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The Divine Move (2014)

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The Asian chess-like game of Go, or in this case, Baduk, gets deadly in this action thriller from director Jo Bum-Gu.

Tae-Seok is a young man whose skills in the game of baduk has led him to help his elder brother Woo-Seok, who’s in a jam. Woo-Seok has been challenged to take on “Player”, a gangster working for one of the most vicious crime lords in the area, Sal-Soo, also known as the Killer. When the ruse is discovered, Tae-Seok is brutally beaten and Woo-Seok is mercilessly killed by the Killer, who frames Tae-Seok for the murder.

Imprisoned for seven years, Tae-Seok learns to fight with the help of an elder prisoner and his men. Perfecting his skills, he is offered to join the elder prisoner after he is released. Tae-Seok would love to take the offer, but at the moment, he has one thing on his mind: avenging his brother. To do so, he changes his look and goes after each of Killer’s men by challenging them to baduk and then getting his revenge, until he can get to the man himself in a game that will decide who lives and who dies.

A truly brutal film, director Jo Bum-Gu takes You Sung-Hyup’s script about a baduk player who uses his game and fight skills to seek revenge, is quite interesting. For those unfamiliar with baduk, or the game go, it is similar to chess that it involves strategy but involves the use of “territories”. The game plays a crucial factor in the film overall as the game ultimately leads to violence throughout the film.

Jung Woo-Sung truly makes an impact in the film as the revenge-seeking Tae-Seok, who goes from a bushy, bearded scared man to a clean cut revenge seeker in the film. It is apparent he only has one thing on his mind after getting brutalized, seeing his brother dead and then getting framed for that death. Seeing Tae-Seok train to fight is quite an interesting training montage seen that leads to the quest for revenge.

Some of the thugs in the film are incredibly vicious. Notably Choi Jin-Hyuk’s “Player” and the big boss himself, Lee Beom-Soo’s “Killer”. They are inexplicably mean-spirited and when things don’t go their way, they resort to violence and this leads to Tae-Seok using an “eye for an eye”. The character of “Tricks”, played by Kim In-Kwon provides some hysterical comic relief in the vein of Joe Pesci’s Leo Getz in the Lethal Weapon films as he is a talkative slapstick goofball. Ahn Sung-Ki does quite well as another sidekick, “The Lord”, an elder expert who joins Tae-Seok as well.

In charge of the action scenes is Seoul Action School’s Choi Bong-Rok. Choi has the cast use close quarter combat as well as some technical style fighting. However, the close quarter style brings a more brutal, realistic style of fighting that looks at times very heart-pounding and exciting. In an exciting scene, Tae-Seok actually competes in a game of baduk against an opponent inside of a room in near sub-zero temperatures that leads to an all out knife fight between the duo. The climactic finale is also quite exciting and shows Jung at the top of his game.

The Divine Move is a pretty good movie that shows Jung Woo-Sung in his one of his best performances. The concept of turning baduk into a potential “game of death” is quite interesting and the combat scenes are nicely done. A definite rental with strong optional purchase.

WFG RATING: B+

CJ Entertainment presents a Showbox/Mediaplex production. Director: Jo Bum-Gu. Producers: Park Man-Hee, Yu Jeong-Heon, and Hwang Geun-Ha. Writer: Yu Seong-Hyeop. Cinematography: Kim Dong-Young. Editing: Shin Min-Kyung.

Cast: Jung Woo-Sung, Lee Beom-Soo, Choi Jin-Hyuk, Kim Myung-Soo, Ahn Sung-Ki, Kim in-Kwon, Lee Si-Young, Ahn Gil-Kang, Lee Do-Kyung, Jung Hae-Kyun, Ahn Seo-Hyun.

 

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The Secret Rivals Part II (1977)

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It is always a rarity when a sequel is just as good or at times, more superior to the original film. This sequel to Ng See-Yuen’s hit 1976 film proves to be one of those rarities with John Liu and Hwang Jung-Lee back to using their impressive kicking skills with Tino Wong making a worthy replacement for Don Wong (no relation) as the Southern Fist expert.

Six months after Shao Yi-Fei and Sheng Ying-Wei defeated the evil Silver Fox, it is revealed that the Silver Fox has a twin brother, Chin H. Chin Hu is also known as the Gold Fox. Upon learning that his brother is killed, he begins to not only look for the two heroes, but an 8-diagram map that leads to the gold that was robbed three years ago.

However, Sheng Ying-Wei has left to do government duty in the West. Before leaving, he entrusted the map to his younger brother Sheng Ying-Wu. Like his elder brother, Ying-Wu is an expert in the Southern Fist style. Gold Fox hires local thug Hsin-Yi to find Ying-Wu and get the map. Hsin-Yi will do the job only if he marries Gold Fox’s daughter. Reluctant, Gold Fox agrees.

