8.28.2015

4 Items You Must Have In Your Wardrobe to Survive an American Martial Arts Movie

Ever found yourself in a situation where your brother is mercilessly crippled by a vicious Taiwanese mad man during a kickboxing match? Or maybe your brother was murdered by a kickboxing expert as a part of an underground martial arts-inspired snuff film ring? Maybe you’re simply just stuck battling a cyborg army in the near future? Whatever the case may be, before you seek out that quirky elderly martial arts master in the hopes that he’ll train you to defeat your foes, it’s extremely important to be dressed for the part. You are, after all, in an American Martial Arts movie.

Here are a few items to set you on the right path:


Something VERY American

This is the perfect way to start off your ensemble, as it’s easily the most versatile fashion choices one can make. Whether it be a jacket, a gi, a pair of Zubaz, a headband, an iron-on patch, or any combination of the above, wearing something with an American flag design is a MUST if you want to survive an American Martial Arts film. This is especially true if your film has “American” in the title.


Denim Denim DENIM!

From pairing up jeans with snake skin boots to – and this is more for the ladies – a pair of cut offs complemented by a black leather belt and construction boots, denim works in an endless number of ways. 

For men wearing a pair of jeans, shirts are optional. However, for those who want to play coy, a white tee works well. Just be sure it’s cotton, as cotton is easy to pull/tear off in the moments leading up to that battle with Matthias Hues. Or whoever. Further complimenting the white tee and jeans look, try a brown bomber jacket, as there really is no other outfit quite as trusty. Unless, however, you opt to go the full-Canadian tuxedo route, which is certainly advisable, especially when rockin’ a pair of snake skins.


A Tank Top/Zubaz Combo

Tank tops and Zubaz are like pb&j: you can’t have one without the other. And quite frankly, you’ll need both to get passed that VR Cyber-kickboxer who just found his way into the real world and is looking to wreak havok. 

The great thing about this combo is that it works for any body type. If you’re a bit sloppy, you can go for the loose fitting tank paired with a pair of Zubaz, which serves as a great way to hide that dad bod you got going below deck. On the other hand, if you’re fit as a fiddle and rock a bod worthy of worship, you can go with a tight tank. The Zubaz remain the same, however, as they look good on all body types.

On an important side note, to complete this look, go for a nice white sneaker, preferably a high-top. Alternatively, a wrestling shoe will work, especially if you’re the meat and potatoes type of martial arts fighter.


Something “Asian”

Trained in the skills of Ninjitsu? At some point, you’re going to have to show your legitimacy by busting out the ninja uniform to show the roots of your training. That, or so no one can tell it's not you when you break into the ninja compound and "suddenly" have the acrobatic skills of Mary Lou Retton.

Have a special ancient amulet passed on to you by your Sensei? Well, you’re gonna need it, especially because you’ll have to stare at it intensely before firmly grasping it with one hand as you head out to exact revenge on your misguided step-brother who took it upon himself to murder your sensei-turned-father-figure. It also looks fantastic paired up with the jeans, white t-shirt and bomber jacket outfit you’re likely wearing by this point. Just be sure to wear it OVER the shirt.

These and other such items are perfect for showing your connection to the martial arts as well as demonstrating that your true warrior spirit transcends the fact that you’re a Caucasian.

-Matt-suzaka

8.20.2015

10 Chopsocky Villains to Watch Right Now

As we look back on five years of amazing, ridiculous, and hilarious chopsocky film, it seemed prudent to take stock of the exceptional performances from the overlooked side of equation: the villains. Any action aficionado worth his or her salt knows that a hero is only as good as the villain opposing them, and the best martial arts b-movies tend to have memorable villain performances. Because listicles are appropriately journalistic and not divisive click-bait, here are ten villains to watch: actors who definitely got the memo, characters who fed the fires of conflict, and performers who kicked their way through our thoracic cavities and into our hearts.



10. Warbeck, Expect No Mercy
“In a role that was nearly offered to Gary Daniels, Wolf Larson is really entertaining as Warbeck. My general rule of thumb for martial arts b-movie villains is that they need to be presented as physical threats to the heroes, and their bad behavior needs to encompass more than just drug-dealing or being an old, rich, white guy. Not only does Warbeck get a climactic fight scene with one of the protagonists and provide a hammy YouTube-worthy rant, but his giant face is hung throughout the halls of the Academy campus as visual confirmation of his dickish megalomania.”



