1.28.2011

Scorpion (1986)

PLOT: Have you seen Bullitt? If yes: Scorpion has virtually the same plot as Bullitt. If no: go watch Bullitt.

Director: William Riead
Writer: William Riead
Cast: Tonny Tulleners, Don Murray, Ross Elliott, Robert Logan, Billy Hayes, Ross Elliott






PLOT THICKENER:
A brief gaze at the poster for 1986’s Scorpion shows a mustachioed action ace willing to smash through glass and scuff his aviators to take down the bad guys. The actor behind the shades and flavor saver is Tonny Tulleners, a Holland-born karate black belt and winner of the 1965 International Karate Tournament in the middleweight division. Like so many real-life martial-arts champions before and after him, fighting expertise naturally guaranteed a movie deal. Also like other martial-arts champions who were guaranteed movie deals, he never did another movie after this one.

Special agent Steve Woods -- code name “Scorpion” -- is number one and the best in the field of clandestine operations and asskickings. We open with the juxtaposition of an old man leading a donkey through the quiet streets of a Spanish town and a cherry-red sportscar bombing into the parking lot of a cantina. Woods is trying to enjoy an afternoon cerveza and the rustic ambiance when an obnoxious drunk ruins the mood. Our hero goes into Scorpion mode and beats the shit out of the wino and his friends before leaving the bar, his beer unfinished and abandoned. He heads straight for a pay phone to touch base with a contact in Amsterdam, then with his agency superior based in the U.S. Within the first eight minutes of the film, Riead establishes Scorpion as a trilingual auto-enthusiast who has a habit of leaving beverages unfinished and won’t hesitate to put the hammer down if you’re being socially abrasive.


Scorpion works for the cleverly named D.I.A., and his latest assignment finds him in a hijacked commercial jet trying to thwart some unreasonable folks with olive skin and vague accents. The baddies have threatened to kill passengers if anyone from the opposition boards the plane with a weapon, so Scorpion dons some white short-shorts to prove that he’s not only unarmed but also the spitting image of Larry Bird. The terrorists discover in short time that the most dangerous weapon of all is beneath Scorpion’s clothing... his legs, you sick bastard! He kicks the shit out of them and saves the day.

The next morning, Scorpion is chilling on his house-boat and nursing what appears to be a hangover as his colleagues read the morning news and play annoying wind instruments. Scorpion is hailed as a hero in the media but they reveal his real name and his covert status is blown much like the aforementioned wind instrument. In the fallout of the attempted hijacking, Scorpion and his colleagues are also tasked with providing police protection for a material witness named Faued. An American lawyer played by Don Murray believes Faued will help the government bring down the Terror Network, which presumably consists of more evildoers with olive skin and vague accents.


As it also occurs in Bullitt, this entire set-up goes to shit and several characters needlessly die. The rest of the film follows Scorpion as he figures out the details of the botched assignment and the film takes on many of the characteristics common to the police procedural: crime scene investigations, autopsies with medical jargon, attempts at tension, chasing leads over the phone, etc. Taken individually, these components are handled well enough but on the whole, it was like an adult film directed by Michael Bay in his trademark blur-o-vision: I never figured out who was fucking who, and why or when.

This overemphasis on the investigative aspects of Scorpion’s work comes at a terrible cost: the action. One would think that a film starring a guy who beat Chuck Norris three times in actual karate competition would have a lot of fighting. With his side-swept hair and bushy moustache, Tulleners even looks like Norris. But a funny thing happened on the way to the end credits: Riead only includes about three total minutes of hand-to-hand combat. Given Tulleners’ fighting pedigree, how could they have possibly flubbed this? I’m tempted to point to Riead’s background as a TV documentary filmmaker and journalist, and Tulleners’ experience as an undercover cop with the Pasadena Police Department. Lousy do-gooders.


As Scorpion, Tulleners is serviceable. Not exactly good, but not wildly incompetent enough to be so bad he’s good. To his credit, he’s got the moustache-and-aviators theme down cold and he gets to rock some hilarious 80s fashion, including short-shorts and some high-waisted bell bottoms that do well to accentuate his freakishly long legs. You know, the ones he uses only sparingly to kick people in the face.