Meanwhile, Shao Yi-Fei has returned to take on a former classmate turned troublemaker. On the other hand, Gold Fox has invented a new spinning weapon and has hired four assassins trained in kicking and four assassins trained in fist styles to take on the duo of Yi-Fei and Ying-Wu. This comes after Ying-Wu has avenged the death of his younger brother Ying-Yang by killing two of Gold Fox’s men while Yi-Fei defeated the remaining two after defeating his former classmate. With no option, Ying-Wu and Yi-Fei must devise a way to stop Gold Fox once and for all.

Ng See-Yuen proves that lightning does in fact strike twice with this second installment of the Secret Rivals films. Once again, Yuen finds a fantastic choreographer, this time being the legendary Yuen Woo-Ping. Woo-Ping definitely utilizes the talents of superkickers John Liu and Hwang Jang-Lee. However, as Wang Tao was unavailable (possibly shooting the similarly themed The Hot, The Cool, and the Vicious), a suitable replacement was found in former stuntman and bit part actor and martial artist Tino Wong.

Liu gets to show more of his kicking skills here and he spends most of his sequences going in full action mode. While the first film gave him a sense of mystery as to who he was, he gets more action here, even showcasing a hell of a fight against the late Blacky Ko. This time, Corey Yuen and Hsu Hsia get some action in as two henchmen of the Gold Fox, played by the awesome kicker Hwang Jung-Lee.

Similar to the first film, the finale is truly a delight to watch. Unlike the original, the film is more a smooth transition of just pitting Liu and Wong against Hwang, who resorts to not only using his trademark kicking skills, but a deadly weapon that looks to be two sticks that spin with the flick of his wrists. Aside from the added weapon, expect lots of kicking and acrobatics and even a surprise end to the finale.

If you liked the original Secret Rivals, then chances are you will love The Secret Rivals Part II. Liu and Hwang once again shine with their kicking skills and Tino Wong actually makes a suitable replacement for Don Wong here.

WFG RATING: A-

A Seasonal Film Corporation Production. Director: Ng See-Yuen. Producer: Ng See-Yuen. Writers: Ng See Yuen & Tung Lo. Cinematography: Chang Chi. Editing: Poon Hung.

Cast: John Liu, Tino Wong, Hwang Jung-Lee, Charlie Chan, Corey Yuen, Hsu Hsia, Yu Chung-Chiu, Sham Chin-Bo, Philip Ko, Blacky Ko.

Come Drink with Me (1966)

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One of the most beloved classic wuxia pian (heroic chivalry) marked the debut of a young ballerina turned legend. Her name: Cheng Pei-Pei.

“Golden Swallow” Chang is the daughter of the local governor who is sent on a mission. Her brother, Master Chang, has been kidnapped by a group of bandits led by the devilish Jade Faced Tiger. Master Chang is held in exchange for the release of Jade Faced Tiger’s leader. During her travels, she is followed by the mysterious Drunken Cat, a beggar who seems to quite an expert with the staff.

During a confrontation at the local temple, Golden Swallow finally comes face to face with the Jade Faced Tiger. When they fight, he uses a poisonous dart to wound her. Drunken Cat comes to her rescue and it is soon discovered that the beggar was once a bandit himself. However, growing tired of the bandit lifestyle, he resorts to being a beggar and hero. When Drunken Cat is challenged by the bandits, Golden Swallow arrives and hatches a plan to stop the bandits and rescue her brother while Drunken Cat must live up to his past to once and for all move on.

Directed by the legendary King Hu, this classic swordplay film has proven over the course of time to become of the well-loved films of Asian cinema. Aside from its Kurosawa-esque influence, the film’s major highlight is that of Cheng Pei-Pei. The ballerina turned actress gives out a superb performance as the young Golden Swallow. Under training from the legendary Han Ying-Chieh and a young Sammo Hung, Cheng performs well with the sword and even dishes out a little kicking at the same time. She proves that women can be equal to men in the martial world.

As for Yueh Hua, he does great as the mysterious Drunken Cat. As a beggar, he follows Golden Swallow around at times like someone who is madly in love or someone who respect her as a swordswoman. He goes as far as helping her when she is poisoned. Despite his eventual secret being revealed, he truly shows he is a man of honor. While Cheng Pei-Pei leads the film, it is Yueh Hua who gets the final fight of the film, against the notorious leader of the bandits.

The swordplay sequences are a delight to watch, notably that of the one against many fight at a local temple. This scene is where fans see Cheng at her best. Taking on the late Chan Hung-Lieh (who whiteface looks like he can pass as a wuxia version of the Joker) and goons, she dishes out punishment with the use of two daggers. What is interesting is the tension that builds before the punishment. This is where the film has that Seven Samurai feel to the film. That is, before she is nearly killed by the poisonous dart of the Jade Faced Tiger, setting up the climatic battles of the film.

A sequel, Golden Swallow, would be released two years later as more of a vehicle for Jimmy Wang Yu, but Come Drink with Me is definitely Cheng Pei-Pei’s show. She is truly a delight to watch and any martial arts film fan wanting to see a classic will enjoy this one.

WFG RATING: A

A Shaw Brothers (H.K.) Ltd. Production. Director: King Hu. Producer: Sir Run Run Shaw. Writers: King Hu and Ting Shan-Hsi. Cinematography: Tadashi Nishimoto. Editing: Chiang Hsing-Lung.

