8.23.2016

Force: Five (1981)

PLOT: A group of elite fighters must infiltrate the fortress of a religious nutjob to save the daughter of a U.S. senator. Luckily, there’s a key-holder that looks like a rock right near the entrance.

Director: Robert Clouse
Writer: Robert Clouse, Emil Farkas, George Goldsmith
Cast: Joe Lewis, Sonny Barnes, Richard Norton, Benny Urquidez, Pam Huntington, Bong Soo Han, Ron Hayden, Mel Novak, Michael Prince, Bob Schott


 

PLOT THICKENER

There is a heavily documented rumor that Joe Lewis was Bruce Lee’s first choice to play the part of “Colt” in The Way of the Dragon. Lewis didn’t agree to the role -- there may have even been a personal falling out involved -- but he was ultimately replaced with Chuck Norris, who went on to a fine b-film career and meme-worthy legend. Some fans of the action film genre will look upon this rumor and conclude that had the film been produced as it was originally planned, Joe Lewis would have become every bit the action star as Norris, if not better, given his good looks and decent acting chops. There’s just one problem with this perspective. Joe Lewis did not like any of his martial arts films. He did not enjoy working with action directors. I am not entirely sure he enjoyed acting, but he definitely hated Hollywood. This means that he almost certainly did not like Force: Five, the 1981 film in which he starred, nor was it likely that he enjoyed working with the film’s director, Robert Clouse, who also directed what is arguably the greatest martial arts film in cinema history, Enter the Dragon. I am here to tell you that it is perfectly acceptable to enjoy Force: Five, even if its star abhorred it and the very industry which made it possible.


The 1970s and early 80s were a time of spiritual awakening in Western culture, in which a number of New Age movements rose to prominence as alternatives to conventional religion. The “World Church” of Reverend Rhee (Han) is an isolated group of idealists. Members all wear the same plain white garb adorned with a bullhead patch. Known as the “Palace of Celestial Tranquility,” their home base has all the markings of a peaceful paradise. Members can be observed playing volleyball or creating pottery when they’re not attending the Reverend’s lectures, snoozing in a tent, or being tortured with needles by the Reverend and his guards. Wait, what?


In this paradise, not all is as it seems. The Church’s headquarters are located on a remote island “free from intervention from any government.” Its followers are mostly young people from wealthy families and are obligated to pledge all material possessions (i.e., inheritances) to the good Reverend’s cause. While Rhee is adored by his Church followers, he is deplored by outsiders. The latest attempt on his life is met with swift retribution, as the would-be assassin (Novak) is poked for information (literally!) before being set free in an underground maze where he discovers that the Church’s symbolic emblem isn’t just a fashion statement. His benefactor, William Stark (Prince), is the veritable thorn in the Reverend’s side. Even after Rhee’s henchmen irreparably broke both his legs, Stark continued his efforts to disrupt what he believes is a dangerous cult.

Following the failure of his amateur hitman, Stark tries a different approach: hire martial artist, Jim Martin (Lewis), give him the resources he needs, and get the hell out of the way. The debonair fighter requests five “very special people” for a mission to spring the daughter of a U.S. senator from Rhee’s death grip and bring the cult down once and for all. And by “special people,” we’re talking about characters with traits ready-made for quick introductions in an action movie trailer. Billy Ortega (Urquidez) is the martial artist with kicks nearly as fast as his mouth! Lockjaw (Barnes) is a powerhouse with the strength of ten men! Ezekiel (Norton) is the fighting gambler you don’t bet against! Laurie (Huntington) is all brains and blonde fury! Willard (Hayden) is … well, he can fly a helicopter. If you’ve lost count, this crew is comprised of six people. Again, the title of this film is Force: Five.