9. Craig Tanner, College Kickboxers
“While the mentor and lead characters are indeed likable, I found the film’s most memorable character to be Craig Tanner, who cements his spot in the pantheon of weirdly great American martial-arts villains. Despite a serious lack of fighting skills, Cohen owns the screen and proves that you don’t need to be a dumb skinhead to be a racist prick. His long, flowing mullet is among the most intense we’ve ever seen on film and were it not for his incredible overacting, it would easily be his best trait. While the White Tigers logo on his coat flaunts his gang affiliation, his fingerless leather gloves and leather pants with dangling chains scream ‘I just robbed the wardrobe rack on the set of Deadbeat at Dawn.’ Pairing such a unique look with an unforgettable performance is a huge factor for why this film ultimately works.”



8. Silverio, Only the Strong
“Few chopsocky villains have taken so much interest in accelerating urban decay in his city as the treacherous Silverio. A cross between Vega from Street Fighter II and pro wrestling’s Razor Ramon (even down to the colorful vests), he’s a despicable gang leader and capoeira badass without any redeemable qualities. Prieto didn’t do much after this other than a role in Street Law (we’ll cover it), but he’s terrific here. The character of Silverio is pretty much exactly what you want in a good b-movie chopsocky villain: he says ridiculous things, acts like a prick all the time, and dresses like a total asshole. Great hair, too!”



7. Yuri, No Retreat No Surrender 2
“The Soviet camp where Sulin is held captive is run by a brutal general named Yuri, played by Matthias Hues. In a display of cruelty, he challenges an injured prisoner to a fight and dangles the promise of freedom as incentive. After inflicting punishment in the form of internal bleeding, Yuri lets him limp towards the exit for about ten feet before shooting him in the leg and ass. He then throws him into a pit full of crocodiles. While laughing hysterically. Following this comical turn of events, he turns to Sulin and assures her that he won’t harm her. Hmmm.”



6. Loc Syn, Trained to Kill
“It’s impossible to discuss this film without highlighting Loc Syn, played by former Floridian kickboxing champion and Andy Sidaris favorite, Harold Diamond. A former military man by the name of Andrew Wilson, he went insane during his service, fell under the tutelage of Duran, and started calling himself Loc Syn for no reason other than it sounded cool and provided a 50% savings in syllables over his birth name. According to George, Syn’s mind ‘went south’ and he started killing for the pure fun of it. He’ll fill both hands with wakizashis while grinning madly, but would rather rip out your larynx barehanded or clench a shark tooth in his front teeth and slash your throat up close. To his credit, Loc Syn refuses to let his sociopathic tendencies dictate his sartorial choices. He wears an array of threads -- fedoras, steel-tipped cowboy boots, dark shades, and tank tops with designer blazers -- in letting his fashionable freak flag fly. That he has virtually no lines in the movie makes him all the more intimidating; he’s seated between diabetes and high-blood pressure at the table of silent killers.”



5. The Killer, Bloodmoon
“The nameless homicidal martial artist, played by Darren Shahlavi, is a practitioner of several fighting styles and as it turns out, many hobbies. Among other activities, we see him strolling through a park snapping photos and later, admiring the talent at the local nudie bar. But there’s one pastime that’s giving the NYPD absolute fits. Like, other than the murdering. It’s his robust set of advanced computer skills. He sends cryptic, taunting emails to the station. He livestreams a murder and sends them a link to watch. I would guess he’s pretty good at Quake too.”



4. Jason Slade, Honor and Glory
“John Miller really only had two big film roles in an otherwise brief career, but he should be thanking his lucky stars for the silver platter handed to him in Honor and Glory. He’s equipped with some of the best lines ever written for a martial arts villain. After Silk expresses his displeasure at Slade’s inclusion of an outside expert for their nuclear trigger deal, Slade coolly replies: ‘Do you know an atomic trigger from a Bulgarian dildo? Because I don't.’ Pressed both internally and externally to step down from his post during his company’s scandal, he repeatedly screams: ‘only death can retire Jason Slade!’ If you thought Warbeck from Expect No Mercy had the market cornered on megalomaniacal monologues in martial arts b-movies, think again. Slade reminds a second-guessing business associate that: ‘I have arrived at the top of the world. No man has control of more money. No man can fight me and live. No woman can share my bed and not be mine for life. I am like a god! I piss on you, from a great height.’ ”



