The Fighter (1989)

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Australian martial arts action star Richard Norton stars in this ultra-low budgeted thriller that redeems itself in its climactic battle.

Ryan Travers has just been released from prison in Thailand after serving a five-year sentence for murder. During his time, his parents were killed in an explosion after refusing to pay the Yakuza protection money. Things go from bad to worse when Ryan learns his sister Katie will need an operation to cure a potentially terminal illness.

Starting out with a low-salaried job at a construction site, Ryan discovers an underground fight ring. At first, he struggles and barely makes it through his opponents. However, with the help of family friend Chai Wai and a local hustler named Zack, he begins to persevere. However, the Yakuza members who are responsible for the death of Ryan’s parents are responsible for the fight ring and soon find him to become a threat. They setup a match in Manila between Ryan and their hired champion, the Jet. Who will come out on top for this unprecedented event?

Richard Norton has become a force to be reckoned with since his early appearances in the early 1980s. With stints in both Hollywood and the Far East, for this film, Norton teams up with director Anthony Maharaj for this low budget film that is about both revenge and redemption for his character of Ryan Travers. As the character is very flawed due to the remnants of his past, Norton makes the most of the role as we see him facing obstacle after obstacle or else risk losing it all. While he has no love interest, amid his rendezvous with a local Thai call girl, the film relies more on the story of Ryan doing what he can to help his sister Katie.

Norton not only stars, but also served as one of the film’s three fight choreographers. If one has seen any of Norton’s choreography on screen, his experiences in Hong Kong and Hollywood has led him to create a realistic style of fighting and self-defense, which tends to emphasize more than the stylized undercranked fighting of his films in Hong Kong. However, the most technical fight in the film is also hailed as the best fight of the film and that is the long-awaited climactic fight between Ryan and the Jet, the kickboxing champion hired by the Yakuza to fight Ryan in the ring.

Alongside Norton and co-star Glen Ruehland, who hams it up as Ryan’s friend and local hustler Zack, legendary kickboxing champion Benny “The Jet” Urquidez stands out as well, The Jet. Urquidez helped choreograph his fight against Norton, which is set in a real ring in Manila. Here, Norton and Urquidez showcase their talents and do quite well with some slow-motion shots that may be a bit unnecessary but don’t take away the film overall. As for other fights in the film, Franco Guerrero gets in on some action as Chai Wai, Ryan’s family friend who helps when needed especially in a very pivotal scene towards the finale when the mob attempts to fix the fight. Guerrero, Norton, and Maharaj would reunite a few years later for a film that is better than this one, Deathfight.

The Fighter isn’t exactly a great martial arts action film, but it does have some decent fights. However, that final fight between Norton and Urquidez redeems the overall value of the film. The film was released by AIP Home Video in the late 1980s as Kick Fighter.

WFG RATING: C-

A IFC Films/Silvertree Productions film in association with The Walanar Group and Cari-Phil Productions. Director: Anthony Maharaj. Producer: Anthony Maharaj. Writer: Noah Blough; story by Anthony Maharaj. Cinematography: Johnny Aroajo. Editing: Bass Santos.

Cast: Richard Norton, Erika Van Wagener, Franco Guerrero, Glen Ruehland, Steve Rackman, Benny Urquidez, Nelly Nalo, Tony Laxo.

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