1993

Surf Ninjas (1993)

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It’s time to ride the waves of destiny in this family action comedy that highlights the talents of young martial arts legend Ernie Reyes Jr.

Johnny and Adam are brothers who don’t care about much about school as much as they do about surfing. Raised by Mac, Johnny learns both he and his brother are adopted, but have no idea where they came from. They soon learn the truth about their birth right when they are approached by Zatch, the one-time guard of the Kingdom of Patusan. At first Johnny and Adam find the claims ridiculous. That is, until Mac is kidnapped by the forces of Colonel Chi.

Colonel Chi was responsible for the death of Johnny and Adam’s birth parents, but had become disfigured as a result of his ego. When Zatch leads the boys and their friend Iggy to Little Patusan, Johnny and Adam soon learn they are not just the princes and heir apparent, but the duo have certain skills. Adam is a seer, which he can see things through his video game system while Johnny finds his destiny as the warrior prince. With their newfound skills, they are ready to take on Chi and his team with the intention of bringing peace to Patusan once and for all.

With the success of his career as a kid in 80’s films like Red Sonja and The Last Dragon, alongside having his own TV series, Ernie Reyes Jr. once again got know when he did the fighting in the Donatello suit in the 1990 live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. This would lead to him having a supporting role in the 1991 sequel. To capitalize on this somewhat of a resurgence for his career and it leads to this film. While the premise is cute family fun in an era where the family film and martial arts genre meshed well, this is quite a fun film with a few ridiculous overtones.

The first of the ridiculousness of the film is the fact that Adam’s power as a seer shows him using those powers through his portable video game. Why they opted to go this route may not make sense but perhaps it is used to appeal to the young gamer crowd to bring more of an audience. The number two factor of ridicule in the film is that Leslie Nielsen’s character is that of Colonel Chi and on top of that, he’s not exactly the most intimidating villain. He is seen either complaining on a phone call or worrying about getting wet due to his robotic implants.

While the comedy is really at times juvenile (and that’s forgivable considering the audience this is geared towards), the martial arts action is actually pretty exciting. Choreographed by Ernie Reyes Jr. and his father (the taekwondo legend who also plays Zatch), the action is quite impressive here. To add a comic effect, the song “Ode to Joy” is hilariously played when Johnny’s skills are revealed and even he is in for a surprise. The finale does add some of the ridiculousness but still is okay and of course this being a family film, one knows how this will end.

Surf Ninjas is a fun yet at times ridiculous family film that has some great martial arts action and some mixed comic relief. Leslie Nielsen plays a ridiculous villain and the use of a video game as a seer’s tool is somewhat not appealing, but overall, not a bad film.

WFG RATING: B-

A New Line Cinema production. Director: Neal Israel. Producer: Evzen Kolar. Writer: Dan Gordon. Cinematography: Arthur Albert and Victor Hammer. Editing: Tom Walls.

Cast: Ernie Reyes Jr., Nicholas Cowan, Rob Schneider, Ernie Reyes Sr., Leslie Nielsen, John Karlen, Kelly Hu, Nathan Jung, Tone Loc.

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The Program (1993)

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The trials and tribulations of a college football team over the course of a season are explored in this film from the director of the hit baseball comedy Major League.

Eastern State University has been unable to enter the college playoffs in three years. This year, they look to turn things around. They recruit a freshman tailback, Darnell Jefferson.  Quarterback Joe Kane is a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Linebacker Alvin Mack wants to be a true leader for the defense. Cornerback Steve Lattimer has come this season fully pumped and ready. However, as the season comes to a head, problems begin to slowly plague the team.

Joe suffers from constant drinking and adrenaline to make up for the lack of support from his father. Darnell needs a tutor to help with his entrance exams and when he falls for his tutor, Autumn, he finds himself in competition with Ray, a tailback who turns out to be Autumn’s boyfriend. This causes a rivalry both on and off the field between the two. Lattimer is revealed to be doing steroids and during an after party, he goes on a roid rage and finds himself suspended for three games. Joe’s drinking takes a turn for the worse, causing him to go to rehab. Backup quarterback Bobby Collins is expelled from school because he convinced his girlfriend Luanne to take his exam for him. Even worse, Luanne is the coach’s daughter. As the team goes through their personal problems off the field, they must persevere if they want to break the streak and make the playoffs.