3. Jacques Denard, American Kickboxer 1
“Despite his status as new champion, Denard doesn’t have a desire to be the best so much as he wants to be better than Quinn. He goes out of his way to antagonize him and his arrogant sense of entitlement is on full display throughout the film. He turns up to formal soirees in tank tops and ill-fitting pants, wears dark sunglasses during a court testimony, threatens kids seeking autographs, and even headbutts an innocent locker door. While all of this sufficiently characterizes Denard’s dickishness, Morris so thoroughly embraces the character’s traits that we can’t help but be entranced. Much of an audience’s hatred for a villain is set in motion by a single event but Denard is such a complete and utter asshole in everything he says and does that you legitimately want to see him beaten to death.”



2. Khan, King of the Kickboxers
“Why was she fleeing in the first place? Because an evil snuff film production company forced her into a hotel room rendezvous with Khan, their biggest star. Rather than subject herself to poorly acted martial artist sex, she smashed through a bathroom window and fled. This was apparently not an anomaly. It's widely-known that Khan has had a long streak of bad luck closing the deal. Even with sex slaves.”



1. Stingray, Undefeatable
“Stingray has mommy issues on steroids with a crystal meth chaser. The few flashbacks to his childhood allude to abandonment and while I’m not a psychiatrist, I’d guess this would lead to relationship trouble later in life. In the case of Stingray, I’m not sure how it led to a propensity for rape, murder, and eye-gouging, but hey -- different strokes, different folks. Don Niam really makes the Stingray character his own: he has a gloriously puffy mullet, plays scenes completely over the top, and is a decent enough martial artist to hold his own during fights.”

Who are your favorite villains, readers?

7.30.2015

Fight for Honor (1992)

PLOT: In order to improve her skills, a struggling martial arts student must dedicate her time to either her vapid booze-hound friends and her discouraging booze-hound mother, or a pizza delivery guy she hit with her car and may or may not contact her insurance company.

Director: Sam Um
Writer: Sam Um
Cast: Stacy Lundgren, C.K. Kim, M.G. Lee, Mark Kay, Stephen Wong, Bill Johnson





PLOT THICKENER
The act of tape scavenging -- or whatever VHS approximation on cratedigging the kids are calling it -- has changed dramatically over the past two decades. In the winter of 1994, I went into my local Blockbuster Video with a paper gift certificate and took a chance on a mysterious, early Jean Claude Van Damme movie. To say nothing of its poor acting and plentiful continuity errors, it ignited a life-long obsession with low-budget American chopsocky films and the joys of viewing those films with friends. 

In the spring of 2015, I traveled along a dirt road in the northeastern U.S. to comb over shelves in a massive shed full of used VHS tapes in the hopes of finding some gems. I purchased, in cash, a similarly unfamiliar movie in the hopes that it would invigorate a life-long obsession with low-budget American chopsocky films. That film was 1992’s Fight for Honor (aka Kickboxer Kid), which instantly earned the distinction of the most poorly documented film I’ve ever watched and reviewed.


Perhaps one of the reasons for its relative obscurity is its Texas origins. We’ve seen plenty of movies produced and based in California, New York, Seattle, the Philippines, and even Torontoyork City! These places were hotbeds for chopsocky activity. Austin, Texas, however, is known more for its lively music scene and DoubleDave’s Pizza than its martial arts film history. Add in a cast and crew of first-timers and an equally obscure distributor (York Entertainment) and you might see why it's been relegated to the VHS tape barns of history. 

Crystal (Lundgren) is a struggling taekwondo student. Her dedication is mocked by her friends and maligned by her mother. Her dojang master (Johnson) emphasizes competition victories over personal growth and self-esteem, which only bruises her ego more. Worse yet, a meathead classmate (Kay) sexually harasses her on the regular. 


Min-Suk (Kim) is a struggling pizza delivery boy who’s learning taekwondo from his grandfather at home. His chosen vehicle, a bicycle, is mocked by his boss at DoubleDave’s. His grandfather emphasizes personal growth and self-esteem over competition victories. Worse yet, Crystal hits him with her sports car while he’s out on a route, destroying his pizzas, his bike, and any chance he had at keeping his job.  When Crystal meets Min-Suk’s grandfather after driving him home, she learns of his taekwondo mastery and their ongoing training. Citing her disappointment in her dojang’s methods, she tries to convince the wise elder to take her on as a student. Initially resistant, he eventually relents, which pisses off Min-Suk, because SHE HIT HIM WITH HER FUCKING SPORTS CAR. 