Made a full eight years after his classic Enter the Dragon, the film finds Clouse during a declining phase in his directorial powers. It’s a weird thing to say that the director of perhaps the greatest English-language martial arts film of all time never made another great martial arts film, but facts are facts. The films that followed, especially his 1980s output, comprise a minefield of wacky qualities. He put live Daschunds in rat costumes for the 1982 rodent horror Deadly Eyes, tried to make combat gymnastics happen with 1985’s Gymkata, and expected people to pay money to see Jackie Chan walk from a car to a restaurant in 1980’s Battle Creek Brawl. In light of these films, the premise of Force: Five -- where a small group of fighting experts must infiltrate a religious cult to rescue the daughter of a U.S. senator and oh, by the way, avoid a man-killing bull who roams a hidden maze -- starts to look mundane by comparison. A cinematic manifesto against religious freedom? Progressive multicultural-men-on-a-mission action storytelling? A cautionary tale against keeping wild bulls indoors? Nah. It’s probably best to watch this breezy 96 minutes without searching for any deep meaning or critical statements from an auteur. Just call it solid low-budget action filmmaking.


Clouse does what he can to make this film interesting by giving each of the heroes a short introductory showcase before they come together. He keeps the story moving at a brisk pace with different flavors of action set-pieces: motorcycle chases, bar fights, prison breaks, etc. The fighters are great -- Norton and Urquidez in particular look good -- and the situations are occasionally interesting, but the execution in the fight scenes isn’t always there. Like the film on the whole, the action is solid and mostly enjoyable but not especially memorable. Richard Norton mowed some dudes down with water from a prison fire hose. Water as a weapon is usually cool.

VERDICT

Force: Five works well as a men-(and-woman)-on-a-mission action film. There’s a determined group of unique characters with different fighting styles, a fearsome force of evil, and a remote lair inundated with dangerous bells and whistles. It’s not a great vehicle for Joe Lewis, though he is perfectly fine in his role. Nor is it a very good showcase for the non-distinct stylings of Robert Clouse, though it might reside in the upper tier of his filmography. It’s a solid effort that won’t leave you breathless but can knock the wind out of you on occasion.

AVAILABILITY

Amazon, Netflix, eBay.

 4 / 7

 

7.13.2016

Dragon Hunt (1990)

PLOT: Twin kickboxers fight for their lives as an army of misfit mercenaries attempts to hunt them down in the harsh Canadian wilderness. While the flannel is optional, moustaches are required.

Director: Charlie Wiener
Writers: Michael McNamara
Cast: Martin McNamara, Michael McNamara, B. Bob, Sheryl Foster, Heidi Romano, Curtis Bush, Ed Tyson, Charles Ambrose




PLOT THICKENER

There's a memorable scene in the 1993 action vehicle Back in Action that finds Billy Blanks's hero character fighting off an identical pair of mustachioed, Zubaz pants-wearing goofs of athletic build and below-average height. "Who ARE those dudes?!" I recall blurting out within the safety of my own stupid brain. It was only a few hours later that I discovered that these particular dudes were Michael (Mick) and Martin McNamara, Canada's own "Twin Dragons." (Ha! Take that, Jackie!) Not only had the twins made a successful living as martial arts instructors in their native country and promoted kickboxing matches all over the world, but they produced three of their own films where they were the stars. 1990's Dragon Hunt, a quasi-sequel-ish follow-up to their debut in 1986's Twin Dragon Encounter, promised double the action, double the facial hair, and approximately eight times the vanity as their first film.


In what one can only assume is an autobiographical tale, the McNamara brothers play twin Canadian kickboxing instructors named Martin and Mick. A twisted creep with a metal hand by the name of Jake (Bob) leads his private army -- er, the People's Private Army -- in framing the twins in a cruise boat hijacking. This act is not entirely without cause, as we observe via flashback that Jake is a previously vanquished adversary who lost his hand in a prior encounter of the Twin Dragon variety. If that's not bad enough, Jake contracts two attractive ladies -- played by Sheryl Foster and Heidi Romano, respectively -- to court the twins and lure them to a secluded island under the guise of a getaway vacation. Before long, the twins are captured by Jake and forced to act as prey in his own twisted version of a most dangerous game. His gang has used every method available to them, up to and including placing ads in "all the mercenary, hunting, and martial arts magazines" in order to find the best hunters, killers, and poachers in the world to hunt the twins down for a $250,000 (CAD) prize. Jake's mercenaries include expert trappers, whiteboy ninjas,  a "beastmaster" in a cowboy hat (Tyson) who owns a furry dog, and a lot of guys with terrible haircuts. The only arbitrary rule: no guns allowed. (Until the climax). Can the twins survive in the Canadian wilderness with the deck stacked against them? Will Jake get his ultimate revenge? Can the cast and crew manage only one restroom among them (per co-star Curtis Bush)?


