Starring: Mark Dacascos, Stacey Travis, Geoffrey Lewis, Paco Christian Prieto, Frank Dux
Fight Choreography by Frank Dux and Paco Christian Prieto
Directed by Sheldon Lettich
Some of the best martial arts films out there are the ones that center around a particular style like Drunken Master, Ip Man, Hapkido, and the Master of Ballroom Dancing (Just kidding ). The dynamic style of Brazilian Capoeira is so awesome to see on screen that surely someone would have made it into a film. Well, thanks to Sheldon Lettich (Double Impact, Lionheart) we have that, and a proper introduction to one Mark Dacascos. So how does the film hold up?
Pretty damn good, I’m actually sad to say, but more on that later.
Mark plays Louis Stevens, an ex-marine skilled in the art of Capoeira, returns to him home in Miami and to the school he graduated from to find that gangs are as bad as ever, and the kids are going downhill fast. He teams up with his friend and former mentor Kerrigan (Lewis) and creates a program to teach the worst kids in the school the martial art of Capoeira. Louis is even able to reconnect with an old girlfriend, Dianna, who now teaches at the school. Louis has trouble with the kids at first, but then begins to get through to them, but this brings Louis head to head with Silverio (Prieto), the marble-mouthed leader of a local Brazilian drug gang, whose nephew is one of Louis’ students. Silverio is an expert in Capoeira, and before long Louis must save his friends and the neighborhood from Silverio once and for all…
The basic story of the film isn’t much different from films like The Principal, The Substitute and Dangerous Minds, with a group of thugs turned into good kids by a traveling hero who must reconcile a past relationship, and of course one of the more sympathetic kids must get killed so the hero and the other kids and rally at the end for the finale. This in no way hampers the fun. Mark Dacascos is great as Louis, and has the right amount of naiveté and heart. Prieto, whom I found hard to understand, did a great job as Silverio, bringing a lot of menace to the screen. The kids were decent, and ranged from ok to pretty good. The music used, is just all kinds of awesome, and I find myself humming some of them, especially the “remix” of the tune Louis brings with him.
The fight choreography is actually pretty good, with the fights brought to us by Frank Dux, he of Bloodsport (he’s in the film as the helmeted fighter in the garage fight scene), and Prieto, and their combination gives some really great Capoeira fights (the beginning and end displays are awesome) and the fight between Silverio and Louis is done fairly well. The camerawork is plain and the editing is basic, in the style of all late 80’s-early 90’s American martial art films, but that can sometimes help as it’s far better than the MTV-style edited-to-hell-and-back fight scenes that come down the pike in the late 90‘s to this day.
The sadness I mentioned earlier is that no one has really made a better Capoeira film than Only The Strong. It’s still the best!
Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8.5
Mark Dacascos in his first starring role does a great job, and successfully showcases the exciting art of Brazilian Capoeira!