Starring Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins
Fight Choreography by JJ Perry
Directed by Isaac Florentine
Undisputed II is like a breath of fresh air, not only introducing a new generation of action stars, but is a brutal, fantastically choreographed fight film that may hail a new era in American martial arts action films. Released direct to DVD, Undisputed 2 has become a hit film as word of mouth spread, and with good reason. Michael Jai White and Scott Adkins, two men who have been on film for years, finally get to stand out and show off what they’ve got. And they’ve got a lot of it.
Michael Jai White plays George Chambers, a former heavyweight fighter who had been sentenced to prison for an alleged rape in the first film, at that time played by Ving Rhames in the first film. That will be the last time I mention the previous film, as it doesn’t hold the jock strap of this one. Anyway, after getting out of prison he finds himself in Russia with his agent trying to get a gig making commercials for Russian Vodka. Right off the bat you won’t like Chambers as he’s really a self-absorbed asshole whose star flamed out the moment he went to prison. Enter Gaga, a fight promoter who makes tons of Scrooge McDuck cash running an underground martial art tournament featuring prison inmates, but he’s running into a problem. The current champion, Yuri Boyka (Scott Adkins) is a one man wrecking crew, annihilating every opponent he faces, which is no drama, and no drama means no betting. Gaga has a great idea, at least on paper. He sends men to Chambers’ hotel room to plant heroin in his luggage, and then start a fight the room to get the police to show up, and they do, and before long Chambers finds himself in a stank Russian prison, and his only way out is through Gaga, who owns the police and the prison warden. Gaga will only release Chambers if he fights Gaga in the ring. After a series of contentious run-ins with Boyka, who views himself as a fighter to be compared to the greats, Chambers and Boyka meet in the ring to decide who is the Undisputed champion, but there might be more at stake than Chambers thinks…
Isaac Florentine is a martial artist himself, and cut his teeth doing episodes of the Power Rangers (just like Steve Wang with Drive. Man, the guys working on that show were just busting at the seams to see some real martial arts!) and professed to be a lover of HK cinema, and it does show. His camera work keep things lively, but doesn’t quick edit and shows everything in a wide-screen, so that heaven forbid you can actually see the full movements of the fighters. While a low budget film, it doesn’t look that way. It looks just as good as any Steven Seagal or Van Damme film at the height of their heyday.
No matter how good Florentine is, it would be but for naught if not for his stars. Michael Jai White has been in and around Hollywood for years, mainly as an actor, and the only starring role he got was in the dreadful superhero flick Spawn. He had to go to Hong Kong to get into a decent martial arts flick, the Michelle Yeoh film Silverhawk. He seems to have taken his career into his own hands, and is blazing his own path through the martial arts film world, and this movie jumpstarted him. I honestly think Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with him. A really big black guy who is faster and more agile than anyone his size has a right to be, a fantastic martial artist trained in a few Karate and Kung-Fu styles, and to boot a good actor with a razor sharp mind (believe it or not he used to be a high school teacher!). He brings a brashness and arrogant attitude to Chambers, and is convincing later in the film as Chambers starts to learn about caring for his fellow man, and finds his attitudes changing for the better.
But every good hero needs his villian, and you’ll find none better than Bokya, a stone cold man who will beat a man down one moment and then go into deep prayer in church the next. Scott Adkins plays an imposing man, even though he’s not as big as White. Adkins has also cut his teeth in Hollywood as a stuntman, getting his butt kicked by the likes of JCVD and Hugh Jackman, and believe me after you see this film you’ll know what kind of fantasy that concept is. Adkins is an amazing English-born martial artist, gifted with both speed and grace, accentuated with stunning acrobatic movements. When you see this film you’ll know that Tony Jaa ain’t the only one who can do those somersault kicks. Both men know how to fight in the style of Hong Kong films, and are guided well by JJ Perry. You might also catch Ben Cross as the weasely cellmate of Chambers. He played Spock’s Dad in the new Star Trek film.
Those involved wanted to make a good martial art fight film, and succeeded wildly in doing so. Their subsequent films are a testament to that, and show us perhaps the future of American martial art films…
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)
CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) JJ Perry does a good job here staging the fights. The final fight between Chambers and Boyka is fantastic.
STUNTS: (7) The stunt work is well done, especially during the training sequences. The guys came to work, and work they did.
STAR POWER: (8) Michael Jai White and Scott Adkins really stake their claim in this film as this would propel them into better ones. Florentine directs and Scott Adkins reprises his role as Bokya in Undisputed 3, and the film won best honors at the Actionfest film festival in North Carolina this past year.
FINAL GRADE: (8) This is a great beginning for White, Adkins and Florentine. They are great working together, and they have more films out and more on the way. Even if they never break out in a big budget martial arts film, they seem to have usurped the DTV crown from Seagal and Van Damme.