Despite the lack of fistkicking action, it’s worth noting that legendary Hollywood stuntman Dar Robinson worked on the film as stunt coordinator and most of the action is competently shot and edited. Scorpion features a decent helicopter vs. speedboat chase, and an excellent roof-to-roof leap that doesn’t end so well for the jumper, who lets off a familiar girly scream as he loses strength in his arms and plummets to his death. I say familiar because I used to do the same thing in college, when I failed to lift myself up to the top bunk during drunken stupors. Probably explains why the girls left the room after that.


Perhaps no 80s action movie is complete without a ham-fisted metaphor, so I wanted to mention the clumsy subplot involving one of Scorpion’s deceased colleagues and his childhood dream to push over a statue. Only after the dust settles is Scorpion able to realize that dream in his friend’s stead. What Riead attempts to shoehorn into the film as an emotional and poignant moment is instead a reminder of the issue of defacement of public property in our nation’s parks. One would think that a government man like Scorpion would know better than that. 

VERDICT:
I’m not entirely unsurprised that Tulleners joined a long list of lead action actors who went one-and-done. Scorpion does very little to accentuate his fighting skills, choosing instead to focus on rehashed and poorly-realized plot points from other films. As a straight martial-arts film, I can’t recommend it at all because the fight quotient is so low. However, as a crime-thriller with action elements, Scorpion is fairly solid. It’s well-paced, you’ll dig the antiquated clothing, and it has more moustaches than you can shake a stick at.

AVAILABILITY:
I picked up my Scorpion in the Maximum Action 10-disc set put out by BCI, which you can find on Amazon for under $5.

3.5 / 7

1.21.2011

For Hire / Lethal Ninja (1991)

PLOT: A desperate mayor hires an American ninja to clean up the streets of AnyChinatown, USA. The job becomes more complicated when the ninja realizes who’s behind the mayhem. Unfortunately, it’s not David Lo Pan.

Director: Stefan Rudnicki
Writer: Seriously?
Cast: David Heavener, Kamar de los Reyes, Chris Ramsey, Bambi Swayze, James Hurd, Chance Michael Corbitt



PLOT THICKENER:
The first act is absolutely critical to films. It’s an opportunity for the director to set the plot and tell the audience who characters are and why they’re important. More specifically, for the martial-arts film, it’s a limited window in which to grab your audience’s attention through physical spectacle and define the film’s stylistic approach to action. Failure to do these things effectively within the first 25 to 30 minutes is a huge misstep from which a film rarely recovers. Despite its weird charm, the 1991 David Heavener film For Hire is a 90-minute roundhouse misstep to the balls.


Our film opens with a group of extras shuffling awkwardly to live golden-era rap music in a dance club. A dangerous gang of three people make their entrance and start pointing at various dancers in the crowd. As they start beating up random people for no reason, the featured rappers continue to pop and lock, as if shit like this happens every night. The other members of this same dangerous Chinatown gang run every play in the criminal handbook: they snatch purses, rob apartments, steal cars, deal drugs, pimp out hookers, and kill cops with glee. They also perform complicated group Tai Chi exercises at night-time on the city’s quiet rooftops.


Long story short: the criminal activity in Chinatown is escalating and the city’s police department doesn’t have the resources to do anything about it. The police commissioner informs the mayor with the unpleasant news under the most appropriate of circumstances … at a sweet 16  birthday party for the mayor’s adopted South Asian daughter, Corrine. Also in attendance is J.D. Makay (Heavener), karate instructor to the mayor’s young son Will (Corbitt). For no particular reason, he’s disguised as a waiter.

