Breathing Fire (1991)

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The Goonies and Temple of Doom’s Jonathan Ke Quan unleashes his martial arts skills in this B-movie that has gained cult status.

Brothers Charlie and Tony Moore are competing in a major martial arts tournament in town. As they are working hard to advance, their father Michael has other plans. The leader of a band of robbers, Michael stages a robbery at a local bank and to cover their tracks, decides to place the safe keys in a fake pizza and cut the pizza in pieces for each member of the gang. When Michael confronts bank manager Peter, who was involved in the gang and wants out, he has Peter killed along with his wife. Annie, Peter’s daughter, escapes with her father’s piece.

Annie finds David, an old friend of Peter’s. David protects Annie and to ensure her safety, goes to his brother, who turns out to be Michael himself. Charlie and Tony bond with Annie and upon learning what has happened, decide to help her. When David does his own investigation, a disguised Michael cripples David. Seeing how good David was before his injury, Charlie and Tony prove themselves to be worthy students of David. As they go further into the investigation, they soon learn the horrifying truth behind who is responsible for everything and why as well. As for Charlie, he soon learns an even more horrifying truth about why he was adopted by Michael.

Martial arts films have truly been unleashed during the heyday of the home video market. This film was the creation of former kung fu action star Tan Tao-Liang, who used the pseudonym “Delon Tanners”, his English namesake used for his own martial arts school that he ran in California after his retirement from the film industry. Using part of the plot of his film Shaolin Deadly Kicks, he replaces his cop character looking for the pieces of a mold that holds bank keys with a story involving members of a family, most good and one evil.

The star of the film is none other than Jonathan Ke Quan, who many will know for his roles as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Data in The Goonies. Quan, who prior to this film studied taekwondo under stuntman Philip Tan, would become a protégé of Delon Tan and was the right choice as adopted brother Charlie. Here, Quan gets to show both the teenage antics that made his a hit in the 80s and yet prove himself to be an action star on the rise showcasing some impressive martial arts in his fight scenes. As for Eddie Saavedra as Tony Moore, this would mark his only role in a martial arts film but it is one heck of a role and Saavedra, had he continued a film career, could have had that potential as his skills are quite impressive.

Champion kickboxer turned actor/stuntman Jerry Trimble shows why he can tackle any role as he plays central villain Michael Moore as both a loyal dad but a ruthless leader who will do anything to get what he desires. His role here allows him to both love and hate him as he lets his ego gets the best of him but once those kicks come out, prepare to watch out. Hailed as one of the fastest kickers in the world, Trimble proves that and his chemistry with Quan and Savvedra works well on both sides of the spectrum. As good-natured brother David Moore, Ed Neal gets to showcase his action skills well until his injury turns him from fighter to mentor and the future Lord Zedd of Power Rangers fame does quite well in bringing both the action and drama to the role.

The film has some great supporting talent in the forms of the legendary Bolo Yeung as gang member “Thunder” and martial artist Allan Tackett as gang member Alan. In his introductory scene, Yeung appears dressed as a woman as part of the robbery and it shows that even the hulking legend can have a sense of humor. Tackett, who prior to this film played himself in the martial arts comedy They Still Call me Bruce, gets to showcase his skills against the likes of Neal, Quan, and Saavedra and like Saavedra, had that potential to become a star in martial arts films. However, Tackett would make his final film appearance here and retire to become to focus on solely teaching. The film would also gain notoriety as it marked the film debut of a future talent named Juan Ojeda, who plays the Moore Brothers’ buddy Mickey, whose role is similar to that of J.W. Fails’ R.J. in No Retreat, No Surrender. Ojeda would later gain fame as a martial arts actor, stuntman, and motion capture actor who goes by the name of T.J. Storm.

Breathing Fire may not be an A-list martial arts action film but it rightfully has earned its cult value. I is good to see Jonathan Ke Quan in a full on action role and seeing Bolo Yeung in drag seems a hoot. The fight scenes are nicely done, but one can only wonder what would have been had Eddie Saavedra and Allan Tackett continues their careers in martial arts films. Plus, Jerry Trimble proves himself to be quite the actor as well as having great martial arts skills, the beginning of a very successful career that still holds today.

WFG RATING: B

Curb Esquire Films presents a Golden Pacific and Arts production. Directors: Lou Kennedy and Brandon De Wilde. Producer: Raymond Mahoney. Writers: Raymond Mahoney and Wayne John; story by Delon Tan. Cinematography: Henry Chinon. Editing: Rick Mitchell and William Young.

Cast: Jonathan Ke Quan, Eddie Saavedra, Ed Neil, Jerry Trimble, Bolo Yeung, Allan Tackett, Wendell C. Whitaker, Jacqueline Pulliam, Laura Hamilton, T.J. Storm.

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