Director/co-writer David S. Ward has an interesting way to tell the story of sports teams. He stretches out the film to explore the trials and tribulations of teams throughout an entire season. His hit film Major League was a comedy that focused on the Cleveland Indians, which was made up of a band of ragtag players. For this film, Ward and co-writer Aaron Latham bring a more emotional tale in the world of college football.

While James Caan is given top billing as the coach of the football team, the focus of the film is more on the players, notably Craig Sheffer’s star quarterback, freshman tailback Omar Epps, and in some cases, defensive end Andrew Bryniarski. These three are the ones who go through the most in the film. Sheffer does well as Joe Kane, the Heisman candidate who lets his alcoholism nearly shatters his dream of getting the brass ring. Epps does quite well as newcomer Jefferson, who finds himself trying to do his best on the field while he has a rival both on and off the field with someone who is not only starting tailback but is also the boyfriend of the girl he falls for. As Steve Lattimer, Andrew Bryniarski does well as someone who is overpowering due to steroid use and then realizes his mistakes only to try to make himself a better person.

There are some set comic pieces in the film, but there is an excised scene worth mentioning. An initial screening of the film shows three football players lying in the middle of the street with cars passing them. After the screening, some kids tried to emulate this stunt and were killed. As a result, all of the prints no longer have this particular scene…and for good reason.

Nevertheless, if you are a fan of sports films, then it is good to check out The Program to see the world of college football both on and off the field. James Caan, Criag Sheffer, Omar Epps, and Andrew Bryniarski as well as the rest of the cast do quite well. Definitely worth checking out.

WFG RATING: A-

A Touchstone Pictures production. Director: David S. Ward. Producer: Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Writers: David S. Ward and Aaron Latham. Cinematography: Victor Hammer. Editing: Kimberly Ray and Paul Seydor.

Cast: James Caan, Craig Sheffer, Omar Epps, Kristy Swanson, Halle Berry, Abraham Benrubi, Duane Davis, Jon Maynard Pennell, Joey Lauren Adams, Andrew Bryniarski, J. Leon Pridgen II.

High Kicks (1993)

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This film, made in the wake of the home video circuit, could be either an informercial for the predecessor of Tae Bo, an elongated Taster’s Choice commercial, or a women’s self-defense video. Actually, it turns out it somewhat melds all three.

Sandy Thomas is the owner of the High Kicks aerobics studio. A sign for a part-time employee brings in newcomer Sam Monroe, a sailor who has just come to town and is looking to find work. When Sandy hires him, he is overjoyed. However, for Sandy, things are about to spiral downwards when a gang of tough guys led by T.C. attempt to rob Sandy. When she refuses, she is assaulted by the goons.

When Sam discovers what has happened, he decides to help Sandy. He reveals to Sandy that he is not just a sailor, but a practitioner of martial arts. Alongside two of his friends, Jonas and Maurice, Sam begins to train Sandy in martial arts while helping her find each member of the gang that raped her and teaching them a lesson. In the midst of things, Sandy and Sam soon discover a way to combine Sandy’s aerobics and Sam’s martial arts, making it a hit at the studio. However, when the toughs plan to go round two with Sandy, will she finally have enough courage to stand up to the goons once and for all?

Written, produced, and directed by Ruta K. Aras, this would be the filmmaker’s only film and is truly a shot-on-video effort as in the 1990’s, everyone who knew martial arts were making films to capitalize on the home video market, in which the genre was one of its most successful at the time. However, the lesson here is just because one knows martial arts, doesn’t mean they will always make great films.

The film definitely will not win in the acting department. Virtually everyone in the film are first-timers and they range from a monotonous tone to at times, a bit of overacting. Tara Lee-Anne Roth makes a pretty convincing performance when thinking about the attack but in other scenes, it is as if she is pretty much told, “oh just react this way”. Dennis Swarthout, who actually made the U.S. Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 2007, also doesn’t have the greatest acting skills and has a look that combines surfer with the lead character of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. However, one has to give him credit because he sure can fight. However, one can’t help but laugh at their romantic scenes as it looks like one is watching a montage like commercial for Taster’s Choice coffee. Once Sandy and Sam meld the karate with aerobics, it soon turns into an informercial like ad for Karobics (as it is called in the end credits).