Odd, yet fitting that a clumsy traffic accident would bring these two people together. Despite their grievances, insecurities, and weaknesses, they’re forced to train side by side. And by train, I mean that they run on land, try to catch fish bare-handed in a river, and also run in the river. And break the occasional board. But mostly running. What will the rewards be for these efforts? Renewed sense of self? Free, awesome Korean food? Perhaps even victories in the upcoming state-wide taekwondo competition? Logic would dictate that they’d probably just get better at running, but it could be all of these things.


I didn’t quite know what to make of this one. Outside of the grandfather’s scrum with some local drunk jerks, and Min-Suk’s wet and wild rumble with the taekwon-douchebags from Crystal’s class, there’s not much action here. The focus, similar to College Kickboxers, is instead on various training methods. When executed well, these sorts of scenes can provide a visual call-back when the protagonist faces difficulty in physical conflicts later on. Need to block an aggressive fighter? Lean on the ol’ paint-the-fence training. Mystery powder got your vision blurry? Rely on lessons in blindfolded defensive tactics and table-setting. Unfortunately, none of the training methods here are logically recalled during the tournament fight scenes during the film’s climax. Had there been a scene where the arena was under attack from a giant blob, and the pair quickly ran to safety, it would have tied the bow perfectly.

While this was the only film to director Sam Um’s credit, it is undoubtedly his best. That might seem like a backhanded compliment, but I would never backhand him because he’s a taekwondo master. He trained Willie Nelson to his first-degree black belt. How many country music legends have you trained? How many films have you directed? If your answer to both of those questions is “zero,” then Sam Um is beating you at life. While there’s not a lot of technique in this film, you have to appreciate that Um was in charge of getting a lot of non-actors to act. Of particular note is M.G. Lee, who struggled mightily with the lion’s share of dialogue despite English being his second language. Underscoring the onscreen drama is a dark, evocative score akin to Tangerine Dream’s work on 1978’s Sorcerer. Just kidding -- there’s lots of generic drum tracks with synthesized shakuhachi noises. It sounds like Keyboard Cat doing a cover of Paul Hertzog’s Kickboxer soundtrack.


Last but not least, we need to talk about Crystal’s mom, played by Shannon Sedwick. She stands out as the worst cinematic mom since Kirsten’s Mother from 1989’s Elves (a woman who drowned her daughter’s cat in a toilet). She hands over her credit card to Crystal’s friends, constantly rags on her daughter for pursuing martial arts, and has a weird obsession with her daughter’s friend, Dirk, an insufferable weenie of epic proportions. Where’s the father? Why is she day-drinking in a jacuzzi? Her childrearing is so terrible that I have no doubt that the offspring of Crystal’s mother and Jason Stillwell’s father from No Retreat, No Surrender would have been one of America’s most prolific serial killers. Bad chopsocky parenting up in this movie, y’all.

VERDICT
This is not the sort of movie for which viewers are going to pull the “lost gem” card on the scale of a Miami Connection or Undefeatable. Instead, it’s a charming if amateurish critique of the 1980s and 90s suburban McDojo craze and meathead misogyny. I’ll fault it some for leaning on the grandfather's Magical Asian stereotype, but fans of meager production values and non-actor acting may find it enjoyable.

AVAILABILITY
You might be able to snag a used VHS copy off EBay, but this is a tough one to acquire. Happy hunting.

3 / 7


6.30.2015

True Vengeance (1997)

PLOT: When his daughter is kidnapped, a single father must return to his roots as a deadly assassin in order to carry out one last mission and destroy the Yakuza bosses who kidnapped her. Unofficial sequel to the Michael Keaton comedy, Mr. Mom.

Director: David Worth
Writer: Kurt Johnstad
Cast: Daniel Bernhardt, George Cheung, Beverly Johnson, Jonathan Lutz, Miles O’Keeffe, Roger Yuan, Leo Lee



PLOT THICKENER
What’s the most common plot keyword that comes up in the martial arts movie genre? If you guessed “pool party,” I don’t appreciate your sarcasm. In news that will surprise no one except this koala, the most common plot keyword is “vengeance.” The theme is diluted in chopsocky movies due to overuse -- vengeance can be a reaction to everything from the murder of a kickboxer’s loved ones to a hilarious but cruel school prank. How then, do we tell these different shades of cinematic vengeance apart? When is the pursuit of vengeance illogical, and when is it the only appropriate response? The 1997 film True Vengeance seeks to provide some guidelines along with a high body count.