Let’s get this out of the way: the heroes McNamara are total jerks in this film. At the start of their vacation with their lady friends, one twin snaps a girl’s bra strap while another twin mimes humping the back of the other girl’s head. While driving a boat, one twin pours a perfectly good beer all over one of the gals while she's sitting down and minding her business. The first fatal strike they make against Jake’s army is killing the Beastmaster’s dog instead of the goons for hire. Later in the film, they chase an enemy through the woods while taunting him about his weight. Maybe skull-humping, body-shaming dog murderers are celebrated as heroes in some parts of the world, but not in my house.


As the ruthless gang leader, Jake, B. Bob is both the best and worst thing about the film. His visual look strikes the right balance between loud-mouthed 1980s wrestling manager and walk-on extra in an Italian post-apocalyptic b-movie. His gruff, stilted dialogue ("trained assassins -- ruthless, fanatical, I LIKE THEM") is frequently hilarious and his incessant screaming is appropriate to match the campy tone of the film. However, his constant reliance on reciting fight songs and modified nursery rhymes is grating and not especially funny. If you thought the songs in City Dragon were an insult to the musical form, Jake's improvisations might be regarded as a cultural war crime. A certain segment of the viewing population will be entertained by these segments, and I want nothing more than for these people to fall victim to violent spasms of diarrhea while sitting in traffic.


The action builds in intensity and scale the way it should in genre action films -- Dragon Hunt gets this part mostly right. The rustic trap setting (a la First Blood) becomes more elaborate, the kills get more gruesome, and the firepower becomes louder and more frequent. The major misstep amidst all of this, though, is having two martial artists as stars and not featuring them in more than a couple of fights. Who do we have to blame for this oversight? The star martial artists themselves. One scene finds a twin battling a crossbow-wielding Curtis Bush -- the only other verifiable martial artist in the film, by my estimation -- but it's short-lived and a bit bland. The climax sees the twins deploying every weapon in their arsenal, punches and kicks included, but the fight is dogged by slo-mo and lacks any interesting exchanges or combinations. Instead of going with relative strengths -- actual fighting -- the McNamara twins oddly chose the more "Eighties!" option of traps and guns. This was the film's biggest weakness and a baffling decision when you consider the personnel.

VERDICT

Dragon Hunt is the second in three self-made McNamara films, and regardless of what you think of them from a quality perspective, you have to admire the gusto of the twins' effort. At the the end of the day, though, this story is derivative, the acting ranges from stiff to goofy, and the action isn't executed well enough to counteract the missteps in other areas. An odd, occasionally entertaining curiosity.

AVAILABILITY

The only official copies never made it beyond VHS, so eBay and Amazon are your best bet. Occasional do-gooders have uploaded it to YouTube.

2.5 / 7

6.14.2016

A Dangerous Place (1994)

PLOT: A teenage martial artist is thrown into a world of theft and risky behavior while investigating the death of his older brother. Will he find out the truth? And what sorts of cool swag will he accumulate in the process?

Director: Jerry P. Jacobs
Writer: Sean Dash
Cast: Ted Jan Roberts, Corey Feldman, Marshall Teague, William James Jones, Erin Gray, Mako, Dean Cochran, Jason Majik, Erin Gray




PLOT THICKENER

The 1984 film The Karate Kid had a lot going for it. Pat Morita was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as Mr. Miyagi. It featured a charming teenage protagonist with tangible, relatable problems. It set the blueprint for high school gangs of martial arts meatheads. But you know what The Karate Kid movie was missing? A murder subplot! That’s the dropped ball that director Jerry P. Jacobs tried to pick up with 1994’s A Dangerous Place. That ball is covered in blood and pomade from Corey Feldman’s pompador.