There are four martial arts choreographers in the film, which may sound a bit farfetched considering the fight scenes are more of a simplistic “wait to get hit” kind of riff. Swarthout, Kevin Knotts, Jonas Johannes Kuehne, and Dennis Reese were the choreographers and in a nod to Jean-Claude Van Damme, during a sparring scene, Knotts does a split and hits Kuehne in the groin a la Bloodsport. Roth gets in on some action and is doubled by martial arts champion and actress Michele “Mouse” Krasnoo, who also has a small role as one of the girls doing aerobics. One won’t spoil it, but the finale is predictable and done actually pretty decent. Otherwise, this would have been truly horrific in every way.

High Kicks is more for the hardcore martial arts film fan who feels as if they have to see a bad movie on occasion for laughs. Because that is what this is, despite a good final scene making it for the commercial-like quality of the film. Worth renting for laughs on a Satuday night with the guys, or have the gang at Mystery Science Theater 3000 bring this!

WFG RATING: D

A Crystal Amber Productions film. Director: Ruta K. Aras. Producer: Ruta K. Aras. Writer: Ruta K. Aras. Cinematography: Lida Hadas. Editing: Curt La Furney.

Cast: Tara Lee-Anne Roth, Dennis Swarthout, Sandy Kay, Kevin Knotts, Anastasia Alexander, Jonas Kuehne, Louis Lombardi, Frank Medrano, Harry Yi, Raphael B. Said.

Courtesy of Bad Movie Night

Magic Kid (1993)

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Junior martial arts champion Ted Jan Roberts makes his film debut which features legendary kickboxer turned actor Don “The Dragon” Wilson in a special appearance.

Kevin Ryan is a young martial arts champion from Kalamazoo, Michigan who is heading to California with his sister Megan to see his idol, kickboxer turned action star Don “The Dragon” Wilson. Kevin’s uncle Bob, a talent agent, is the one who promised Kevin and Megan, who wishes to see teen heartthrob Tommy Hart as well. However, what the duo do not know is that Uncle Bob isn’t as big as he once was.

Bob is a down on his luck agent who owes a gambling debt to some local hoodlums. Desperate for money, Bob still attempts to make Kevin and Megan’s trip memorable. When Kevin learns the truth about Uncle Bob, he is at first heartbroken. However, he becomes determined to help Uncle Bob fend off the goons with his martial arts skills. Soon enough, when Megan goes on a date with Tommy, that night will soon be unforgettable to this trio of uncle, niece, and nephew.

At the time of the film’s release, L.A.-based PM Entertainment began slowly becoming one of indie action cinema’s top film companies due to the likes of Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Gary Daniels making their way to become 90’s action heroes. Deciding to take a chance on adding a family demographic, the search was on for a young martial artist who would become their PM’s newest star.

Enter twelve-year old Ted Jan Roberts, who after a brief appearance on an episode of Married with Children, makes his film debut in the titular role. As the young Kevin, the film gives Roberts a chance to showcase his martial arts skills and truly looks like he is having fun with the role. While his character calls for him to meet the legendary Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Kevin does find himself having to defend his Uncle Bob, played by Stephen Furst, who has a bit of fun himself as a down on his luck agent who finds himself in a terrible jam but remains loyal to his family. Furst had so much fun making this film that would go on to not only return for the sequel, but make his directorial debut on that very film.

Of course, to rival another family martial arts film released at the time, 3 Ninjas, there has to be some idiotic goons who Kevin must face off against and they come in the form of Billy Hufsey as Guido with Red Horton and Joe Murphy as his thugs. Hollywood veterans Chris Mitchum and Lauren Tewes make cameos as Kevin and Megan’s parents who need a vacation, so they send the kids to California. Art Camacho makes a cameo himself as Kevin’s martial arts teacher in the opening tournament sequence and also served as the film’s fight choreographer.

The film may be somewhat of a showreel for Roberts when it comes to his martial arts skills, but Camacho’s fight choreography makes it quite a hoot to watch. Aside from Guido and his goons, Roberts take on some bikers at a pool hall, some goons at the beach, and then the finale in a nightclub, where everything comes to a head. There’s even a fun sequence set at Universal Studios to take away the more serious plot of the film as a breather/intermission of sorts.