Cast: Cheng Pei-Pei, Yueh Hua, Chan Hung-Lieh, Lee Wan Chung, Yeung Chi-Hing, Hao Li-Jen, Wong Chung, Cheung Hei, Tony Ching, Alan Chui, Mars, Han Ying-Chieh, Simon Yuen, Ku Feng, Fung Ngai.

Bloodfist (1989)

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Kickboxing legend Don “The Dragon” Wilson gets his first lead role in this martial arts action film that would be just the beginning of a successful career for him.

When Michael Raye wins a martial arts tournament in Manila, he is mysteriously attacked that night and ends up brutally murdered. Michael’s brother Jake is a boxer who runs the family gym in Los Angeles. Giving up a life of fighting after donating a kidney to his brother, he is happy becoming a teacher until he learns that Michael has been found dead. Jake heads to Manila to claim the body but intends to learn the truth about his brother.

Jake learns that Michael was involved in the tournament, Jake decides to enter the tournament to perhaps find his brother’s killer. He finds a mentor in Kwong, who saves him from some local thugs. As Jake begins training, he becomes versed in martial arts, having to go up against some of the top fighters in the world. They include the high-kicking Black Rose, Muay Thai fighter Raton, and the monstrous Chin Woo. Jake also learns his new friend Baby is also competing in the tournament, and gives him his full support. As the tournament begins, Jake makes it clear that he will find his brother’s killer.

Hailed as one of the greatest, if not the greatest kickboxer in the world, Don “The Dragon” Wilson had done some small roles in films, including a 1982 Hong Kong action film called New York Chinatown and an appearance as John Cusack’s sparring partner in the hit Say Anything. “King of the B-Movies” Roger Corman was truly impressed with Wilson and this would lead to this film, which would be just the beginning of Wilson’s prolific career in films.

Wilson actually does well acting wise for his lead debut as Jake, a former boxer who must learn kickboxing to avenge his brother’s murder. For a lead role performance, Wilson holds himself quite well on both an acting level and getting the chance to showcase his kickboxing skills on screen. Filipino actor Joe Mari Avellana plays Kwong, Jake’s mentor, who provides a good teacher role of sorts. Michael Shaner’s Baby is the comic relief of the film, while Riley Bowman, as Baby’s sister and Jake’s love interest, has no needs to be a damsel-in-distress, but instead becomes an important ally in the story.

In what would be a trend of Corman’s films, Wilson would co-star with some top notch martial arts talents. They would include Dutch-born Muay Thai kickboxing champion Rob Kaman as the German fighter Raton, superkicker and the founder of Tae-Bo himself, Billy Blanks, as Black Rose; and the hulking Chris Aguilar, who is known today as the head bodyguard and spiritual adviser of Filipino boxing champion/politician Manny Pacquiao. Ronald Asinas, Corman’s go-to guy for action in the Philippines, teams with Fred Esplana on the action scenes and for a late 80’s B-movie, it’s quite good. Especially seeing Wilson, Blanks, Kaman, and even Aguilar show their skills on the screen to good effect.

This film would go on to be one of Corman’s favorites in a way as he has made not only sequels to the series, but went as far as rebooting this film on four occasions. The first “reboot” came with Full Contact in 1993, which launched another kickboxing champion, Jerry Trimble, to leading man status. The second, 1993’s Angel Fist, was a female-driven reboot led by the late Cat Sassoon. 1994’s third reboot, Dragon Fire, was an attempt to launch New York-born martial artist and actor Dominic La Banca. Finally, in 2005, fans were treated to Bloodfist 2050, which was an attempt to launch XMA star Matt Mullins to leading star status and features Avellana as the head judge of the tournament.

In the end, Bloodfist is a worthy lead role debut for Don “The Dragon” Wilson, filled with a clichéd revenge plot, but decent fight sequences and well as makes good use of its location shooting.

WFG RATING: B

A Concorde (New Horizons) production. Director: Terence H. Winkless. Producers: Roger Corman and Cirio H. Santiago. Writer: Robert King. Cinematography: Ricardo Gale. Editing: Karen Horn.

Cast: Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Joe Mari Avellana, Michael Shaner, Riley Bowman, Billy Blanks, Rob Kaman, Chris Aguilar, Vic Diaz, Ned Hourani, Marilyn Bautista, Kenneth Peerless, Edgardo Castañeda.

Stickfighter (1994)

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An ex-DEA agent seeks to avenge his partner’s murder in this throwback to the Cannon Films genre filled with exciting martial arts action courtesy of its lead star.

During a major bust, DEA agents John Lambert and Alex Cartegenas have nearly taken down everyone. However, in the midst of the takedown, John is forced dealer Arvo Riley and in retaliation, Arvo’s brother Dirk guns down Alex, who was protecting John. When John is berated by his superior Lt. Davis about what had transpired, Lambert decides to quit working for the DEA and even reminds Davis that he will not need a gun.

