American B-martial arts films, generally, tend to somewhat have a lack of excellent fight choreography. There have been exceptions, like the No Retreat, No Surrender films to name a few. This underrated martial arts film is an exception as well, thanks in part to Hong Kong stuntman-actor Tang Tak-Wing, who gets his first lead role as well in this action film.
James Caulfield is the new kid at a local college. Somewhat arrogant, he ends up becoming roommates with Mark Brown. At first, the two cannot get along, but they soon learn they share a similar passion: martial arts. James holds black belts in various styles and Mark is a champion and studio instructor. The newfound friends also have a common enemy, The White Tigers. Led by the manic Craig Tanner, the Tigers are a bunch of racist martial artists who bully anyone who get in their way.
James makes money by working as a dishwasher as a local Chinese restaurant, where he always gets heckled by chef Wing. When Tanner and the Tigers viciously assault James one night, Wing comes to the rescue and James is stunned to learn that Wing himself is an expert in kung fu. When James hopes to get Wing to train him for an upcoming tournament, Wing tells James that “kung fu for money is no good”. James decides not to take part in the tournament and after a few days, Wing takes him in as a student. However, when Mark, who was ready to enter the tournament, is injured in a fight against the Tigers, James must choose between his promise to his teacher and his loyalty to his best friend, in which they can use the money to open a new karate school.
Many people may not remember this film, as it was released on home video in 1991 as Trained to Fight. Ken McLeod, who plays our hero James, does a good job as playing this arrogant martial artist who thinks he is better than anyone else. At first, he loses the respect of his roommate Mark, played by martial artist Mark Williams. Williams, who got his start in two films starring Jet Li, Dragon Fight and The Master, is an excellent martial artist like McLeod and their sparring scene is quite short but sweet. Soon, the two’s love for martial arts brings them close like brothers. James soon learns life lessons through his training with Wing.
The real highlight truly comes in the form of Tang Tak-Wing, a Hong Kong stuntman who shines here with both comic relief as Wing, but his martial arts are top notch. In his fight scene against the Tigers, he is just a delight to watch. He has the size of Eric Tsang, but can move very fast and is agile as well. In an very interesting scene, Tang does a nice kung fu form that is so intricate that when he finishes, the floor has the yin and yang embedded in the dirt.
The only flaw in the film comes in the form of lead villain Craig Tanner, played by Matthew Roy Cohen. He has this groggy voice, complete with long curly hair and at times, you just want to laugh at him. His biggest enforcer doesn’t come in until the end of the film, as played by an uncredited Jeff Langton, who fights against our hero in the finale.
The fight scenes, choreographed by Tang, are well shot and edited. Tang utilized his Hong Kong-style of film fighting, something he would do a year later, assisting in action choreography for Jackie Chan’s Police Story 3: Supercop. Williams has dealt with this brand before and he shows he still has what it takes. As for McLeod, this is his film debut and he would go on to become more of a supporting actor, his biggest role being the bully in the Billy Blanks-Kenn Scott film Showdown. McLeod shows here what he can do in terms of Hong Kong choreography and does a pretty good job of fighting here.
In the end, College Kickboxer is definitely an underrated B-movie. The character of Tanner may be an annoyance, but it is Tang Tak-Wing that helps boost the film and the appearances of Ken McLeod and Mark Williams helps as they are agile martial artists and pretty good when it comes to the fights.
WFG RATING: A
Curb Esquire Films present a Starlight Film Productions film. Director: Eric Sherman. Producers: Teresa Woo and William Yuen. Writers: Teresa Woo and Roxanne Reaver. Cinematography: Jurg V. Walther. Editing: Brian Varaday.
Cast: Ken McLeod, Tang Tak-Wing, Mark Williams, Matthew Roy Cohen, Kendra Tucker, Roland Francisco, Michael O’Connell.