Magic Kid may not be as big as 3 Ninjas at the time, but it is still a fun martial arts adventure for the family that highlights the talents of young Ted Jan Roberts as the titular role, filled with some fun fight sequences and any Don “The Dragon” Wilson fan will want to see his special appearance in the film.

WFG RATING: B

A PM Entertainment Production. Director: Joseph Merhi. Producers: Joseph Merhi and Richard Pepin. Writer: Stephen Smoke. Cinematography: Ken Blakey. Editing: Geraint Bell.

Cast: Stephen Furst, Ted Jan Roberts, Shonda Whipple, Sandra Kerns, Billy Hufsey, Red Horton, Joe Murphy, Joseph Campanella, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Chris Mitchum, Lauren Tewes.

American Kickboxer 2 (1993)

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1993, Davian International

Director:
Jeno Hodi
Producer:
David Hunt
Writers:
Jeno Hodi
Greg Lewis
Paul Wolansky
Cinematography:
Blain Brown
Editing:
Lawrence A. Maddox
Tim Spring
Paul Wolansky

Cast:
Dale “Apollo” Cook (Mike Clark)
Evan Lurie (David)
Kathy Shower (Lillian Hansen)
David Graf (Howard Hansen)
Ted Markland (Xavier)
Jeffrey R. Iorio (Hammer)
Jessica Springal (Susie)
Greg Lewis (Uncle Francis)
Jeno Hodi (Attila)

Two rivals must unite to rescue a kidnapped girl in this in-name “sequel” to the 1991 kickboxing film.

Lillian Hansen married Howard, the CEO of her father’s company, after the birth of her seven-year daughter Susie. However, she is still an heir apparent to the fortune. Xavier, a top criminal, decides to kidnap Susie for a ransom of one million dollars. When he succeeds in the kidnapping, Lillian attempts to get the money from her uncle Francis, who is the current relative who has access to the funds. However, when he decides to think about helping Lillian out, Lillian decides to go another route.

She hires her ex-husband Mike Clark, a volatile police officer who likes to do things his way without any help. However, when Howard is not too thrilled about Lillian calling Mike due to their destroyed marriage, Lillian does find a possible alternate. David, a local martial arts teacher, who had an affair with Lillian while her marriage with Mike was failing, is hired by Lillian. However, Mike has gotten the call as well as now, these two rivals have no other choice but to join forces for the sake of Susie’s life, even if one of them is actually the father of the girl.

The first time this film was reviewed, it was given as very bad and terrible. However, the time came to give this film a second chance and the major issue is that the film is being seen as a sequel to a 1991 kickboxing film called American Kickboxer. Under a different title, this would have better sense, and who knows why the Filipino-based Davian International got the rights to the name to make this a sequel but overall, it’s not a completely bad B-movie that takes the classic “rivals must team up” gig all for the sake of a “mission”.

Kickboxing legend Dale “Apollo” Cook, who graces the film’s poster, plays the very volatile Mike, a cop who is all about action and lets his fists do the talking. His introductory scene has him taking on a group of thugs using some of his martial arts skills. However, when it comes to martial arts, the film’s true star is Evan Lurie, who gets his biggest role to date as David, a playboy martial arts teacher. Their connection is Lillian, played by former Playmate turned B-movie star Kathy Shower. Shower, a staple for erotic thriller films, gets her most mainstream role yet as the troubled former wife of Mike and former lover of David, who is conflicted not only with her daughter being kidnapped, but struggles with who is in fact the father of the girl.

Cook and Lurie actually are quite an interesting duo as when they are not fighting and shooting at the bad guys, they are fighting each other. Their first meeting in the film shows a volatile Cook and a defensive Lurie at each other’s throats when a bystander arrives and threatens to call the cops. Cook gets the upper hand in most of the scuffles between the two but they either end it quick or find themselves being threatened by other goons. One of the four confrontations is forced as they are forced to entertain a crowd in an abandoned warehouse.

