The awesome Bolo Yeung plays hero in this underrated 90’s straight to video tournament that relies on some gory scenes in its fight scenes but still holds its own nonetheless.
Five years ago in Hong Kong, the art of shootfighting had its greatest champion in Shingo, who was determined to fight in the finals against either Lee (Martin Kove) or longtime friend Po. Lee viciously murders Po in the ring, making him a disgrace to the sport and promises to one day, take on Shingo.
In Los Angeles, Ruben is training for the Nationals when his best friend and brother-in-law Nick arrives. Ruben reveals that his trainer for the Nationals is none other than Shingo, who has retired from the sport after what had transpired in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Lee, still holding his grudge, now runs underground shootfighting competitions for the elite in Mexico. When he invites Ruben and Nick to compete in Mexico due to some financial issues, the buddies soon learn that they have been duped as a way to bring Shingo back into the fold so that Lee could finally get the fight he has waited five years for.
The tournament genre has always been a favorite in martial arts action films. While Enter the Dragon and Bloodsport are considered pioneers of this particular sub-genre, this film, along with the Cannon film American Samurai, can be considered to be more known for its graphic violence to complement the martial arts action. Here, we have the powerhouse Bolo Yeung in one of his first roles as a hero after playing villain roles in so many films in both Hong Kong and Hollywood.
Alongside Yeung, we have Canadian martial arts champion Michael Bernardo making his film debut as the returning Nick and The Karate Kid’s Johnny himself, William Zabka, in a very welcome return to martial arts films. Since his training for the 1984 hit film, Zabka kept on with martial arts, eventually earning a black belt in Tang Soo Do. Zabka is also the film’s catalyst in terms of why Shingo must return to the world he once left. Bernardo does quite well for his film debut as well, showcasing a rebellious nature, complementing Zabka’s more or less level-headed teacher.
The Karate Kid’s Sensei Kreese, Martin Kove, once again plays a nefarious villain in former shootfighter turned promoter Lee. He is truly evil and holds his grudge against Shingo because his attempt to change the sport of shootfighting resulted in his exile. He has two major cronies, Mr. C, played by Edward Albert; and Teng, played by the man who would influence Raiden in the Mortal Kombat video games, James Pax of Big Trouble in Little China. While Kove is the mastermind behind the entire game, his cronies are truly just as nefarious as Lee himself.
The fight choreography was done by Pat E. Johnson with John Barrett serving as stunt coordinator. The film has many names in the martial arts film industry serving as the shootfighters in competition. They include Hakim Alston as Lee’s current champion, Barrett himself as a former champion back in the game, Roger Yuan as Lee’s opponent in the opening and many more such as Jon Agro, Steve Buckingham, Chris Casamassa, Erik Betts, and others. As mentioned, some of the fights showcase some gore, notably in the unrated cut of the film. Fighters get throats ripped out, brutal deep slashings, and bones literally breaking. Some of the stuff seen here may be a bit over the top and brutal, but for hardcore martial arts film fans, they are still quite enjoyable.
It is definitely worth checking out Shootfighter: Fight to the Death, especially to see Bolo Yeung in a hero role and the return of William Zabka to martial arts films. Despite some over the top gore in some of the fights, they are still worth checking out if you are into that bloodshed.
WFG RATING: B
Vision International presents an ANA Productions Film. Director: Pat Alan. Producer: Alan Amiel. Writers: Judd Lynn, Larry Felix Jr., and Peter Shaner. Cinematography: Glenn Kershaw. Editing: Isaac Sehayek.
Cast: Bolo Yeung, Maryam D’Abo, William Zabka, Michael Bernardo, Sigal Diamant, Martin Kove, Edward Albert, James Pax, Lang Yung, George Cheung, Hakim Alston, Thunderwolf, Roger Yuan, Joe Son, Kisu, Mando Reyes, Kazja Patschull, Chris Casamassa, John Barrett