John is determined to avenge Alex’s death and take on the cartel once and for all. With help from Alex’s sister Luella, Lambert begins to investigate and finds himself and Luella targeted by the cartel. While Lambert consistently fights the cartel with the use of his martial arts skills as he is a former stickfighting champion, the two get help from a local bar owner while two local police officers seem to think Lambert may in fact be part of the cartel as well. Now on the run from both local police and the cartel, Lambert must do what it takes to stop the cartel and clear his name once and for all.

This action thriller is meant as a stepping stone for martial artist Kely McClung, who pulls off double duty in the film as both the lead star and martial arts choreographer. McClung got his start playing two roles including the eyepatch-wearing Super Ninja in American Ninja 4: The Annihilation and it was clear that Menahem Golan was impressed with McClung. Under Golan as producer, his lead role debut has the quality of an 80’s Cannon action film and is actually quite fun.

McClung here may have novice acting skills but actually pulls it off well in a lead role, especially when it comes to action. A truly experienced martial artist, McClung gets to bring his skills in kung fu and well, as the title indicates, stickfighting in his arsenal. The lead heavy in the film is played by the hulking Karl Johnson, who plays Dirk, who seeks revenge as he looks to go after John for the death of his brother, much like John wants to go after Dirk for the death of his partner and best friend. Johnson makes for a good villain, nearly matching McClung hit for hit even when they are using weapons against each other.

Alex Meneses, using the alias Paula Vargas, does quite well with the eye candy factor as Luella, Alex’s sister and love interest. She doesn’t worry about being the damsel in distress but proves to be a reliable ally to John when needed. Robert Pralgo and Darcy DeMoss are okay as LAPD officers Reves and Madsen, who have doubts about Lambert. Reves is more of an annoyance than an asset with Madsen kind of working both sides to see if Lambert is as reliable as it seems.

Stickfighter is an underrated American B-action film that is a stepping stone for Kely McClung, who would go on to have a prolific career as an actor, fight choreographer, and filmmaker in the indie film circuit. In this film, he proves himself as both a lead actor and fight choreographer with his proficient use of martial arts.

WFG RATING: B

Pan Am Pictures presents an International Dynamic Pictures production. Director: B.J. Davis. Producer: Menahem Golan. Writers: Kely McClung (story and screenplay) and Rob Neighbors (screenplay). Cinematography: Mike Shea. Editing: Michael de Avila and Shannong Goldman.

Cast: Kely McClung, Alex Meneses, Karl Johnson, Jeff Weston, Scott Sullivan, Robert Pralgo, Darcy DeMoss, Roger Callard, Tony Davlerno.

This film is currently out of print but was available on home video.

A Dangerous Place (1994)

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Teen martial arts action star Ted Jan “T.J.” Roberts stars in this very serious drama that combines shades of The Karate Kid and shades of a Lifetime movie.

Ethan Keats is a high schooler who takes up martial arts in his free time. His older brother Greg is a high school senior and martial artist as well. Lately, Greg has been spending time with a popular group of karate fighters as known as the Scorpions. The Scorpions are comprised of Taylor, Eddie, Walt, and Patrick. After a day at the beach, Greg learns that the Scorpions are more than just a group of karate fighters. The group decides to see if Greg really has what it takes to be a Scorpion. They decide to rob a house. When Greg learns that the homeowners are still there, he decides to get out of it, but is ambushed by Taylor, who kills him. Shocked and worried, the Scorpions hatch a plan to make it look different.

The next day at school, Ethan is shocked when he sees Greg hung on the basketball boards. Ruled a suicide by the police, Ethan knows that something is completely off. With feelings of anger, he decides the only way he can find out what really happened to his brother is to infiltrate the Scorpions. As Ethan eventually gets into the Scorpions, the gang’s sensei, Gavin Smith, wants Ethan to send a challenge to his school, the Lions. As Ethan gets deeper into the Scorpions, he soon learns everything he has wanted to know will all culminate in the upcoming karate tournament between the Lions and the Scorpions.

Directed by Jerry P. Jacobs, a film with the title such as this one may seem like a Lifetime movie and it is best to describe this film as “a Lifetime movie with martial arts action”. For what it is, this is a really good vehicle for teen PM discovery Ted Jan Roberts. Roberts, who is a martial artist, gets to showcase his dramatic skills in this film after playing it like a happy teen in his film debut, Magic Kid. Roberts brings in a pretty good performance as high schooler Ethan, who investigates his brother’s death by infiltrating a popular karate club.

However, hardcore martial arts fans will wonder why they casted 80’s teen idol Corey Feldman in the role of the Scorpions leader Taylor. Feldman may be not exactly what martial arts fans want in a role of a martial artist. However, Feldman does have a bit of a dance background and undergoing training for the film, he holds his own quite well when it comes to the fight scenes. Road House villain Marshall Teague channels the villainous energy he brought to that film as the Scorpions’ sensei, who is a lot more than everyone thinks. He can be described as Sensei Kreese times ten. Meanwhile, the late Mako plays Ethan’s sensei, who acts like a conscience similar to that of Miyagi, always giving Ethan advice even when he doesn’t ask for it.

