L.A. Streetfighters (South Korea/USA, 1985)

High school has become a war zone for this group in the first of Action Brothers Productions’ run featuring Taekwondo grandmaster Jun Chong.

Tony is the new kid at school. He runs into Chan, a local gang leader who claims to run the school. When Young, the leader of a rival gang and new friend of Tony’s, is challenged to a fight which Young wins, they are offered a job as security for private parties. However, as the group finds themselves in their new jobs, they find themselves under constant attack. Yet Young, Tony, and their friends Frank, Darren, and Mark are able to fight them off with their martial arts skills.

When Young and the gang are hired to do a job for a private party involving a drug dealer, Young lets his moral compass get the best of him and he steals the dealer’s money. The dealer decides to hit two hitmen, Kruger and Yoshida, to make an example of Young. Meanwhile, Young finds his friendship with Tony threatened when he starts a relationship with Lily, who is revealed to be Chan’s sister. Will Young be able to overcome the odds and unleash his skills against the best of the worst on the streets of Los Angeles?

The debut film of Taekwondo grandmaster Jun Chong’s short-lived Action Brothers Productions, this film is the essence of the B-movie martial arts film of the mid-1980s. Perhaps the film was made to bring Korean-style action to the United States, due in part of the classic martial arts era from the 1970s to early 80s coming from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and yes, Korea as well. In fact, one of the directors from that era, Richard Woo-Sang Park, made his Hollywood debut on this film with Chong, in his 40s, playing a high school gang leader (?!)

Despite the obvious issue with that casting, the film does have a few important plotlines, notably the friendship between Chong’s Young and Phillip Rhee’s Tony. The two friends work and fight together against various gangs and Young also serves as a mentor to Tony as he is the new kid in school. However, Young seems a bit threatened when he sees Tony in a relationship with Lily, played by Rosanna King. Whether it is envy or even worry that he may lose his one true friend, it is clear Tony sticks by Young when it all comes down to it.

As with Chong and Rhee, many supporting cast members are also skilled in martial arts and the film would also be the film debut of people who would later gain fame in films at one point or another. Playing rival gang leader Chan is the legendary James Lew, who would gain fame in films such as Big Trouble in Little China and earned an Emmy award for his work on the Marvel series Luke Cage. One of Chan’s gang members is played by Loren Avedon, who gained a following after his lead role debut a few years later with No Retreat, No Surrender II: Raging Thunder, and more notably, The King of the Kickboxers. Karate legend Bill “Superfoot” Wallace makes an extended cameo as Kruger, one of two hitmen hired by the syndicate leader to teach Young a lesson.

One of Young’s buddies and fellow gang members is played by stuntman Mark Hicks, who is best known as Chris Tucker’s stunt double for the Rush Hour trilogy and became a viral star as the character “Afro Ninja”, who fails on a backflip while holding nunchakus. Playing a member of the crime syndicate huired to take on Young after stealing drug money is Peter Malota, who is best known for his role as the spurs-sporting fighter in Double Impact and the Spanish flamenco fighter in The Quest, both opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme. Finally, there is an actor who made his debut named Thomas F. Wilson made his debut as a member of the racist Spikes gang. He would gain fame that same year as Biff Tannen in the iconic Back to the Future trilogy.

The fight scenes are pretty good for this level of films, showcasing both Taekwondo and Kumdo, in which a wooden sword is used and causes some heavy damage. Chong and Rhee excel in their use of the styles in the film, thanks in part to the choreography, which was done by former martial arts action star Kwon Young-Moon, who had moved to Los Angeles at the time of production and still lives there today. Kwon and director Park would reunite on Miami Connection, which after a one-time release in 1987, was re-released in 2012 to a massive cult following.

L.A. Streetfighters is a pretty good B-movie that features some up-and-coming martial arts talent and some pretty decent fight scenes despite a few flaws here and there. Nevertheless, this is a B-movie and should be seen with an open mind.

WFG RATING: C+

Manson Entertainment presents an Action Brothers Productions film. Director: Richard Woo-Sang Park. Producer: Jun Chong. Writer: Simon Blake Hong. Cinematography: David Kim and Maximo Munzi. Editing: Alex Chang.

Cast: Jun Chong, Phillip Rhee, James Lew, Rosanna King, Bill Wallace, Ken Nagayama, Frank Marmolejo, Darren Muriel, Mark Hicks, Toma Gjokaj, Gina S. Im, Danny Gibson, John Rojas, Thomas F. Wilson, Loren Avedon, Peter Malota.

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