Like all good single fathers, Allen Griffin (Bernhardt) celebrates his child’s birthday with laughs and cake, fondly remembers his departed wife, and makes enough money working in a warehouse to afford a three-bedroom 2200 square-foot house. Minor detail: he used to kill people professionally. When his daughter, Emily, goes missing, Griffin pops in DAT UNLABELED MYSTERY VHS TAPE ON THE COFFEE TABLE to discover that a criminal element has kidnapped her. The tape footage shows her hooked her up to a breathing apparatus that will cut off her oxygen supply in 24 hours -- UNLESS! -- Griffin performs one more kill. This method of blackmail is more diabolical than it needs to be and more fitting of a Bond villain, but this is David Worth’s world, and we’re just living in it.

Griffin gears up and goes back to work as we discover that the organization behind the grim misdeed is the local Yakuza, headed by Hidako Minushoto (played by the always cantankerous George Cheung). The bodies start piling up like unwanted furniture catalogs, and homicide investigators  -- one a grizzled detective (Lutz), the other a Naval Intelligence officer (Johnson) -- are soon on Griffin’s trail. Will they be able to put a stop to the killing before Griffin shoots up every last strip joint and restaurant in town? (Nope). Will a deranged, paper crane-obsessed figure from Griffin’s past reveal himself as the Yakuza’s outside “Specialist”? (Yep).


The kidnapped child trope is beaten to bits at this point, but it’s the perfect framework for a family man rampage. There are some good fights here too. Griffin battles an unwanted handler in the dreaded “drop-ceiling office” setting but the fight has a good pace plus clever camera angles to mitigate the space restrictions. Griffin goes on to battle some punks in a pop-up tattoo parlor that uses streams of VHS tape from the ceiling as decoration. Despite a scattering of hand-to-hand choreography, the action is predominantly comprised of shootouts marked by slo-motion and nary a reload. It seems like the filmmakers were trying to capture the best of both Hong Kong heroic bloodshed and gritty modern kung-fu, and they succeed… sort of. I took issue with the brevity and lack of emotion in those scenes, so all you’re left with are stylistic imitations. Don't get me wrong, they're still really fun to watch, but are imitations nonetheless (and without the doves or forced homoeroticism).


Philip Tan, previously seen around these parts in Martial Law, performed martial arts coordinator duties for this film. As evidenced by nearly 80 stunt and fight coordinating credits over his career, this role is his bread and butter. He also has the unfortunate distinction -- some might call it stank -- of being involved in the cinematic shitshow Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. Whether this experience was better or worse than his role as “gorilla suit performer” in George of the Jungle, we may never know. In any case, Tan did great work here despite the gunplay getting greater emphasis than the hand-to-hand action. Bernhardt looks impressive as he dispatches enemies with all the efficiency of an elite killer. The fights are shot well and the stunt performers sell out for Bernhardt to make him look great on camera.

Dirty little secret: this was my first real Daniel Bernhardt film. Yes, before Bloodsport 2. Still haven’t seen John Wick or Parker. And I can’t count The Matrix Reloaded in good conscience... *ducks random shoes thrown by blog readers* … Easy guys, I don’t have much free time these days! In any case, Bernhardt is a solid lead actor. He has good chemistry with the girl playing his daughter despite the slim shared screen time, he cuts an imposing figure as a vengeful assassin, and he pulls off the action scenes convincingly. That said, I couldn’t help but notice the mild Euro-inflection with which he spoke and wonder if it was intentional. Despite Bernhardt’s Swiss roots, it sounded positively Van Damme-esque (or quasi-Gruner).


Unlike Van Damme, Bernhardt seems awfully embarassed by his humble cinematic origins in light of his recently elevated profile. Check out this interview clip and tell me that he’s excited to name-drop Bloodsport 3 at a red-carpet event. While he stops short of whipping out a VHS copy of Future War and chucking it into the Pacific Garbage Patch while crying, homeboy isn’t too jazzed about acknowledging his DTV action past. Embrace the Dark Kumite, Daniel.