In charge of the film’s fight sequences is Art Camacho, who utilizes Roberts’ talents very well. Using the trademark PM action shots (the double take followed by a close up shot and the cut into slow motion shot), the action here is nicely done. Even martial artist and actor Dean Cochran (playing Roberts’ tragically-fated brother) has a chance to showcase his action skills against Bloodsport II co-star and former UFC fighter Nick Hill. The karate tournament sequences are not too bad either, all leading to a showdown between Feldman and Roberts that is a two-parter.

A Dangerous Place is a decent combination of Lifetime-style drama with some pretty decent martial arts action. Out of all the films Ted Jan Roberts had made for PM, this is truly his best film in terms of both action and acting and surprisingly, Corey Feldman holds his own in the action sequences and pulls off the villain role quite well.

WFG RATING: B

A PM Entertainment Film. Director: Jerry P. Jacobs. Producers: Richard Pepin and Joseph Merhi. Writer: Sean Dash. Cinematography: Ken Blakey. Editing: Ron Cabreros, Samuel Oldham, and Fred Roth.

Cast: Ted Jan Roberts, Corey Feldman, Erin Gray, Dean Cochran, Marshall Teague, Mako, Dick Van Patten, Derek Basco, Tricia Vessey, William James Jones, Marc Riffon, Jason Majik, Eddi Wilde, Nick Hill.

Jesse (2012)

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2012, Multivisionnaire Pictures

Director:
Fred Carpenter
Producer:
Fred Carpenter
Writers:
Fred Carpenter (story and screenplay)
Joanne Tamburro (story and screenplay)
Paul Regina (story)
Cinematography:
Al Rodgers
Editing:
Douglas Brown

Cast:
Stephanie Finochio (Jesse Weinstein)
William Forsythe (Vince)
Armand Assante (Dominick)
Eric Roberts (Chris)
Anthony Trentacosta (Ralph Serna)
Paul Vario (Captain)
Michael Wright (Juan)
Gaetano LoGiudice (Tommy)
Tamara Markowitz (Jesse’s Mother)
Mitchell Walters (Mitchell Weinstein)

Former pro wrestler Stephanie Finochio takes the lead in this action-drama that instead of being a straightforward, has the notion of becoming a story of redemption for her titular character.

Jesse Weinstein is a New York police officer who has had an unlucky past. Her fireman husband had left her and has been given custody of their two sons. She has been known to use excessive force when trying to nab criminals. She spends her nights at local bars and she finds solace in the bottle. When she arrives home, she is constantly in fights with her brother Mitchell. At work, her superiors constantly tell her to attend AA meetings. However, her life is about to change in a drastic way.

Mitchell, who claims to being involved with selling baseball cards, has gotten himself owing a $75,000 debt to local gangster Ralph Serna. When Mitchell is unable to pay the debt, he apparent is killed in an “accident”. Jesse, hearing the news and learning that Mitchell had changed his life insurance policy to Ralph instead of their mother, decides to take justice in her own hands. However, she soon finds herself targeted by not only Ralph, but also Internal Affairs, and possibly Ralph’s boss, local godfather Vince. As Jesse attempts to find out exactly why her brother is killed, she decides to go on a road to redemption. However, when her mother is assaulted by Ralph and his goons, Jesse has had enough and plans to get revenge no matter the cost.

Independent action films are quite a group of films that either are standard action films with the same plot or they tend to add an element that helps drive the film. This film is in the latter as the story of redemption is added to the typical revenge plot. The titular character finds herself going on a road of redemption and it is her brother’s death that is the catalyst to begin such a road.  While Jesse, our heroine, has felt as if she loses everything and has turned to the bottle, the death of her brother sets her off as she goes from revenge to redeeming herself both as a police officer and as a person.

Stephania Finochio gives an interesting yet really good performance as Jesse. The stuntwoman and former pro wrestler known as “Trinity” in TNA and WWE in the early 2000s, might make one laugh at first with her constant use of vulgar language. However, it is clear she is one ticking time bomb who has virtually lost all but her job as a cop, and even that is on thin ice. Why? First, the drinking, but it is more because she has the tendency to use excessive force and as a result, she is very close to losing her badge as well. She complains how she can’t stand firemen due to the fact her ex-husband, a lowlife who convinced CPS that her drinking led to child neglect, forced her to lose custody. She clearly has issues, but as she delves into getting revenge for the death of her brother, things start to turn around for her.

Despite their top billing, Hollywood veterans William Forsythe, Armand Assante, and Eric Roberts have more extended cameos but they all fit in the story quite well. Forsythe plays the local Godfather who is unhappy with his underling’s managing the case involving Jesse’s brother. Assante plays an Internal Affairs detective investigating Jesse and a possible involvement with our baddie, Ralph (played at times with an Andrew Dice Clay sneer by Anthony Trentacossta). As for Roberts, he plays a local bartender who turns out to be a fireman but shows Jesse all firemen are not bad as he is more understanding and sympathetic.

The film does take an intricate twist in the climax and it is quite a shock, but even more it is the final scene that will bring a shock value. However, for this police officer, it becomes clear she is ready to turn her life around for the better despite all misgivings.