This is where the confusion begins to take hold. Rudnicki cuts away from the party to the aforementioned Tai Chi gang demonstration, then to footage of the mayor finding a “For Hire” business card in his limo, then to the police commissioner’s office, where the commish tells the mayor he’s pulling all police presence out of Chinatown. Then back to the birthday party, where the mayor’s 10 year-old son is chatting up Makay about helping his dad. While no American martial-arts film is complete without some sort of studio ballad (usually paired with a training montage), For Hire flips the script by having Corrine dedicate a tone-deaf song to her dad during her birthday party with her other adopted sister, Rachel (Swayze) accompanying on piano. Thankfully, Rudnicki breaks up the monotony by cutting away to a hooker smoking crack and then approaching some police officers. Then back to the awkward ballad. It’s hard to tell whether this mess was the result of the filmmakers making an honest attempt at non-linear storytelling, or the DVD authors putting the scenes in the wrong order. I was so confused. It’s a stunning example of why you shouldn’t smoke weed while making, editing, or watching DTV martial-arts films.


The leader of the gang, the gang violence, and probably the shitty editing is Sonny, played by Kamar De Los Reyes. In the credits he’s billed on a first-name basis only, maybe so he could put this mess behind him in a play for legitimacy. (It almost worked, but it’s tough to hide behind similar credits for East L.A. Warriors, Ghetto Blaster, and the Jeff Speakman film, Street Knight.) His primary rival on the streets of Chinatown is Zeke Wild (Ramsey), another gang affiliate. The trash talk between them eventually turns physical, and by that I mean violent, not sexual. I’m as straight as they come, but the latter probably would have been more interesting. I’ve seen better fight scenes in Karate Champ.

Between a decaying Chinatown, an unhelpful police force, and an impending re-election, the mayor is in a tough spot. After his marketing strategy of leaving “For Hire” business cards everywhere the mayor looks, Makay sneaks past security and arrives at the mayor’s mansion to make his pitch. For an affordable fee of $1 million, he offers a three-pronged plan of attack. For most ninjas, this would include smoke bombs, shurikens, and a trusty katana blade. In Makay’s own words, this means he’s going to “go in,” “spread some havoc,” and “work the snake out of the woodwork.”

Makay’s special brand of havoc includes stealing Zeke Wild’s car, indiscriminately karate chopping people, blowing cocaine away from people trying to snort lines off the sidewalk, and getting beat up by girls. The aggression has the Chinatown gang on edge and it’s only a matter of time before the “snake” is revealed as Sonny. We come to find that he and Makay trained under the same master in their youth, sparring in Zubaz pants, chasing the same girls, and playing basketball. I say this not to spoil the “Big Reveal” but to reiterate that the fight skills of Sonny and Makay are equally boring to watch; their master was clearly a hack.


The climax is a blend of funeral, shoot-out, foot chase, cross-dressing, and an art auction showdown. Psh … typical. This is probably the best stretch of the film but that isn’t saying much: the fight choreography is uninspired overall and it looks like everything was done on the first take. I'll single out the mayor’s head of security, Saint Elmo (Hurd), for praise though; his hilarious expressions and atrocious line delivery are some of the film's highlights. Heavener is also good in his unique way: amazingly fluffy mullet, great outfits, and an attempt at a smooth and laid-back demeanor that screams “substitute gym teacher” more than “action hero star.”

Even with all these points working against the film, the worst offender is still the script itself, which includes some of the most poorly hatched dialog in human history. You know how the songs of Wesley Willis are entertaining and hilarious because they’re mostly just obscenity-laced streams of absurdist consciousness? For Hire is a lot like that. At worst, it’s a hurricane of verbal diarrhea that destroys everything in its path; at best, it’s a bunch of random cliches strung together with no regard for comprehension. Lines like "names don't mean much. What you do is what you are, and what you need is action." Uh ... the fuck? Or how about this winner: "I can do this. I won't say don't worry, but I will say that I won't come back without Will. And I will be back." Brilliant.


However, nothing in the film comes close to touching the film’s rousing eulogy scene, which I’ve transcribed here in its entirety if for no other reason than I’ve run out of terrible things to say about this film. Would you let your pastor spout this guilt-ridden, contradictory, nonsensical shit at a funeral?