Police Academy’s Tackleberry, the late David Graf, plays Howard as someone who is more business-minded and not the action nut his iconic character is, yet he makes the most of his role in the film. Ted Markland is truly a mastermind as Xavier while he has the likes of Jeffrey Iorio, Ned Hourani, and Kris Aguilar as some of his goons. The final act shows Lurie doing all of the fighting while Cook protects Shower and her daughter by shooting. This allows Lurie to get the spotlight and he definitely has the skills to boot.

Despite the title, American Kickboxer 2 should not be seen as a sequel as the 1993 Cannon FilmTo the Death is the real sequel. However, this is actually a decent B-movie buddy film that could have a chance to have given Dale Cook a better chance to show his skills while Evan Lurie does get to show his skills. Overall, the film is a middle of the road B-action film.

WFG RATING: C

DVD

The Deadly Cure (1993)

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1993, Z Productions Ltd./Reel Asian Films

Director:
Michael Connor
Producer:
Dr. Zee Lo
Writer:
Dr. Zee Lo
Cinematography:
David Austin
Editing:
Dr. Zee Lo

Cast:
Dr. Zee Lo (Dr. Billy Lee/Eddie Lee)
Deborah Keller (Susan)
Leo Lee (Wu Feng)
Bill Cable (Alex)
Michael Lewis (Dean Hopkins)
Kisu (Wing Ding)
Joycelyne Lew (Mrs. Lee)
Kenny Lane (Young Billy)
Henry Cheung (Buddhist Priest)

Jeet Kune Do and medicine expert Dr. Zee Lo makes his film debut on this 1990’s shot-on-video action film that brings a bit of homage to JKD founder Brue Lee.

Thirty years ago, Eddie Lee was creating a new drug but has not completely perfected it. Despite the imperfection, crime boss Wu Feng demands Eddie give him the drug. When Eddie refuses, both he and his wife are killed by Wu Feng and his men. The lone survivor is young son, Billy, who grows up to become a doctor with an expertise in medicines and has dedicated his life to coming up with a way to combat the drug, which has caused an epidemic for the past thirty years.

While Billy has succeeded in testing on an individual basis, the State Department wants the remedy, but Billy has to learn how to actually make it for a citywide basis. With help from student and new assistant Susan, Billy finally discovers the secret to making the remedy. However, when word gets out of his discovery, Wu Feng plans to have the remedy destroyed as it will ultimately hurt his business. When Billy is under constant threat, under the advice from a local priest, Billy must begin training in martial arts as he learns it will be the only way to stop Wu Feng and his men.

Dr. Zee Lo is quite an interesting figure. A student of Ted Wong, himself a student of the legendary Bruce Lee, Lo is well versed in Jeet Kune Do and even Chinese medicine. In the 1990’s, Lo made the decision to make films and self-finance his own films without the help of any big studios. This film marks his debut in the world of martial arts action films. The interesting thing is that the film is shot-on-video, so having something extraordinary may not exactly be in the works circa 1993.

The film involves not only a revenge story of sorts, but more about the hunt for a remedy to an epidemic. Lo plays two roles in the film. He is seen in the opening as the creator of the drug who starts the epidemic unintentionally and dies for his refusal to give up the drug to our lead villain. The central role however is that of the drug creator’s son, who goes to great lengths to find a cure for the drug. Having found the cure, he becomes a target and thus, must learn martial arts to take on the villains. Deborah Keller does okay as Susan, Billy’s assistant/love interest, who acts as a typical damsel in distress. Leo Lee, who many will later know as Master Pain in Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (with Lung Fei in the classic footage), is vicious as Wu Feng.

Dr. Z, as Lo is also known as, also choreographed the film’s fight scenes. It must be said that the training sequences are actually pretty decent and as for the fight themselves, they are what one would expect in a low-budget shot-on-video production. However, with Lo having the lineage of Lee himself, it is quite fitting that Lo pays homage to Lee by using mainly Jeet Kune Do himself in the fights. One such fight scene has Lo using a more grounded assault against Undefeatable villain Don Niam. Lo even pays a bit of a tribute to the Lee-Dan Inosanto nunchaku fight from Game of Death in one fight scene. The film’s action starts out light, but in the final act, it’s all Lo against all.

The Deadly Cure may not be on the level of classics and modern day martial arts films. However, for a shot-on-video self-financed 90’s film that pays homage to Bruce Lee, it’s not a complete disaster. It’s actually an interesting debut for Dr. Zee Lo, who continues to make his own films to this day.