Jesse is one to check out if you want to see something just a little different than your normal action film. Stephanie Finochio does a good job as the titular role as we seek her quest for revenge turn into an ultimate road of redemption. Definitely worth a rental.

WFG RATING: B

DVD

REVIEW: Kickboxer 2 – The Road Back (1990)

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1990, Kings Road Entertainment

Director:
Albert Pyun
Producer:
Tom Karnowski
Writer:
Jean-Claude Van Damme (original characters)
Mark DiSalle (original characters)
David S. Goyer (screenplay)
Cinematography:
George Mooradian
Editing:
Alan Baumgarten

Cast:
Sasha Mitchell (David Sloane)
Peter Boyle (Justin Maciah)
Dennis Chan (Xian Chow)
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Sangha)
John Diehl (Jack)
Vince Murdocco (Brian Wagner)
Matthias Hues (Neil Vargas)
Heather McComb (Jo)
Michel Qissi (Tong Po)
Emmanuel Kervyn (Kurt Sloane)
Casey Stengel (Eric Sloane)

With the success of Kickboxer in 1989, production company Kings Road Entertainment decided to take advantage and using a screenplay from David S. Goyer (Batman Begins), the second chapter of the saga introduces a third brother of the Sloane family.

Actor and model Sasha Mitchell takes over the series as David Sloane, the youngest of the family. He has taken over the family gym in Los Angeles, California. He gives free kickboxing lessons to kids and even has a protégé under his wing, Brian. However, his gym is begin to suffer from financial doom and the only possible option is to fight in the ring, a thing David has vowed never to do since his brothers, Kurt and Eric, were killed in Thailand.

However, a new kickboxing corporation known as the United Kickboxing Federation has formed and its founder, Justin Maciah, fails to convince David to compete. However, in an effort to temporarily save the gym, David decides to fight one time against champion Neil Vargas. When David wins, Maciah’s business partner Sangha, feels David needs to fight again. It’s discovered that Sangha has become the new manager of the lethal Thai boxer Tong Po, who after losing to Kurt in the original film, single handedly killed Kurt and Eric in an ambush.

When the gym is destroyed in an ambush, resulting in the death of a young boy staying at the gym, David learns that Kurt’s mentor Xian (Dennis Chan) has come to Los Angeles to help David. Despite David’s refusal, Xian ultimately convinces David to as they say “step up and be a man”. Meanwhile, Brian, who had severed ties with David, is unknowingly being used as a pawn to trap David. When David finally gets to see Brian fight, Brian’s opponent turns out to be none other than Tong Po. David soon learns he has no other choice but to face the man who murdered his brothers and like Kurt, they must fight the “ancient way”.

B-movie director Albert Pyun, known at the time for directing the Jean-Claude Van Damme sci-fi film CYBORG, takes over the reigns as director. This is perhaps one of Pyun’s best efforts thanks to Goyer’s script, which combines a theme such as the evil of corporations mixed in with a man’s road to both redemption and revenge. While most B-movies have a typical plot, one can’t help but look deeper here, especially since this is a sequel to one of the best films action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme made. The biggest flaw of the film’s screenplay is that the last name has changed its spelling of the family name from “Sloane” to “Sloan” and yet for some strange reason, some do not really think about it that often.

This film would be the launching pad of Sasha Mitchell as a bankable B-movie action star. The model turned actor studied taekwondo prior to the film and appeared as an Italian-American boxer in the 1988 independent film Spike of Bensonhurst. However, he was better known prior to Kickboxer 2 as James Beaumont, the illegitimate son of Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing on the popular TV series DALLAS. Mitchell seemed to play it well here as what you would expect from the youngest brother of a family. Daivd is seen to have personal conflicts while attempting to stay loyal to his feelings. However, in the events that took place, he has to be forced to give himself a sense of closure by making himself strong again after an accident as well as in most of these brand of action films, seek revenge for the death of his brothers. He proved to be popular amongst martial arts film fans with this film that upon being cast as Cody Lambert on the popular sitcom Step by Step, there were a few episodes where Mitchell got to showcase his martial arts skills.

The late Peter Boyle is perhaps best known as the very hysterical patriarch Frank Barone on the popular sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. Here, he plays it more serious as what can be described as the “bald-headed Don King of kickboxing”, Justin Maciah. Not given much ample screen time, he is basically there to promote the sport but there is truly a sense of something obviously not good behind that smile of his, while the character of Sangha, played by veteran actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, truly has an agenda and goes to great lengths to make sure he gets what he wants.

Returning from the original Kickboxer are Dennis Chan as Xian and Michel Qissi as Tong Po. Chan brings his style of good natured humor once again to the role yet brings a sense of sympathy as he and David are both connected as the new teacher-student relationship, but the tragedy that befell upon David falls upon Xian as well. As for Qissi, he doesn’t get much screen time in the film as he did in the original. However, as with the original, once the Thai boxer enters for action, it makes a hard impact in the film. We are also treated to a flashback taking place in between the end of the original film and this film, in which you see a rain-soaked Tong Po in a shirt and pants slowly moving forward before seeing a close-up of the dead Kurt Sloane, played by Emmanuelle Kervyn.

