12.30.2014

Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991)

PLOT: David Sloan is a former kickboxing champion who owns a run-down gym but along the way meets some shady characters trying to get him out of retirement...and they will do ANYTHING it takes do so.

Director: Albert Pyun
Writer: David S. Goyer
Cast: Sasha Mitchell, Dennis Chan, Peter Boyle, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Michel Qissi, John Diehl, Vince Murdocco, Heather McComb.




PLOT THICKENER: Here we have David Sloan (Mitchell), the centrepiece of this film, and not to mention Eric and Kurt's younger brother. But as you have probably realised by now, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Alexio won't be making a quick cameo in this sequel. Why, you ask? Well, it's simple--they were murdered. Yep, the Nok Su Cow and the paraplegic former kickboxing champ were gunned down by none other than the deliciously evil Tong Po (Qissi). David also has an up-and-coming fighter named Brian (Murdocco), who is one ass-kicking away from being a douche-bag of a fighter with a greasy slicked back pony-tail. He believes he's ready to turn professional despite David's advice on him being far from it. An argument starts, forcing Brian to turn to the dark side of the force by running into the arms of dodgy fight promoter Mr. Maciah (Boyle).

David is forced out of retirement by the same sleazy fighting promoter to fight their current champ, and what do you know guys? Their paper champion loses to David. Not only that, but David announces after his win to an arena full of people that these promoters are crooked. Humiliated, embarrassed, and downright pissed, they respond the only way they know how: setting fire to his gym, the one place he finds solace in the world...those bastards. Beaten, burnt, and broken, David is stuck in hospital and feeling disheartened, upset, and angry, but it's going to be okay because we can insert the philosophy and comedic timing of Uncle Xian (Chan) from the previous installment. Xian can see David is out on his luck so he decides to retrain him using simple techniques to help him rehabilitate.


Now that we have the positive chi pumping, the film is going to teach you a lesson on 'Deliciously Evil Fighting Plans 101', and what better teacher to have than Sanga, played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa? He knows that Maciah is trying to train Brian up to be a champion, all with the help of aggressive trainers and steroids (you may have flashbacks to a certain training montage from Rocky IV on that one). But Sanga also knows that Brian will be a perfect guinea pig in his plan on winning back the honour of disgraced fighter Tong Po.

Brian is now feeling the roid rage, you can see he is so close to getting that greased up pony-tail and the cockiness (which was previously shown by Eric Sloan) is in full swing so let's see Brian kick ass...oh but wait! Sliiiiiiight change of plan in his first professional fight -- his original opponent has pulled out but he has a replacement. Our new contestant loves kicking down cement pillars with his bare legs, paralysing fighters to give them a reality check or to kill them (whichever's easier at the time) and he has a strong fashion sense when it comes to long braids and red Muay Thai shorts -- please welcome Tong Po.


Now the question is: who will win? Brian, who is pumped full of so many steroids that he actually thinks he can kill Tong Po? Or Tong Po, who has a track record for killing, paralysing and violating anything that comes into his path? That was a dumb question wasn't it? So, Tong Po humiliates Brian and to be honest, I am kinda glad he did -- we now have once less douche-bag in the cinematic universe. And who can resist seeing Tong Po give a good beat down to some arrogant prick? I know I can't!

Do I enjoy the end fight scene? Yes, I do, but I feel that there should have been a bigger pay off. They had an entire arena practically to themselves -- no crowd, no reporters -- so why not go all out? I feel that the ending was rushed, and I can understand that they probably didn't have a bigger budget since the main star from the first film wasn't appearing in this. But fans of the original definitely would have all rented this film in the 90s, without a doubt. I know my mum let my older brother and I rent this...great parenting, right?



VERDICT
Overall, I enjoy this film, as it does pay homage to the first but it definitely has its own look. While the film does seem a tad bit rushed at the best of times, I can't deny that I enjoy it.  Even though this film is somewhat funny at times, you cannot deny that it does have heart, and that is what makes me appreciate it. I really wish Sasha Mitchell could have been in more films, because I do like his acting style -- it's very light, it's not trying to be overly serious, you can see that he knows his strengths and he makes the most of what he has. I also love that they included Dennis Chan in this film, as he brings a lot of depth to the film as well as great comedic timing; his cheeky demeanour really does light up the screen. And what does one say about Michel Qissi's performance as Tong Po? He is still badass, the less talking he does, the better. His menacing look is enough to make you want to run and hide; that is what makes a great villain. It does have decent choreography but I wish they really could have showcased that a bit more -- you can definitely see the director was trying to concentrate more on the story than the violence.

And special mention must go to the opening song 'My Brother's Eyes,' by Eric Barnett. I loved that this is what the film opened with, because it gives you a taste of what is expected to come with the film's core. And not only that, as the song is playing it pans across David Sloan's gym and you see photos of him and his brothers...yep I'm a sucker for that stuff.

AVAILABILITY 
Amazon and Ebay.

5 / 7


12.02.2014

American Streetfighter (1992)

PLOT: A successful businessman leaves the lap of luxury to save his estranged younger brother from an underground kickboxing ring. Unfortunately, the airline screwed up and he’s really pissed about having to fly coach along the way.