WFG RATING: C

This film is available to buy at ReelAsianFilms.com, Dr. Z’s film distribution company.

The Untold Story (1993)

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One of the most talked about films in Hong Kong cinematic history, this very disturbing film would become the breakthrough film for veteran actor Anthony Wong. Wong’s performance drives this very sick film and it would earn him (rightfully) the Best Actor Award at the 1993 Hong Kong Film Awards.

Wong plays Wong Chi-Hang, the owner of the Eight Immortals Restaurant in Macau. Business has been booming under Wong’s ownership. However, one wonders what has happened to the original owner of the place, Cheng Lam. When a mother and her two children find dismembered arms on the beach, the Macau police, led by Officer Lee investigates.

The arms belonged to the mother-in-law of Cheng Lam and Wong is asked about Cheng Lam. Wong claims Cheng sold him the restaurant and left. However, letters from Cheng’s family in the Mainland begin to arrive. Meanwhile, when a new hire sees Wong cheat at mahjong, he confronts Wong. Wong becomes unstable and kills the new hire. Realizing that he cannot move the corpse, he comes up with an idea. He chops up the body and uses the flesh for his meat buns.

As the police continue their investigation, Wong’s other hire Pearl gets suspicious of Wong, especially after constantly receiving the letters from Cheng’s family. When Wong suspects she has told the police something, he rapes and ultimately kills her as well. The police however, ultimately connect Wong to the dismembered arms and have him arrested. When Wong is sent to prison, he attempts suicide after receiving a vicious beating from Cheng’s brother Poon. At the hospital, a failed attempt at escape force the police to take drastic measures in order for Wong to confess.

Rated Category-III (Hong Kong’s version of the NC-17 rating), this is truly one of the most disturbing films to come out of the Jade Screens. Director Herman Yau has crafted his tour-de-force with this visionary tale of a psychotic madman’s downhill spiral and his efforts to not be judged in any way, even though the audience knows what a psychopath this man was. The film was based on a 1986 Macau case of the real Wong Chi-Hang.

Anthony Wong delivers a top-notch performance as the insane Wong. He plays him as a man who felt he has been cheated out of the world. He feels somewhat omnipotent to himself as he must kill in order to make things right in his own sadistic world. The film delves into something similar to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre only here, the violence is more graphic than its cannibalistic counterpart. The disturbing piece de resistance is a flashback where we learn what really happened to Cheng Lam. It is both sad and disturbing in all sides of the table.

To make the film more entertaining in a way is a break from the madness. To achieve this, the film makes the Macau cops a group of chauvinists who ogle the hookers that lead Detective Lee is always carousing. In practically every scene, Danny Lee’s veteran cop is seen with a hooker on his arm. His group has one female, Bo, played well by Emily Kwan. Bo is ridiculed for her petite frame and is always coerced into doing more on the job by her fellow cops. However, she takes the reigns dutifully when it comes to solving the crime.

If you are disturbed by the likes of Saw and Hostel, then you will truly be grossed-out with The Untold Story. The film is shocking and definitely should be viewed in the daytime. If you have a weak stomach or heart, it is highly recommended that you do not ever see this movie!

WFG RATING: A

A Uniden Investments Ltd. production. Director: Herman Yau. Producer: Danny Lee. Writers: Law Kam-Fai and Sammy Lau. Cinematography: Cho Wai-Kei. Editing: Robert Choi.

Cast: Anthony Wong, Danny Lee, Emily Kwan, Lau Siu-Ming, Shing Fui-On, Eric Kei, Lam King-Kong, Julie Lee, Hui Sze-Man.

 

REVIEW: Kickboxer 4 – The Aggressor (1993)

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1993, Kings Road Entertainment

Director:
Albert Pyun
Producer:
Jessica G. Budin
Writers:
David S. Goyer (original characters)
Jean-Claude Van Damme (original characters)
Mark DiSalle (original characters)
Albert Pyun (story and screenplay)
David Yorkin (screenplay)
Cinematography:
George Mooradian
Editing:
Kenneth Morrisey

Cast:
Sasha Mitchell (David Sloane)
Kamel Krifa (Tong Po)
Brad Thornton (Lando Smith)
Jill Pierce (Darcy)
Michele Krasnoo (Megan Lawrence)
Thom Mathews (Bill)
Burton Richardson (Thomas)

The martial arts saga revolving around the Sloan clan takes a major turn for the worse in the most unbelievable installment of the film series. While Sasha Mitchell returns, the absence of Dennis Chan as well as a new actor playing veteran series bad guy Tong Po makes this installment bad on all nearly levels despite some decent action.