Ethan (Roberts) and Greg (Cochran) are two teenage brothers living with their single mom, Audrey (Gray). One might expect the younger Ethan to be the troublemaker when, in fact, it’s Greg who finds himself hanging out with the wrong crowd. As of late, he’s been skipping karate class at the Lions dojo to hang out with the Scorpions gang, a group of suburban karate street toughs led by Taylor (Feldman). The crew goes on joy rides during random weeknights, stealing cars, dirt bikes, electronics, and whatever else catches their eyes -- they run wild with impunity and look cool doing it. (“How come all the best looking girls in school hang out with the Scorpions?") Because they have dirt bikes and nice televisions. Duh!


While Greg hangs with them socially and has represented them in illicit sunset beach fights, he’s not quite a “made” member of the group. After coaxing him into a night-time domestic burglary, the Scorpions turn on Greg when he has a crisis of conscience mid-act. During a physical struggle, Greg gets maced, falls down a flight of stairs, and dies accidentally. How do Taylor and his impressionable friends with behavioral problems respond? If you answered, “they report the accident and serve their time,” you win a prize! The prize is immaculately wrapped and decorated with ribbons. You tear the wrapping paper off to reveal a gift box. The box contains a framed picture of Greg’s prone body hanging from the basketball net at the high school gymnasium. Yep -- these pricks staged his death to look like a suicide. Enjoy your prize, by the way.


Ethan refuses to believe the circumstances surrounding his brother’s death. What about his bike? Never recovered. What about the bruises on his body? Unexplained. Against the wishes of his Sensei (Mako) he wants to infiltrate the gang to find out the truth about that fateful night. He first brawls with a Scorpion member in the cafeteria during lunch to demonstrate his toughness. He slowly befriends the most sympathetic Scorpion member, Eddie (Jones). Finally, he shows up to the Scorpions’ dojo to spar, and later arranges a competitive fight between the Lions and Scorpions to win the approval of the wicked Sensei (and English teacher) Gavin Smith (Teague).


This was my first foray into the action film career of Ted Jan Roberts and while I’m nearly two decades beyond the targeted demographic for this film, I can say that 12-year-old me would think he was pretty cool shit. He’s sort of like Daniel Larusso with Cali mall swagger in place of New Jersey wisecracking. A Jonathan Taylor Thomas with karate skills, if you will. His on-screen fighting is solid and believable, and in a post-Ernie Reyes/Kane Kosugi world, that’s all you can ask out of an adolescent martial arts film star. In terms of screen presence, he’s perfectly fine for this material and the filmmakers wisely avoid the trappings of any sustained emotive drama. Ethan is angry and inquisitive, not depressed and weepy. It’s a bit unnatural since these family members barely react to the sudden death of a brother and son, but this is a movie about teenage karate vengeance, not therapy sessions and brooding introspection.


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the contributions of Corey Feldman as the treacherous Taylor. It would have been simple to follow the blueprint of Billy Zabka as Johnny Lawrence in the Karate Kid and play him as a volatile, testesterone-fueled jerk. Instead, he portrays Taylor as sleazy and calculating. Feldman’s fighting technique doesn’t match the skills that his character’s black-belt rank might suggest -- do you really buy his lethal mastery of eagle claw? -- but fight choreographer Art Camacho makes it work regardless. His character’s cold unpredictability and absence of fear of consequences is what makes him tick. Throw in an out-of-time greasy pompador hair style and an everyday affection for black fingerless gloves, and he’s a weirdly memorable 1990s martial arts douchebag.

VERDICT

A Dangerous Place has Corey Feldman popping wheelies on a dirtbike across a baseball field during live game-play while wearing a red gi and black fingerless gloves. What more do you want? Run out and impulsively put some discretionary income down on this film, like the foolish, emotionally distraught teenager you never were.

AVAILABILITY

Amazon, eBay.