Director: Steve Austin
Writer: David Huey
Cast: Gary Daniels, Ian Jacklin, Gerald Okamura, Roger Yuan, Tracy Dali, Kent Ducanon, Andrew Cooper





PLOT THICKENER
“Youth is wasted on the young,” said George Bernard Shaw, a man I once believed to be a curmudgeonly dickhead. It wasn’t until I turned into one myself that I discovered he was totally right! Young people have boundless energy and opportunities but spend most of their days finding ways to fuck it up. The bubble of youth is the best time to make those mistakes, though. American Streetfighter, a 1992 Silver Screen movie starring Gary Daniels, explores this idea of youthful indiscretion and the relationships that suffer as a result. It also answers the age-old question: is a funeral parlor a good setting for a samurai sword fight?

As evidenced by his tassled leather jacket, acid wash jeans, and poor decision making, Jake Tanner (Daniels) is a young punk mixed up with the wrong crowd. After he and his fellow gang member, Ito (Yuan), rig up a jukebox with explosives to damage a local business, they realize innocent people were inside! They run back to save them, but the hapless potential victims are packing heat and open fire. Jake escapes with his life, but Ito is shot dead. To be more accurate, Jake drives off after Ito is shot, but still alive. Because Jake drove off, Ito is stuck waiting around to be shot again.

Years later, Jake has moved on to bigger and better things in his new life in Hong Kong. Leather jackets and unkempt locks have given way to power suits and a greasy ponytail. His shitty getaway car has evolved into a shitty office with a drop ceiling and poor lighting. Dead business deals have replaced dead friends. During a late night at the office, he receives a troubling phone call from his mother: Randy is in trouble. Wait, who’s Randy? Oh right, the younger brother in the picture Jake is now holding.


Randy (Jacklin), is a rising star in the world of underground fighting. When Jake arrives after his latest fight to discourage this behavior, Randy rejects the advice. After all, Jake ran away following his own transgressions and left his sibling alone to fend for himself during his formative years.

A shrewd businessman if there ever was one, Jake approaches the fight circuit boss, Ogawa (Okamura) and asks to buy out Randy’s contract. When Ogawa rebuffs, Jake instead offers to take Randy’s place as a fighter-by-proxy. For reasons known only to screenwriter David Huey, Ogawa totally goes for it. Jake gets his ass handed to him in his first competitive fight -- even suffering the indignity of being repeatedly whipped with a car antenna -- and retreats to the home of his master’s daughter, Rose (Dali), to lick his wounds. While there, he goes through a rigorous rehabilitation program under the supervision of Rose’s adolescent son, whose martial arts knowledge is informed by his rabid Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fandom. Once he’s fully healed, Jake is joined by his master, Nick (Ducanon) and they take the fight to Ogawa’s gang.


If you know his work, the involvement of Expert Weapon’s director, Steven Austin doesn’t inspire much confidence. In fact, if the films I’ve reviewed were holiday desserts, King of the Kickboxers is a delicious pecan pie at the high end of the spectrum, whereas Expert Weapon would be a pile of stale-ass pizzelles or plum pudding. (For continued debate around weak-ass holiday desserts, please leave your thoughts in the comments). This film isn’t nearly as rough as the aforementioned Ian Jacklin joint, but it lacks technical polish -- the soundtrack appears to have been lifted from a mix of 80s porn and an SNK fighting game ported to a 16-bit console -- and the pacing is fairly wonky. Fight circuit backdrop: plastic sheeting and gaudy light colors. The action: occasionally competent but weirdly edited and choreographed. The dialogue: just nevermind, OK? The movie definitely gets points for the feathered locks of Gary Daniels but I don’t think we should give Austin credit for that. (Unless he did hair and make-up. I’ll need to consult the production credits again to confirm).


Out of at least three Daniels films, this is the third in which he’s been drugged or otherwise had his mental acuities compromised. While Daniels needs to keep a better eye on his drink, I suppose putting your martial arts hero on drugs is the logical extension of the “drunken master” trope popularized and codified by Hong Kong kung fu cinema of yesteryear. That said, what drugs would make for the best martial arts movie? Weed would turn any serious fight film into a stoner comedy, so that has crossover appeal. Heroin is too prone to overdose. I’d have to think that something like meth or crack cocaine would yield the best product. If the hero in "Return of the Supreme Crackhead Master" seems too invincible, just put all of the bad guys on bath salts and have them eat the master’s face for the inciting incident. This shit practically writes itself.


This film nips around the edges of some solid and trashy action, but it comes in drips and drabs. The underground fight scenes are comical -- Ian Jacklin’s youthful arrogance is characterized by him flexing his muscles with exaggerated grunts after he strikes (“flex fighting”) --  but also slow and awkward. The same can be said of the stunt work. During a climactic scene involving henchmen on dirt bikes, we see one of the most disproportionately cruel and protracted retaliations by a hero in the history of cinema. After a snazzy dirt bike entrance, a henchman is tossed from his bike, pummeled to the ground, covered in gasoline, and then set ablaze via Zippo by the grizzled, eyepatch-wearing Nick. The whole scene transpired over what seemed like hours and would be right at home in a Videodrome telecast. Then there’s that funeral parlor sword fight, which is plodding despite the inspired mise-en-scene. Remember kids: not even a samurai sword can make a short-sleeve shirt and tie combo look cool.



VERDICT
American Streetfighter is a fight film made on the cheap and punctuated by occasional quirks. The choreographed violence is frequent and often over-the-top (see: aforementioned funeral parlor sword fight). There are curious character ticks galore, a totally hamfisted subplot about dead kickboxers, and more socially awkward moments than at a food packaging convention. (I have no proof, but I’ve always assumed this industry is full of weirdos). The movie works as a cinematic curiosity, but is probably for Daniels and Jacklin completists only.

AVAILABILITY
Amazon, EBay, Netflix.

3 / 7
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