The opening of the film alone becomes baffled as we see former kickboxing champion David Sloane in prison. He writes a letter to his wife Vicky and tells her about Tong Po and his brothers, as seen in flashbacks from the first two Kickboxer films. Vicky finds herself kidnapped by Tong Po, who has gone from being a kickboxer in Thailand to a drug dealer based in Mexico. Meanwhile, it was revealed that Tong Po had set David up and as a result, sent him to prison.

After making a deal with the Drug Enforcement Agency to get Tong Po and rescue his wife, David disguises himself as Jack, an up-and-coming brawler to compete in Tong Po’s Tournament of Champions, where the winner will receive a $1 million prize. As David draws closer into Tong Po’s organization, he soon learns he is being helped by DEA agent Lando Smith, whose brother was a student and eventual instructor at David’s school. David and Lando take a young female fighter, Megan under their wing as she gets herself in the tournament as well. However, what will happen if Tong Po learns that his one-time nemesis has entered the tournament and wants to seek revenge?

The film is not exactly thrilling in terms of story and the characterization of our hero David Sloane. After faring well in Kickboxer 2: The Road Back and Kickboxer 3: The Art of War, it seemed as if the filmmakers tried to make Sasha Mitchell a really tough fighter, not to mention a hard-boiled prisoner for the first fifteen minutes. Mitchell just has a character that seems too likable and that was what helped make his character of David Sloane likable in the last two films. Here, Sloan just seems more tough and reckless. Perhaps it is the fact that they practically took out the third film as well as not even involve Xian Chow, Sloan’s mentor played by Hong Kong veteran Dennis Chan, in this film.

For fans of the previous Kickboxer films, Dennis Chan’s Xian had that “comic relief” with his sense of sarcasm that made him a worthy mentor, first of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Kurt then Sasha Mitchell’s David. In some ways, one can say he drove the films to make them watchable. With his absence from this film, the film becomes more serious in tone, but it doesn’t have the drive necessary to make it a worthy sequel.

However, the one element that will get fans more riled up than anything is the return of Tong Po. While it may seem like that could sound like a good thing, in this case, it is anything but a good thing. Michel Qissi made the character of Tong Po a relentless kickboxer whose sole purpose was to hurt his opponents in the ring. Replaced here by martial artist and another of Van Damme’s friends, Kamel Krifa, it is as if we are dealing with a “doppelganger” of Tong Po, a crime lord who thrives on seeing bloodlust while having a more distinct use of the English language. While Qissi’s Tong Po had one line in Kickboxer and Kickboxer 2, Krifa’s Tong Po has more lines and tries to play it off like Qissi’s Tong Po. However, with a really terrible mask (you can even see the mask folds in the back of Krifa’s head at times), and this whole “drug dealer” angle, this is perhaps the worst of any veteran villain seen in film.

The only things worth seeing in this film, if anything, are the tournament sequences. Coming off like a rip-off of any tournament film made, there are many unique styles used in the film. There are stylists in Karate, Muay Thai, Capoeira, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Jeet Kune Do used in the film. While it is funny at times to see Tong Po get all excited while seeing the mayhem, the tournament fights themselves are quite the positive factor, thanks to its choreography by the team of Webster Whinery and Shuki Ron (Mitchell’s Muay Thai teacher), in an otherwise abysmal sequel.

In some ways, it is a relief that Sasha Mitchell did depart after this installment to focus more on the television series Step by Step. The next time Mitchell would get to showcase his martial arts skills again was in the 2000 film Gangland.

Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor is in essence, a pretty bad sequel and major downfall of the series despite some decent martial arts action in the tournament fights and the final showdown between David and Tong Po that ends well, in the vein of another Pyun film, Heatseeker. Thankfully, the final installment lives up to its name with Redemption: Kickboxer 5 (1994), starring Mark Dacascos. However, this is truly one that may be worth a rental for the tournament fights, but not exactly one to keep unless you are truly a die-hard Kickboxer fan.