4 / 7


5.18.2016

Hard Justice (1995)

PLOT: A grief-ridden ATF agent goes undercover as a prison inmate to find his partner’s killers. Will he have time to close the case between shower beatings, prison yard basketball games, and the gastrointestinal issues caused by cafeteria slop?

Director: Greg Yaitanes
Writer: Scott Nicholas Amendolare, Chris Bold
Cast: David Bradley, Yuji Okumoto, Charles Napier, Vernon Wells, Jim Maniaci, Benita Telles, Clabe Hartley, Alon Stivi





PLOT THICKENER

Almost nothing in life is easy. Not microwaveable macaroni and cheese (I own a toaster oven). Not Sunday morning (what if you have a hangover)? And certainly not the year 1995; if you want proof, a whopping five films containing the word “hard” were released. One of them was Hard Justice -- a film that combines the directorial chops of Greg Yaitanes, Hong Kong-style action pieces, 40% of the plot from Van Damme’s Death Warrant, and American Ninjalumni David Bradley. “How can I handle all these awesome things at once?” you ask, crying in your microwaveable macaroni and cheese. What -- you thought justice would be easy? Ha! Justice is hard, dummy.

Nick Adams (Bradley), is an ATF agent hot on the heels of gun-running jerkwad Jimmy Wong (Okumoto). After a sting operation goes chaotic, Nick and company are able to bring Wong into custody, but the hostage at the center of their confrontation loses her life. To make matters worse, ATF gal-pal Hannah (Telles) informs Nick that his partner, Manny -- an agent working undercover as an “inmate” in the state penitentiary --  has been knifed to death by unknown assailants. Fueled by guilt, he demands that Chief Dickerson (Hartley) puts him on the same deep cover assignment so that he can root out Manny’s killers.


Once inside, Nick’s struggle to survive is all too real. He becomes fast friends with his rapey cellmate, Mr. Clean (Maniaci), but only after a brutal slug-fest for claim to the top bunk that ends with a discovery of their shared Marine Corps credentials. Nick’s fresh meat status also attracts the unwanted attention of Warden Pike (Napier) and his vicious subordinates. The beatings come swiftly, and due to his anti-authority posturing, his stays in solitary confinement are frequent. As Nick begins to uncover a deadly plot within the prison walls, his old nemesis Wong begins his sentence, and he alone can reveal Nick’s true identity and potentially turn everyone against him.


This film was the tits. The bee's knees. The manatee’s balls. Whatever anatomical euphemism you have for things you find awesome will be uttered during the film’s lean 88-minute runtime. I wrote down the phrase “Hard Justice ain’t fuckin around” four separate times in my viewing notes. While I’d always heard in b-movie action circles that this was not just David Bradley’s best film, but also one of the best action b-movies of the DTV era, I was still surprised by how much I dug it. A big reason for that is the pacing and the plot elements, which Yaitanes juggles well to keep the viewer engaged in what’s happening on the screen. He strikes the right balance between dialogue to move the story forward, and action scenes that help to raise the stakes for the characters.

And those scenes are quite fantastic. From a stylistic standpoint, the action is fun in that melting pot sort of way, when American productions shamelessly ape the blueprints that 1980s Hong Kong flicks provided for both martial arts fights and brainless Western-style shoot-outs. The opening scene of the film owes a lot to the first warehouse gunfight in John Woo’s 1992 film, Hard Boiled, with Nick dropping into the scenery like Chow Yun-fat, and concludes with enough spent shotgun casings to fill a swimming pool. (This is not a complaint; it was a great way to kick off the film). Until the gun-crazy climax, the prison is the backdrop for a number of fights featuring hand-to-hand combat. For me, there were two big stand-outs. Nick and Mr. Clean have their epic disgruntled roommate throw-down and later on, Adams has a brawl in the shower with a gang of thugs that finds him using a towel to counteract their over-aggressive strikes. Does his own towel remain firmly in place despite constant, violent movement? Perhaps to the disappointment of Bradley fangirls and fanboys everywhere, it does.