"I did not know [her]. How many of you think you did? How many of you think you had nothing to do with sending her to her end? She had no family. What family she did have are all present and accounted for right here. People who loved her, cared for her, gave her shelter and work. Gave her a reason for living. Did anyone really know her? How could anyone know her better than that person who gave her a reason to die? In the midst of life, it is said we are in death, and unless we see in our loved ones the skull beneath the skin, the soul beneath the sheath. The very moment of their deaths, we know nothing about them. We can only be strangers to them in this life. Accept your guilt then. Your complicity in [her] death, the knowledge that your love, your care, led her to this pass or pass on indeed in the full knowledge that not only did you not know [her], that you will never know anyone again in this life."

VERDICT:
For our Canadian neighbors to the north, For Hire was released as Lethal Ninja. I think most would agree that the superior title would have been Lethal Ninja For Hire, even though Heavener isn’t much of a ninja. Then again, this isn’t much of a movie. But if you’re itching for a Z-grade film featuring horrible dialog, David Heavener, Patrick Swayze’s adopted Korean sister, and a bunch of people who never made another movie, For Hire is a soothing cream with anti-itch properties.

AVAILABILITY:
Netflix, Amazon, EBay.

4 / 7

1.13.2011

City Dragon (1995)

PLOT: The lives of Ray and his friends revolve around using cheesy rhymes to spread urinary tract infections to as many girls as possible. After meeting the woman of his dreams, he’s forced to curb his canine ways to deal with a bounty of social, physical, and romantic challenges. Will he stand by his woman or fall like a girl on crutches trying to go up the down escalator?

Director: ‘Philthy' Phil Phillips 
Writers: Stan Derain, ‘Philthy' Phil Phillips 
Cast: Stan Derain (as MC Kung Fu), ‘Philthy' Phil Phillips (as Philthy Phil), Kathy Barbour, John Williams, John J. Haran, Fawn Reed 

PLOT THICKENER:
While often overlooked, musical moments in American martial-arts film are rather common. As noted in our review of No Retreat, No Surrender, J.W. Fails as RJ Madison performed two choreographed dances along with a freestyle rap. Marc Dacascos crooned his way into our hearts near the climax of 1997’s Drive. Perhaps most famously, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s drunken dance number in 1989’s Kickboxer is the stuff of YouTube legend. However, virtually no martial-arts film takes the musical element to quite the same extreme as 1995’s City Dragon.


The Home Dogs are a group of twentysomething urban dwellers who constantly spit rhymes and have serious game with the city’s females. First up, there’s Philthy Phil (Phillips), the crew’s requisite fashion plate and he’s cooler than the other side of the pillow if you’re sleeping outside at night in Manitouwadge in November. Then there’s Rick (Williams), the short, annoying, white tag-along (Turtle?) whose rapping explanation of the word “wigga” will leave you scratching your head as to why his black friends tolerate him.

Trumping both of these guys as head lothario and de facto leader of the trio is Ray (Derain.) The muscle of the group and real hero of the story, we learn that much like his idol Bruce Lee, Ray is not a man to be fucked with. After a fender-bender with a group of gang-bangers in the film’s opening, he stares blankly as the driver points a gun in his face and shouts “eff [this]” and “motherfuck [that]”. Ray calmly removes his ill-fitting tank top and in less than a minute, the entire gang has been floored by a dizzying array of kicks, punches, and throws.


If Sho‘nuff of The Last Dragon fame could be said to have dipped a toe in the vast pool of rhyme-as-dialog, The Home Dogs dive in head-first with snorkels and swimmies. In lieu of verbiage that actually moves the story forward, The Home Dogs perform most of their dialog as a capella raps. While the novelty quickly wears off, Derain & Company should be commended for foreseeing the entire subculture of corny guys standing around and pretending they’re characters in 8 Mile.

For reasons unknown, the trio is able to regularly score attractive females using rhymes that will have you clambering for the poignant lyricism of Brian Austin Green. More than that, their outfits are completely ridiculous. Ray regularly rocks a sportscoat over his tank top. Sleeves rolled up. While wearing weightlifting gloves. During a night out on the town, Philthy Phil wears a ship captain’s cap with parachute pants and a shirt straight out of the shopping scene from European Vacation. But as many males know, constantly hooking up with clubrats and big-breasted women in sweatpants on their way to the gym loses its luster. For a little while anyways.