The fight choreography in Kickboxer 2 was handled by legendary kickboxing champion Benny “The Jet” Urquidez and boxer/kickboxer Jimmy Nickerson. While it doesn’t highly emphasize on the kicking of a Van Damme, the in-ring fight scenes start out not too bad. A decent combination of slow motion and double takes really made the fight between Sasha Mitchell and Matthias Hues practically the best fight of the film. The climatic brawl between Mitchell and Qissi suffers from a familiar enemy of martial arts film enthusiasts: the use of the close up. At times, the impact of striking legs and knees in Muay Thai can be used when close ups are done a certain way. However, it makes more of a liability than an asset. While the “ancient way” is used again, the sadistic nature of the original is toned down for a more brutal and at times, realistic effect, which in some ways, make for a decent effective fight.

While Mitchell and Chan would return for Kickboxer 3: The Art of War in 1992, we would see Tong Po again in the very abysmal Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor with a replacement who looks utterly ridiculous. Nevertheless, Kickboxer 2: The Road Back does have its moments and while it will not be hailed as a classic, it did help the career of a budding actor named Sasha Mitchell.

WFG RATING: B

DVD

REVIEW: Kickboxer (1989)

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1989, Kings Road Entertainment/Cannon Films

Directors:
Mark DiSalle
David Worth
Producer:
Mark DiSalle
Writers:
Jean-Claude Van Damme (story)
Mark DiSalle (story)
Glenn A. Bruce (screenplay)
Cinematography:
Jon Kranhouse
Editing:
Wayne Wahrman

Cast:
Jean-Claude Van Damme (Kurt Sloane)
Dennis Alexio (Eric Sloane)
Dennis Chan (Xian Chow)
Michel Qissi (Tong Po)
Rochelle Ashana (Mylee)
Haskell Anderson (Taylor)
Lee Ka-Tung (Freddie Li)

Jean-Claude Van Damme unleashes to avenge his brother in the first of a martial arts saga that will be seeing a remake very soon.

Eric Sloane has won the United States Kickboxing Championships with his younger brother Kurt as his cornerman. Sloane has been challenged to go to Bangkok, Thailand to fight the local and respected Muay Thai champion Tong Po. When Kurt goes to get ice for his brother, he sees Tong Po kicking the wall with the plaster falling down. In a state of shock, Kurt warns Eric not to fight, but the arrogant Eric refuses to listen. Eric soon learns the difference between Thai kickboxing and American kickboxing. When Eric is pummeled, Kurt throws in the towel, but Tong Po ignores the surrender and elbows Eric to the spine.

At the hospital, Kurt learns that Eric has been paralyzed from the waist down. Seething revenge, Kurt wants to challenge Tong Po, but he is not a good enough fighter. His new friend, ex-military vet Taylor, recommends a teacher for Kurt. His name is Xian Chow and he lives in the mountains. At first, Xian refuses to train Kurt. However, when Xian learns that his niece Mylee was harassed and Kurt stopped them, he sees potential. The thugs were members of Freddie Li’s organization and Freddie Li is the manager of Tong Po. Xian pushes Kurt to the limits and when Kurt proves himself in the ring, the ultimate challenge is set between Kurt and Tong Po. Will Kurt be able to finally avenge Eric’s maiming?

With the success of Bloodsport, Jean-Claude Van Damme collaborated with that film’s producer Mark DiSalle and came up with a concept that took the classic revenge theme but add to the twist that instead of having the bad guy kill his brother, he paralyzes his brother, a martial arts champion who no longer could fight due to his injury. The end result is what is hailed as one of Van Damme’s best films from his classic days. It is here where we get to see Van Damme at one of his most emotional, especially when learning that his brother is paralyzed due to the attack on Tong Po. This is something that perhaps no one expected from the usual stone-faced Belgian martial artist. While Bloodsport showed a bit of emotion, it is this film where Van Damme really shows that emotion.

In the role of his brother Eric is former champion kickboxer Dennis Alexio, who pulls it off quite well as the brash, arrogant champion. He does give Kurt tips on power and it is after his incident where we see Alexio play it pretty straight laced as a true big brother, who may be jealous of his brother now in a role-reversal, but is there for his brother and only wants to protect him. Dennis Chan provides some comic relief along with the true mentor mentality in the role of Xian Chow, a role he would forever be known for in American martial arts films when he reprised the role in the first two sequels that would star Sasha Mitchell.

Haskell Anderson provides comic relief as well as Taylor, Kurt’s new friend in Thailand. The funniest scene has to be when he tells Kurt about Xian Chow and instead of going right there, he takes him to a “mellow place” only to give his story and like Xian, has some comic moments but also proves himself when needed. Rochelle Ashana proves to be a worthy love interest in Xian’s niece Mylee due to her support of Kurt throughout his training without having to have any gratuity in terms of love scenes.