The supporting cast here was spot-on, with colorful and occasionally strange characters. I could watch Napier bark at subordinates pretty much all day, and he has an especially hammy line while firing twin uzis during a prison riot that had me rolling. Vernon Wells is in prime check-cashing form as the barely lucid prison sage with a Mike Tyson face tattoo, Galaxy 500. Yuji Okumoto, who most will remember as Chozen from the Karate Kid II, is dastardly in that fun movie villain sort of way -- you can tell he’s having a ball in his role. Even the faces I didn’t know were convincing in their characters. Jim Maniaci is amazing as Mr. Clean. Clabe Hartley is an actor about whom I know very little, but he’s apparently moved on from his acting career to work as a successful restaurateur in Venice, California. Somewhat famously, he was involved in separate violent altercations at his restaurant with homeless locals in 2015 -- one bit off part of his finger, and another, just six months later, concussed him with a chair. Who knew the L.A. restaurant business was more dangerous than a David Bradley action movie?

VERDICT

Before I watched Hard Justice, I thought I had all the answers. That I’d already had my fill of chopsocky prison films. That another Charles Napier prison warden role was one too many. That I didn’t need Vernon Wells adorned in a bad face tattoo with a name ripped off from a Boston-based dream-pop band. Hard Justice showed me how bitter and close-minded I had become as an action movie fan. It's over-the-top in a way that so few action films attempt at all, and it bears its influences without a whiff of self-awareness. Very hard recommend.

AVAILABILITY

Netflix, Amazon, eBay.

6 / 7


4.27.2016

Fists of Iron (1995)

PLOT: A single dad with an engineering degree who works as an auto mechanic decides to pursue underground kickboxing after his friend is killed. Will his drunken has-been trainers teach him enough to avoid a similar fate?

Director: Richard W. Munchkin
Writers: Sean Dash
Cast: Michael Worth, Marshall Teague, Sam Jones, Eric Lee, Matthias Hues, Jenilee Harrison, Nicholas Hill, Lelagi Togisala, Michael DeLano, Art Camacho, Nick Koga


 

PLOT THICKENER 

Recent reports indicate that nearly half of college graduates got their first job outside their field of study. Taking a longer view, around one-third of college graduates will never work in the field in which they pursued their degree. I myself went to school for alternative medicine and now I work in the legal field. Hmm, or did I go to school and partake in self-medicating which wasn’t legal? It’s all a bit foggy (much like my dorm room at the time). The central character in 1995’s Fists of Iron may have wasted his college years by getting some newfangled engineering degree, but his job as an auto mechanic gives him enough money to live on the beach (in a mobile home), drink like a connoisseur (at a dive bar), and buy expensive clothes (baggy silk shirts and suspenders). Take that, higher education!

Dale (Worth) is the young and single father to an adolescent daughter. Things with his ex-lady didn’t work out, but Dale is a stand-up guy who made sacrifices to give his daughter a stable environment. He sold a business to help put his ex and his daughter in a proper home, while he lives the dream of residing in a mobile home on the beach like Riggs in Lethal Weapon. He makes his living as an ace mechanic during the day, and spends many of his evenings at a local watering hole with his best friend, Matt (Hill), getting into skirmishes with drunken riffraff. While attending a kickboxing event at the sprawling estate of a local fight promoter, the devious Peter Gallagher (Teague), Dale playfully reminds his pal of all the fighting he’s done on his behalf. Matt’s pride gets the better of him, and when a $2,000 open challenge to survive two minutes with Gallagher’s prized monster Victor Bragg (Hues) is announced, Matt is the first to throw his name in the hat. Surprisingly, he lasts the requisite 120 seconds and takes the cash prize home, but not without cuts, lumps, and internal bleeding to go along with it.