VERDICT
There was a short-lived period in the late 1990s where a not-insignificant portion of American DTV action was doing its damnedest to ape the 1980s Hong Kong approach to the genre. Some, like Drive and Bloodmoon, hit this style right on the head. Other films swung and missed, but then hit the nearest assassin posing as a cocktail waiter right in the head anyways. I’d like to think True Vengeance falls into this latter category. It’s a solid actioner and a good jump-off point for Bernhardt’s filmography. Recommended.

AVAILABILITY
Amazon, YouTube.

4.5 / 7
 

6.22.2015

Second Look: The Clowns, Sleaze, and Cheese of TO THE DEATH

For action junkies Jade and Karl, there’s at least one film in the chopsocky universe that stands out like a smoking clown in a fancy restaurant. They recently held a virtual roundtable to discuss the weirdness and lasting legacy of To the Death, a 1993 pseudo-sequel to American Kickboxer 1 starring John Barrett and Michel Qissi.

How did you originally learn about this movie?
JADE: I originally heard about To the Death when a friend of mine taped it with Universal Soldier and Kickboxer all on one VHS. He said it was pretty damn awesome, and my god he was right. 
KARL: I was charting John Barrett’s filmography. I liked him in American Kickboxer and Merchants of War and felt he was a solid dramatic actor for a genre that has so few of them. When I saw that this was a quasi-sequel, I jumped right on it. 


In American Kickboxer, Brad Morris played the part of Jacques Denard as a cocky asshole. Michel Qissi took over the role for this film and seems unreasonably angry the whole time. What did you think about the differences between the performances? Did you prefer one over the other?
JADE: I completely agree with Brad Morris being a cocky asshole. When I first saw American Kickboxer I was thinking "Oh, you better get what you deserve you jerkburger!" I still like Michel Qissi's portrayal of Denard but again, I agree, he was way too angry, and he just seemed to chuck a tantrum over ANYTHING. It reminded me of a spoilt toddler who cries when he is told he can't have something. I also think as Qissi had played Tong Po in Kickboxer, maybe he was still wanting to be seen as the bad guy and thought acting overly tough meant menacing, which alas just isn't the case.
KARL: Interesting that you bring up the residual effects of the Tong Po role. Don’t get me wrong: I like Qissi, especially as a fierce villain, but I feel like that’s the only mode he knows. Morris injected so much flamboyance and goofball dickery into the Denard character, so it’s hard for me to reconcile that with Qissi’s more one-dimensional performance.

The character of BJ Quinn in American Kickboxer is called Rick Quinn here. How did you account for this change?
JADE: I actually didn't notice the name change until years later, as I watched To the Death a lot more than I watched American Kickboxer (the latter was a lot harder to find in video stores in Australia). I didn't really see the point as to why they needed to change the name. It was probably changed as in some way they didn't want to be officially tied to American Kickboxer, but still wanted to keep that rivalry, so they only changed half the name and kept the main protagonist, as the fans of American Kickboxer will still be able to relate to him or “understand” his story more.
KARL: It feels like an alternate-universe aftermath of American Kickboxer, like the tangent 1985 from Back to the Future II. This story could even be BJ Quinn having a fucked up dream after eating sugar too close to bedtime. That said, American Kickboxer 2 had nothing to do with American Kickboxer 1, so the jury’s out: I have no clue whatsoever. Probably some weird rights ownership thing.

What's up with the ring announcer in clown make-up?
JADE: Oh man, that ring announcer scared the hell out of me when I first saw this at 15 (I have a huge fear of clowns). But throughout the years, I have put that out of my head and I actually compare him to the Master of Ceremonies from Cabaret as he has that over the top if not camp like quality and he uses that quality to put his point across. I think it's actually awesome having that ring announcer there, I think it shows a level of theatrics so people going to these fights will think it's very grand and unlike anything else.
KARL: So many of these movies featuring “underground fights for an audience of elites” still feel like they’re filmed in the same dingy back room with same refs and announcers. But the fights here take place in fancy restaurants and nightclubs with a chain-smoking dude in a tuxedo and clown paint telling tasteless jokes. Good or bad, it makes the film feel different.