Contrary to his usual hunting routine, Ray meets a pretty girl named Tina (Barbour) in the park in the middle of the day. Despite his intoxicating rhymes, she doesn’t immediately hand over the keys and deed to the Chateau-du-Vagina so he’s completely transfixed. In time, they begin to date. Unfortunately, Tina has an abusive boyfriend named John (Haran) who humiliates, hits, and degrades her on a regular basis. He also works at a restaurant at the mall, which goes a long way in explaining his constant anger. She attempts a clean break with her abuser, but he’s a stage four hanger-on and it’s only a matter of time before he and Ray come to blows over Tina’s love.


John rounds up a group of goons and confronts Tina, Ray and rest of his crew one night out at the club. Ray ultimately triumphs, but in the chaos of the fight, Philthy Phil is stabbed. While the wound proves non-fatal, it’s enough to drive Ray to the point of insanity. During a tense scene at his apartment, he does a complicated nunchucks routine to blow off steam and wigs out at his new girlfriend for bringing the mercurial John into their lives.

City Dragon isn’t all fucking and fighting though; it’s social drama at its most heavy-handed. Tina discovers she’s pregnant but despite having no idea whether the baby is his, Ray vows to marry her. Upon hearing the news of his ex-girlfriend’s pending nuptials, John goes on a murderous (somewhat hilarious) workplace rampage and is committed to an asylum for the mentally disturbed. Overreaction on his part? Sure. But John would get along great with Tina’s father, who kicks her out of the house when she refuses to abort his new grandchild (“You screwed me as an embryo now you’re screwing me as an adult.”) Perhaps worse, the lack of an effective sexual harassment policy at Ray’s workplace threatens both his fidelity and his paycheck.


The amount of social issues covered in City Dragon -- domestic violence, promiscuity, race relations, abortion, road rage, gang life, the American justice system, mental illness, harassment in the workplace -- would be enough for at least 18 hour-long A&E specials. While one can criticize it for this kind of over-saturation, you’d have to search high and low for any other martial-arts film that touches on one or two of these issues, let alone enough to cover every defensive position in baseball.

It goes without saying that the most critical element of any martial-arts film is the use of martial arts. The action scenes in City Dragon primarily consist of one guy with martial arts experience vs. many guys who learned how to fall an hour before the cameras started rolling. I can’t knock Derain at all because he has A LOT of scenes involving nunchucks, which I absolutely loved. However, I do think that the lack of an equally (or moderately) skilled counterpart hurt the action scenes. There’s a decent climactic blow-off between the crazed John and Ray, but the former doesn’t bring enough to the table physically for this be as dramatic as it could have been. It should be mentioned that this is the only fight for which Derain doesn’t remove his shirt.


Stan Derain’s next motion picture, currently in production, is entitled War of the Dragon. The cast of buxom beauties -- including but not limited to Jenna Jameson, Traci Bingham, and Verne Troyer -- would seem to indicate that Derain is sticking to a tried and true formula of loose plots, hot women, and his special brand of action mayhem. And Mini-Me. If this is anything but incredibly awesome, I will eat my shoe. (No easy task: my shoe is a high-top Reebok Pump.)

VERDICT:
What The Room is to the independent drama, City Dragon is to the independent action film. It’d be easy to shitcan a film like this according to the standards by which one would usually assess a film, but I give the filmmakers credit. With a low budget and an obviously inexperienced cast, it’s a foregone conclusion that they failed to make a “good film.” However haphazardly, they instead made a modern martial-arts cult classic that unites elements of comedy, musical, social drama, and action. Think of City Dragon as a low-budget version of The Last Dragon for the new jack swing era.

AVAILABILITY:
Netflix, Amazon, EBay.

3.5 / 7

1.09.2011

Pray for Death Review on the Gentlemen's Blog


It's not often that I actively self-promote here, but I'd like to take a moment to veer from the norm. It's with great pleasure that I shamelessly plug my recent review of Sho Kosugi's 1985 film Pray for Death over at the Gentlemen's Blog to Midnite Cinema. It's a film that any fan of 1980s action cinema should give a shot and one that will definitely appeal to the readership of FoBL. Yes, all three of you!