While recouping on the beach outside of Dale’s house, Matt succumbs to his injuries during a nap. Furious and filled with remorse over the death of his childhood friend, Dale does what anyone would do: he goes to the bar to get drunk. While there, he fends off a disgruntled customer from his car garage and then confronts two old-timers who were purportedly once fighters but now like to cut loose and observe instead of engage: Daniel (Lee) and Tyler (Jones). Dale asks them for their help so he can take on Gallagher and his fighters, but they rebuke this silly notion, and Tyler even stops Dale’s punch bare-handed when the young upstart gets frustrated. Because this is a 1990s kickboxing film, this resistance only lasts for about another 10 minutes. Before you know it, the pair of former fighters are instilling their wisdom in a fresh young fighter who’s gifted, as Tyler puts it, with “an iron fist.”


Due to this being such a cookie-cutter subgenre, I was prepared to hit the snooze button on this but was surprised at how much I enjoyed the film. The hero is sympathetic given his circumstances, Marshall Teague plays a terrific and dickish villain in Gallagher, and Sam Jones and Eric Lee have great chemistry with each other and with their trainee. This is one of those cases where a film becomes more than the sum of its parts because the performances are spot-on, and there's some humor peppered throughout to make these characters relatable. Sure, there are missteps. All of Gallagher’s fighters are dressed up in the most unintimidating K-Mart-level ring gear I’ve ever seen. It really undercuts the brutality of the monstrous Victor Bragg when he’s dressed in the same loose, star-print pants and matching cut-off sweatshirt that my mom used to wear to her aerobics class. The screenwriter went a bit too heavy on exposition-heavy dialogue at times, leading to some clunky, unnatural exchanges between characters. But when a movie features a line as unabashedly 1990s as “see the girls in the flowered vests to place your bets,” it’s hard not to jump on the bandwagon despite some flaws.



In an odd bit of serendipity, we’ve now covered consecutive films featuring actresses from the television show, Dallas. Jenilee Harrison -- who famously replaced Suzanne Somers on Three’s Company and played Jamie Ewing on Dallas -- appears here as a love interest to the story’s hero, much like her Dallas colleague Charlene Tilton did in Deadly Bet (see prior post). The tangled web doesn’t stop weaving there! The actress who replaced Harrison on Three’s Company, Priscilla Barnes, appeared in Talons of the Eagle as -- who would have guessed it? -- the hero’s love interest. Before he appeared in the Kickboxer sequels as David Sloane, Sasha Mitchell played the illegitimate son of J.R. Ewing on Dallas. Andrew Stevens -- who co-starred with Karen Sheperd in Blood Chase and directed Don Wilson in Virtual Combat -- played a hustler working for J.R. Ewing. Will the chopsocky film connections to Dallas ever end? More likely, it will puzzle and enthrall researchers for centuries.


Fight choreographer Art Camacho and director Richard Munchkin have worked together eight times, starting with 1991’s Ring of Fire and ending in 2004 in one of those hilarious chimpanzee action films. Either as a result of their cinematic chemistry or the efforts of a crafty second unit director, the fight scenes in Fists of Iron look quite good. Fighters' heads and the punches that hit them snap with intensity. Just about every fight is lively, with striking and countering combinations that make sense. Different fighters have distinctive styles and their abilities are showcased by camera angles that allow the choreography to breathe. Worth’s character tests his mettle against a variety of fighting mini-bosses, all the way up to his climactic fight with Hues’s heavy-hitting behemoth. Their match is fairly entertaining while still maintaining some semblance of believability -- the strategic advice dispensed by Dale’s teachers is actually deployed in the fight itself (and by extension, the choreography) and all too often, films fail to stick to this formula. Combine that with plenty of cutaway shots to people in the crowd dressed in the finest threads this era had to offer, and I’m a happy viewer.

VERDICT

Some will gloss over the plot of Fists of Iron and conclude, “another post, another kickboxing tournament film,” and they wouldn’t be wrong. The main difference between this film from many others with a similar story, is that this film has a lot of heart. It also has a bruised spleen, broken ribs, and cauliflower ear. The fight scenes are fun, the dynamic between the hero and his teachers is entertaining, and the film has some of the most amazingly weird underground fight tournament crowd shots I’ve ever seen. Dig it.

AVAILABILITY

Amazon, eBay.

4.5 / 7

 

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