Angel Town (1990)

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Olivier Gruner, star of the Circuit film series alongside other countless B-movie action and sci-fi films, made his film debut in this action-drama revolving around a neighborhood terrorized by a local L.A. gang and a young college student who arrives and ends up becoming a hero.

Jacques Montaine is a French-born martial artist who has arrived to the United States to attend college. He has trouble finding a room to rent, but eventually he finds a place in a neighbor that has been the target of a local gang, led by the ruthless Angel. The reason is because the people Jacques are staying with have had their share of problems with Angel and his crew.

Maria Ordoñez is a widowed mother whose husband, an activist for ant-gang violence, was killed by Angel and his gang. Her son Martin is constantly pushed by Angel to join his gang and when he tries to refuse, either he or someone close to him always gets bullied. However, it is not long before Angel and his gang learn something about the new boarder.

Jacques is an expert martial artist and during his first real encounter with Angel’s gang, he fights his way after returning home from a college orientation/party. He is not there only to attend school, but he has been selected to assist the U.S. Olympic team as well. With the help of an old friend, martial arts instructor Harry, Jacques must become a “mentor” to the young Martin, whose life soon turns upside down when Angel’s harassment causes his grandmother to have a heart attack and his mother brutally attacked. When Martin attempts to stop Angel and his gang once and for all, Jacques and Henry, along with Martin’s war veteran neighbor Frank, assist Martin in order to take back the neighborhood once and for all.

Eric Karson, perhaps best known for directing the Chuck Norris ninjafest that is The Octagon as well as the Sho Kosugi-Jean Claude Van Damme starrer Black Eagle, helms this action film that combines martial arts action and urban violence. This goes way before the likes of films such as Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave, where urban gangs and martial arts made the mix. However, in most cases, the lower-budgeted films seem to offer better fight scenes than its A-list counterparts.

The film marked the debut of Olivier Gruner, a French-born martial arts expert who would gain fame as one of the big stars of 1990’s B-martial arts films such as Savate and The Circuit films as well as sci-fi flicks like Nemesis and the Interceptor Force films. Here, he is a “fish out of water”, a Frenchman who arrives in the United States and finds himself in the middle of a neighborhood war. When necessary, he defends himself using his martial arts skills and judging from the fight scenes, you will know that Gruner is quite the kicker and does a great job of showcasing his skills.

The film also brings a moral lesson about getting into gangs and the price that will be ultimately paid. In some aspect, it is a study of Martin, the young man who is constantly pressured to be a part of the ruthless gang that has taken over the neighborhood. Tony Valentino somewhat hams it up as gang leader Angel, spending most of his time screaming at his followers while two of the followers kind of have a comic relief element at times. Look for a pre-star Mark Dacascos as the driver of Angel’s second in command.

Alongside Gruner is martial artist and veteran actor Peter Kwong in a welcome good guy role. Like Gruner’s Jacques, Kwong’s Henry is a mentor in the martial arts and he was once a good friend of Martin’s father. Henry assists Jacques in trying to mentor Martin and bring him on the right path before the pressure gets to him.

The one scene that will stand out is the finale. It is cut into three parts, beginning with Martin finally feeling the need to take action and loads a shotgun against Angel’s gang with the help of the wheelchair-bound Frank, who has a machine gun from the war days. When the gang tries to blow up Martin’s house, Jacques arrives as well as Henry and his students. This plays out a whole rumble sequence in which Jacques, Henry, and Henry’s students use their martial arts skills against the unarmed members of Angel’s gang. The third and final part becomes a bit of a surprise and it all plays out as it should in a film of this caliber. Stunt coordinator Jeff Imada really made good use of everyone in this climatic sequence.

Angel Town is quite an interesting debut for Olivier Gruner. With the wake of B-martial arts films on the rise at this time, this ranks as one of the better efforts when compared to other films released that year such as Bloodfist and others.

WFG RATING: B+

Imperial Entertainment presents an Ellendale Pictures production. Director: Eric Karson. Producers: Eric Karson and Ash R. Shah. Writer: S. Warren. Cinematography: John LeBlanc. Editing: Duane Hartzell.

Cast: Olivier Gruner, Theresa Saldana, Frank Aragon, Tony Valentino, Mike Moroff, Peter Kwong, Lupe Amador, Gregory Cruz, Jim Jaimes, Robin Harlan.

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