Why does the referee kill the losing fighter with a gun instead of just letting the winning fighter kill the loser?
JADE: I truly believe they kill the losing fighter as a means of control. While the money is great that you are given if you win, but the stakes are incredibly high. I mean c'mon for every fight you win you get 5 grand, but 5 grand doesn't come for free. Also I believe you need to have an antagonist in the film who will challenge the protagonist. Sure, Dominique Le Braque doesn't do the killing, but he pays people to do that. He's far too evil and calculating to get his hands dirty.
KARL: I think it’s Le Braque being a psycho but also covering his tracks once the fighters are no longer useful to him. I liked the visual association between his throwing a rose in the ring and the losing fighter getting capped. Why the ref gets stuck doing all of the shootings, I’m not sure. The refs in these things barely ever matter, so maybe they wanted to elevate the position a bit.

What was your favorite scene?
JADE: Mine was when they catch Angelica having some sexy times with Rick, and Dominique just loses it, but it is so damn funny. Every time I watch it, I get in fits of laughter.
KARL: Is that the archery scene in the morning? I recall that Le Braque makes an off-color remark about cutting off Rick’s balls and broiling his dick that had such strange line delivery. I liked that one plus every awkward dinner scene with Quinn and his hosts.  

What do you think makes this film different from other chopsocky films?
JADETo the Death is cheesy, and at times very over the top and so cliche, however I believe it's not just your run of the mill chopsocky film. I think To the Death could have had a really big world wide following if it was marketed just a bit better. I also think back in 1992 everyone was Van Damme crazy so if you see his films, you get a bit spoilt as everything he was doing back then was amazing. Also in 1992 you had films like Universal SoldierUnder SiegeHard Boiled, and Police Story 3 being released, so it was hard competing.
KARL: It struck me when I first watched it: this film is actually quite dark and sleazy. You have a rich crazy asshole who runs death matches, terrorizes his own wife, and sets up an elaborate sports car explosion when a fighter turns down his offer. Rick has a self-destructive downward spiral and then gets drawn into this nutcase’s home life and all its depravities. I remarked that this was Blue Velvet-era David Lynch doing a chopsocky movie and I’m standing by that. Le Braque isn’t huffing nitrous oxide or screaming about Pabst Blue Ribbon, but he’s not far off.


What did you think about the opening song, and do you think it should have also been used for a training montage? Do you believe it can be put on those “fire-up” song lists with the likes of the Bloodsport or Rocky soundtracks?
KARL: It’s entertaining, but not on that level for me. It sounded reminiscent of the closing song from Double Impact mashed with a New Kids on the Block attempt at 90s hip-hop. Not really my thing. Of course, I say this as a guy who gets fired up by “Final Countdown” by Europe, so maybe my opinion doesn’t count for much.

Would you have liked to have seen more fighting?
JADE: I thought at times there should have been less of Rick trying to bang Angelica and a lot more fighting.
KARL: My answer will almost always be yes. But I think so much of what makes this a unique film within the genre are the non-action elements. Le Braque isn’t a fighter, but he has the best lines and is probably the most entertaining part of the film. The smoking clown announcer doesn’t throw a single kick but I’ll remember him forever.

Have you shown this film to anyone? If so, what was their reaction?
JADE: I’ve shown my younger brother when he was probably about 10, and he was saying it was good to humour me I think, and possibly to get me to shut up. I also showed it to two of my best friends who also have a love for this kind of thing, and they all got a massive kick out of it.
KARL: I haven’t, and I’m not sure that I would push this one very hard. Films like Miami Connection or Ninja Turf are a bit more accessible because of the 80s kitsch, so I think they’re safer bets to translate for crowds unfamiliar with these sorts of movies.

Why the hell isn't this on DVD?
KARL: That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? A little surprising too, given that it was a Cannon Films release. I think it has potential to be something of an underground cult film, but I think the best we can hope for is seeing it as part of a cheap multi-disc Bluray when the format is in its last gasp.  


Do you believe that To the Death is a film that you are going to keep re-watching until your own death?
JADE: I know I will, I have had so much enjoyment from watching this film, and I have made many memories in the process. For me there is an addictive additive in these kinds of films, which is why I just re-watch them over and over again. I mean films like To the DeathMiami Connection and King of the Kickboxers would definitely be in my top 100 films of all time.

KARL: I try not to ruminate too much on my own death, but I’ll take the bait. I could see revisiting it once every few years but this is something to be savored. There's way too much out there I haven't seen, so to rewatch something means it has to be rarified air (at least top ten) for me.
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