If you're unfamiliar with the gang, Big Willie and The Samurai host a truly fantastic weekly podcast dedicated to the finest in genre film. These guys are knowledgeable about what they love, always insightful about the films they cover, and good for roughly five to ten dick jokes per episode. If you're not yet on the bandwagon, be sure to add the 'cast to your iTunes rotation.


The Gentlemen's Blog is a natural extension of that show and its active and creative community. Last fall, I was invited to do posts by Aaron, who more or less handles the day-to-day on the Gentlemen's Blog, and also runs Death Rattle Thirteen. The roster of writers on the GBtMC is a mix of folks from all over who share a passion for everything that's strange, horrific, or unintentionally hilarious about film, and I couldn't be more thrilled with my association with this collection of talent.

So head over to the GBtMC. Leave praise, "Like" the shit out of it, or tell me I have no fucking clue what I'm talking about. More important, make sure to watch Sho Kosugi in Pray for Death! It's a fantastic 1980s ninja movie with an amazingly high body count and some of the coolest ninja attire in the history of cinema.



And here at home on the FoBL range, there will be more to come this week.

1.07.2011

Breathing Fire (1991)

PLOT: Michael Moore is your normal single dad juggling the balls of life with both hands: raising two teenage sons, being an awesome kickboxer, coping with memories of ‘Nam, and organizing bank robberies.

Directors: Lou Kennedy, Brandon Pender, Brandon De-Wilde
Writers: Wayne John, Raymond Mahoney
Cast: Jerry Trimble, Jonathan Ke Quan, Eddie Saavedra, Bolo Yeung, Ed Neil, TJ Storm, Drake Diamond



PLOT THICKENER:
If you’re one of the millions of people who’ve pined to see Bolo Yeung dressed in full drag and later fight Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, then 1991’s Breathing Fire is here to make your filthy fantasies come true. The film is not unlike a fine jambalaya or any entree where you have free range to throw as much random shit in as you want. When cooked down and allowed to thicken, Breathing Fire is one of the most slapdash absurd action movies you’ll ever see.

Case in point, the film starts off with a shadowy figure seated at a table full of hundreds of fake plastic foods. Using a knife, he saws off a fake pepperoni from a fake pizza and kisses it.

Right.

Jerry Trimble stars as the villainous pepperoni-kissing Michael Moore. Calm down, conservatives: he’s not lampooning the populist documentary filmmaker. By day, Moore is a dedicated father to his adopted son, Charlie (Ke Quan) and his preferred son, Tony (Saavedra). After dropping the kids off at their latest karate tournament, he transforms into the leader of a gang of bank robbers.


After donning a clever disguise consisting of a moustache, a walking stick, and dark sunglasses, Moore and his friends launch into action. Each of his other four partners plays an crucial function during the operation, perhaps none more important than Thunder (Yeung), who stands in line with the customers while dressed as a mild-mannered 250-lb. Chinese grandma. Despite a firm warning, the teller goes for the alarm but gets punched for his efforts, the customers freak, people get fucked up, and the mayhem gives Thunder an opening to rip off his lady wig and rip out some poor banker’s hair.

Bolo is an absolute fright dressed as a woman, and I don’t know why his character opted for granny attire. The other disguises required nothing more than a moustache or a sports-coat. Thunder either lost a bet or just feels more liberated beating people up in a dress.


On the periphery in this latest burglary is Moore’s Vietnam combat buddy, Peter Stern (Diamond). As the bank’s manager and Michael’s tenuous insider ally, he’s a reluctant participant but offers up the vault’s code when Thunder pays him a visit in the men’s john. For this valuable contribution, Thunder slams Peter’s head in the bathroom door and then dunks his face in a toilet bowl of his own urine. That’s what you get for letting the yellow mellow, hippie.

The gang stashes the loot in a vault at a steel refinery, and we then discover the reason for the fake plastic pizza. Moore uses it to make an imprint of the vault’s keys on the underside of the pizza, destroys the originals, and then distributes each pizza piece to the gang members. Only after things have settled down and and the group reconvenes will everyone get their share. Most will find this plot device not so much clever as it is indicative of fake foods being easy props to come by for a low-budget film production.

