackson’s head, and Van Damme has what may be one of the worse acting moments of his career here yelling “Stooooop!”. Fast forward to Jackson in the hospital after having surgery while the surgeons put his brain back together that was shattered like puzzle pieces, and Janice gets on Frank’s case for fighting in what must be the dumbest non-argument in the film to drum up drama that wasn’t needed.

We are then treated to another 80’s staple, the slow ballad that tells the audience exactly what Frank is thinking as he rides a subway, even seeing a ghost image of Chong Li reflected in a window. The next day Frank gets his pre fight workout using the Hong Kong police force those two dunce agents use to attempt a capture, and finally they decide this isn’t worth it, so they may as well go enjoy the final day of the kumite, which features another Van Damme staple, lots and lots of slow motion in his fight scenes. Chong Li actually kills his opponent after the guy is already beaten, and the judges turn their back on him in a great “That’s not cool, bro” moment.

We then come the final battle between Chong Li and Frank Dux. Of all the fights in the film, this is the one that disappointed me the most. No complexity to the fights, and far too much slow motion. I know Bolo (his real name is Yeung Sze) has good fighting skills, but I can’t say the same for Van Damme. This end is indicative of the his future films: lots of slow motion, no one knows how to block, and every major fight ends with the patented JCVD helicopter kick, which he uses several times to dispatch Chong Li.

The film soon ends after we find out the Jackson won’t be a drooling mess for the rest of his life, and we are treated to stats of Frank Dux’ s actual accomplishments in the kumite. Pretty cool stuff.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) The fight scenes are well done here, until you get near the end, where the imagination basically gives way to showing JCVD giving beautiful kicks in slow motion.

STUNTS: (8) The fighters all bring their “A” game to this, and perform well, showcasing a myriad of fighting styles.

DIRECTION: (7) Newt does  a good job shooting the fights without a lot of heavy editing. The acting could have been better, but was okay for what it was. Once again, what the hell was the deal with the sucky kid actors?

STAR POWER: (7) JCVD does a good job for his first starring role, displaying the charisma and good looks we would come to know. Forrest Whitaker doesn’t get to do much, but hell, he’s there. Bolo does a good job as always.

FINAL GRADE: (7) A good film that showcases the Kumite and no doubt become the template for tournament martial arts films and video games for years to come. Many would come and go, but Bloodsport remains the first and best of them.