WFG RATING: C-


DVD

REVIEW: Live by the Fist (1993)

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1993, Concorde/New Horizons Films

Director:
Cirio H. Santiago
Producer:
Cirio H. Santiago
Writer:
Charles Philip Moore
Cinematography:
Joe Batac, Jr.
Editing:
Ed Viner

Cast:
Jerry Trimble (John Merill)
George Takei (Uncle Coronado)
Vic Diaz (Warden Acosta)
Ted Markland (Sacker)
Laura Albert (Helen Ferris)
Romy Diaz (Alvarez)
Ronald Dantes (Vargas)
Cris Aguilar (Chavez)
Berting Labra (Jojo)
Nick Nicholson (Greasemonkey)
Steve Rogers (Porky)

Former champion kickboxer Jerry Trimble is in prison where he must survive the only way he knows how, to live by the fist in Cirio H. Santiago prison film that combines elements from the Filipino jungle prison film with Bloodfist III: Forced to Fight.

Ex-Navy SEAL John Merill is about to go to sea once again when he hears a young woman screaming as she is attacked by a band of thugs led by Chavez. Merill fights them off but Chavez proceeds to kill the woman and during the struggle against John, is stabbed. Merill is soon knocked out by one of Chavez’s thugs and framed for the murder of the young woman Chavez killed. Sentenced to life imprisonment, John is sent to the Bolera Prison Colony on an uncharted island.

The prison is under scrutiny for a violation of human rights. Warden Acosta has been stealing funds from prison labor for his personal gain. From the beginning, John has already found himself in hot water with lead prison guard Vargas as well as inmate Alvarez, who seeks revenge as he is the sworn blood-brother of Chavez. It becomes more complicated when redneck leader Sacker is refuted when he asks John to join the white prisoners. While John eventually finds an ally in the veteran Uncle Coronado, he soon learns of Acosta’s plot and when the organization Human Rights International plan a visit to the prison to question inmates, everything will come to a head, forcing Merill to do what he has done since entering prison, survive using his fighting skills.

It should come to no surprise that when it comes to the cinema of Roger Corman, it can be about recycling films and adding a bit of a twist to that. In 1991, Corman produced the in-name sequel Bloodfist III, starring kickboxer turned actor Don “The Dragon” Wilson as a prisoner caught in a race war. For this film, which brings the race war in play, the twist comes with how we see Jerry Trimble’s John Merill arrival and his fight that lands him in the prison. Whereas the original Shaft, Richard Roundtree became Wilson’s ally in the former, we are treated to the original Mr. Sulu himself, George Takei as Uncle Coronado, whom everyone but our villains clearly respect.

While Bloodfist III had two main villains, this film has double the amount of lead villains. First, there is the warden himself, played by veteran Filipino actor Vic Diaz, whose looks could have landed him as a classic James Bond villain of sorts and became a mainstay of Roger Corman and Cirio H. Santiago’s films in the Philippines. Then comes lead guard Vargas, played by another Filipino actor, Ronald Dantes, who is also a martial artist skilled in stickfighting. He can be said to be a Filipino version of famed kung fu actor Chan Sing with his looks and build. Then comes our two inmate villain with redneck Sacker played by veteran Ted Markland and Alvarez, played by Romy Diaz, whose dubbing sometimes sounds pretty horrendous.

Ronald Asinas, Santiago’s favorite stunt coordinator, not only co-stars as Ocho, but worked on the action here. Trimble looks great when he fights as he shows why he is one of the best kickers not only in the sport of kickboxing, but on film as well. Showing the skills he learned in the ring and transitioning them smoothly, he gets to up against the likes of Kris Aguilar in the opener and finds himself virtually in one-on-many fights over and over again to a very annoying guitar riff that plays over and over during the action scenes. Parts of the ending totally rip-off the climactic scene from Bloodfist III but adds that nice little twist in the end.

Live by the Fist is a typical but enjoyable 90’s martial arts action film with Jerry Trimble in top form with great support by George Takei. The fight scenes are enjoyable as well, despite the annoying electric guitar riff playing over and over again.

WFG RATING: B-

DVD