That night, Peter returns home to his wife and daughter and they react in horror to his facial welts and urine odor. He’s like, “whatever, just another Wednesday” and retires to his study to pack away his piece of fake pizza. He gives his daughter, Annie, an envelope and tells her to go mail it and gives his wife the pimp-hand when she suggests they call the police. On her way to the mailbox, Annie is distracted outside by wandering swans in bow-ties and party hats and is luckily absent when Moore’s gang pays a visit to the Sterns’ front door. Not surprisingly, they kill Peter and his wife. Did I mention this all happens on his birthday?


 The intended recipient of the aforementioned envelope is David Moore, an alcoholic mechanic who sleeps under newspapers at his workplace and drives around town in a 1988 Ford Molester Van (S Series). When Annie visits him to drop off the letter, he’s puzzled by the piece of plastic pizza and the plot thickens when a few goons posing as cops stop by and ask for Annie. Action ensues and the flood of danger prompts Dave and Annie to drive off to a safe-house: his brother Michael’s pad. (Dun dun dun!)

Michael and David, via clumsy flashback, reminisce over their Vietnam days and we see how Michael came to adopt his Asian son. Apparently, if you killed someone in combat, it was common decency to adopt their orphaned children and bring them back to America. After spending his tour of duty fighting Viet Cong enemies, Michael thought it appropriate to name this Vietnamese boy “Charlie.”

At any rate, the teenage brothers are excited to finally meet their Uncle Dave and express interest in mooching off his fighting wisdom. In time, he begrudgingly teaches them how to punch phonebooks and watermelons and sweat a lot while having their shins hardened by bottles and bricks. Among other quality opponents, they test their new skills against some dwarf bartenders and a fat, clumsy gang member living with his blind mother. (Tony and Charlie can be real assholes).


As all of these unstable elements collide, Michael gets increasingly paranoid and evil, Charlie goes through a brief identity crisis, Dave gets progressively drunker and more suspicious of his brother, and Thunder stands around killing life with his cold stares and pectoral flexing because he’s Bolo Motherfucking Yeung.

The action scenes in Breathing Fire are fairly good. The fights are fast, fluid, and choreographed well. While horrible editing usually sinks these scenes, it somehow enhances them here. Bolo is fantastic, Trimble is his usual kick-happy self, and Ed Neil was a really pleasant surprise. Apart from the great climax, there’s a hokey but enjoyable dance-club brawl, two little people who clearly studied the book on Comedic Midget Wrestling Moves, and no less than ten people flying through glass panels or breakaway tables.


The film was helmed by three directors, and while this might be a clever way to disperse the blame for a shoddy production, it’s an efficient way to divide up the day’s work. Kennedy: you take the scenes with the robotic line delivery where the actors fail to emote properly. De-Wilde: you film the scenes where someone is getting thrown through glass. Pender: shoot the oily training scenes and the unnecessary tournament fights in the middle school gymnasium. Of the three, only Pender would continue a career in film production, and with credits like UWF Fury Hour producer and Steele Justice sword fight coordinator, it’s not hard to see why.

VERDICT:
While Breathing Fire is dogged by poor production value, it’s easily the best film to utilize random movie props clearly stolen off a studio lot. The unintentional comedic highs of the movie are among the best ever filmed in the American martial-arts genre; in an ocean of schlock, this is no easy feat. All the requisite trademarks of a fine Gruyere punchfighting film are here: bad editing, weak writing, visible mats, training montages, cardboard boxes, a random dance/exterior painting scene from TJ Storm, awesomely bad line delivery, and convoluted plot points. This film is an absolute rip-roaring treasure of action cinema. Go queue this up now, put the beers on ice, and invite over all your friends. If you don’t have friends, get a hooker and force her to watch this movie with you. She’ll love it, especially if she’s on drugs.

AVAILABILITY:
Amazon, Ebay, Youtube, Netflix.

6 / 7

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