Michel Qissi, Van Damme’s real-life best friend and who is best known as Muay Thai expert Suan Paredes in Bloodsport, plays the deadly Thai boxer Tong Po. While his screen time is limited to a few fight scenes and a very pivotal dramatic scene, Qissi truly makes the most of his time showcasing his martial arts skills and the make-up on him is very impressive. On the end credit sequence, Tong Po is credited as “himself”, but it was revealed to be Qissi, who returns the role in Kickboxer 2.

The action scenes, surprisingly choreographed by Van Damme himself, are actually quite enjoyable. Van Damme may do simple techniques with roundhouse kicks and using elements of Muay Thai, but for an 80’s American martial arts film, they are nicely done. There is even the famous “disco scene” in which a drunken Van Damme dances with two girls and is besieged by some of Freddie Li’s goons with Van Damme showing his kicking skills. The finale may have the classic “hero gets beaten until a second wind to finally unleash his skills”, but they are nicely edited with some double and triple take slo-mo action shots when necessary. The climactic battle between Kurt and Tong Po is truly a delight to see with Dennis Chan even showcasing a bit of the comic relief that made Xian Chow one of the most likable mentors in martial arts films today.

Kickboxer is truly one of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s most beloved films with a combination of some good fights and seeing “The Muscles from Brussels” showcase a more emotional side when needed.

WFG RATING: A

DVD

REVIEW: Confessions of a Pit Fighter (2007)

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2007, Alliance Home Entertainment

Director:
Art Camacho
Producers:
Todd Chamberlain
Bob Dziadkowiec
Hector Echavarria
R. Ellis Frazier
Timothy Harron
Writers:
Art Camacho
R. Ellis Frazier
Cinematography:
Curtis Petersen
Editing:
Chris McGuinness

Cast:
Armand Assante (Argento)
James Russo (Sharkey)
Flavor Flav (Lucky)
Hector Echavarria (Eddie Castillo)
Rick Medina (David Castillo)
John Savage (McGee)
Quentin “Rampage” Jackson (Matador)
Gizelle D’Cole (Gizelle)
Yvonne Arias (Angel)
Robert Miano (Mario)
Aldo Gonzalez (Aldo)
Richard Herd (Father Mark)
Elya Baskin (Nick)

Before he became Tapout’s top name for their mixed martial arts film catalog, Hector Echavarria takes the lead alongside some veterans in this character-driven action drama from director Art Camacho.

Eddie Castillo was once one of the best fighters on the underground circuit, until he accidentally killed his last opponent. He was sent to prison and served a seven-year sentence. He has decided to change his life once and for all when he is released. He goes to live with his younger brother David, who unbeknownst to Eddie, is making a name for himself in the underground fight circuit. However, when David’s arrogance lands him a fight against promoter Argento’s top fighter Matador, David is brutalized and ultimately killed by the bulking fighter.

Upon hearing news of his brother’s demise, Eddie decides to take matters in his own hands. Despite warnings from probation officer McGee, Eddie is determined to get back in the world he wanted out of in order to avenge his brother. With the support of former boxer turned trainer Sharkey and low-brow fight promoter and manager Lucky, Eddie is determined to not only avenge his brother by defeating Matador, but put an end to Argento’s schemes once and for all. However, as his mind is fueled with revenge, will he be able to risk it all just in the name of vengeance?

While he was one of the top Hollywood fight choreographers of the 1990’s, filmmaker Art Camacho has the tendency to bring something more to the table when he is behind the cameras as a director. While many know him for his action, Camacho also has the tendency to make a film character-driven and focus not only on action, but the story as well. Collaborating on the screenplay with Misfire helmer R. Ellis Frazier, the film’s title refers to a road of vengeance and redemption that one man must endure when he is forced back into the very world that landed him in prison.

Interestingly enough, while top billing goes out to veterans Armand Assante, James Russo, and rap artist Flavor Flav (who actually pulls it off well as the high strung Lucky), the film clearly belongs to Argentinian martial artist and actor Hector Echavarria, who plays the titular “pit fighter”, Eddie. On his quest to avenge his brother’s death, Eddie finds himself put under more situations that make him question whether he is doing the right thing, from learning that his brother’s girlfriend is pregnant to starting a relationship with someone who works for Assante’s unscrupulous promoter. A very pivotal scene involves Eddie making his confession to the local priest before the climactic finale and showing a range of emotion that clearly sees Eddie as a very conflicted soul.

Art Camacho led the fight choreography team with bringing a bit of a throwback to the 80’s American style action with haymakers and throwdowns performed. Rick Medina makes the use of his limited screen time action-wise as Eddie’s doomed brother while MMA legend Quentin “Rampage” Jackson plays the beast-like Matador, who resorts to using more brute strength. Meanwhile, Echavarria gets to unleash some decent spin kicks when needed against his opponents and the finale pitting Echavarria and Jackson brings a little bit of an emotional sense that helps end the film on a decent note.

Confessions of a Pit Fighter has the tendency to combine 80’s style fighting with a very good drive in terms of characters, led by Hector Echavarria’s “pit fighter” who goes on a road to redemption and revenge to find out where he truly belongs.

WFG RATING: B-

DVD