I sit in my room, take a good look around at my selection of B-Grade Martial Arts films, and I wonder, "What the hell got me to this point?" What was it that inspired me to now rummage through bargain bins and closing-down video store sales to find that next B-Grade gem? My journey, or as some may say my 'descent into crap cinema', actually started with a film which is not craptacular in any sense of the word: Enter the Dragon. My mother is a massive Bruce Lee fan, and I distinctly remember her taping it for me on VHS when I was five. Even for a young kid I did like action violence, especially in the cartoons I watched -- I think at the time I thought of myself to be a bit of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles connoisseur. Enter the Dragon was a big stretch from the Ninja Turtles, but I remember just how mesmerized I was with Bruce Lee from that very first moment I saw him kick the crap out of Bob Wall.
Enter the Dragon gave me that taste for Martial Arts, but where did the cheese start to seep into the form of greasy pony tails, fire-up montage songs and one-liners? I tell you where it started: Bloodsport. This was a film we taped multiple times off the TV and rented on VHS, and the more I watched it, the more it became a second skin. Bloodsport then lead to my favourite Van Damme film of all time, Kickboxer which, as a kid under the age of 10, started to develop my bloody taste for violence and awesome soundtracks. From then on, video store trips became more frequent, with my older brother with us renting films such as Best of the Best 1-4, No Retreat No Surrender, American Kickboxer, American Ninja 1-4, Black Belt Jones, and Wrong Bet (aka Lionheart). This is the tiniest fraction of what we rented on a regular basis.
In the 1980s and even more so in the 90s you could rent just about everything, no matter how B-Grade and low budget the film was. So, finding a film with Lorenzo Lamas wearing a bandanna and shirtless on the front cover wasn't like trying to find a needle in a haystack, like it is now. I just lived for every Friday after school because that was when we rented movies, and with each week that passed, my love for bad synthesised music and brutal choreography grew.
I know that this genre of film gets a lot of crap, and to those people who don't understand just how creative this genre is, I say go play in front of incoming traffic. Yeah, you can shut your brain off to this stuff, especially if you have seen these kinds of films a lot and just need it for a comforting sound in the background -- hey, that's what I do sometimes. But to be honest, in the majority of these films there are a lot of redeeming qualities. And viewers of the genre should also remember the majority of these 'actors' aren't actually actors at all -- they are Martial Artists who managed to get lucky and be in a feature film. Or they could have made it themselves because let's face it -- who didn't want to be the next Jean-Claude Van Damme? And since these guys are physically fit and very experienced in a specific martial art that they have trained in, you have to give them some respect. In a way, you could say they are method actors in their own right.
I love B-Grade Martial Arts, not just for the choreography, but I really enjoy it for the predictable storyline. Revenge is always on the mind, as well showcasing your best Karate moves and not to mention fitting in a little time for a cheap romance -- the leading lady is usually a reporter or a sweet girl from the wrong side of the tracks who fell in with the wrong crowd. This predictability is what makes these films. As a viewer you want an easy-to-follow plot, with some memorable characters and good quality fight choreography. Oh! -- and a killer soundtrack.
If you take these kinds of films seriously, then you won't enjoy the ride. So here's a few tips to make sure you get what you want from this genre:
- Leave your high standards for film at the door
- If you are watching them with friends, make sure they have a similar stance on these films
- Don't look too much into the plot, as you may be disappointed if you do
- Learn to laugh at the bad acting - My life has become so much richer because of this
- Understand that it's perfectly fine to switch your brain off for 90 minutes and not take what you are watching so seriously.
- Embrace these films for what they are
- King of the Kickboxers
- To the Death
- Kickboxer II: The Road Back
- American Ninja 4
- No Retreat No Surrender
- Best of the Best II
- American Kickboxer
- Samurai Cop
- The Last Dragon
- Blood and Bone
- Showdown in Little Tokyo
- Undisputed II