Friday Fisticuffs: Close Range & Hard Target 2

close-rangeI’ve been a fan of Scott Adkins’ action flicks since I first saw Assassination Games back in 2012. The next year I was blown away by Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning, which is still one of the best action films I’ve ever seen. With that in mind, I’m pretty much watching every one of his movies that pop up on Netflix or Amazon Prime. As it happens, the Flix has a nice pair in Close Range and Hard Target 2!

Continue reading Friday Fisticuffs: Close Range & Hard Target 2

Friday Fisticuffs: Bloodsport (1988)

Bloodsport jcvd vs bolo

I could have sworn that I’d seen Bloodsport before, but actually sitting down and watching the movie on Netflix felt like a new experience, so who knows? This movie, which was said to be based on a true story that turned out to be BS, is about a guy named Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who traveled to Hong Kong to compete in a secret underground fighting tournament called the Kumite. He’s there to honor his teacher, a man who started training him after he broke into his house as a kid (who was NOT a good actor BTW). Along the way, he makes friends with another competitor, Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb) and gets with reporter Janice Kent (Leah Ayres) who wants to find out what this whole Kumite thing is all about. There’s also the requisite, over-the-top bad guy champ Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) who is basically Roger Rabbit with giant pecs and the ability to destroy dudes in the ring. Oh, there’s also a subplot about Frank ditching the US military so he can compete which results in two agents — one of which is Forrest Whitaker! — pointlessly chasing after him.

bloodsport art posterI can’t really say that this is a great movie, but it has good parts. The pacing and structure are super weird. The movie, directed by Newt Arnold, starts with a multi-person training montage that visually introduces many of the competitors and their fightingh styles before shifting over Frank breaking away from wherever he’s stationed (his bosses don’t want him to get killed, thus making the government’s investment in his training pointless) and then a prolonged flashback of him as a kid, his teacher and then him training as an adult as well. It takes FOREVER. And then he’s traveling and meeting Ogre from Revenge Of The Nerds and the pretty reporter lady and his mulleted guide.

Eventually we actually get to the fights and they’re pretty cool, but by this point I’m a little tired and these fights don’t hold up to the ones you see today. Hell, Arrow has faster, more intense scenes in many cases. I can contextualize all that given that this is still a pretty early example of a western fight film, so it went through so many of the conventions we’re used to (many of which are also in Kickboxer which I watched last week and will write about soon).

bloodsport-posterBloodsport does greatly benefit from Bolo Yeung’s presence. This dude fought Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon and certainly has the chops, which is rad, but he also gives better crazy face and infant-like ring dance moves than anyone I’ve ever seen. His pecs are also insane. You could serve dinner off of them. Speaking of the cast, I really enjoyed Gibb as well, which is surprising considering I have a longstanding dislike of him from his Revenge Of The Nerd days (though he did win me over with his turn in the sequel). Even JCVD is pretty entertaining. He’s wooden at times, which is to be expected, but these were the days when he was actually super expressive and had softer features even than he had in movies like Hard Target or The Quest. In other words, dude might not act like a movie star, but he sure looked like one.

In addition to the fights, there are some interesting moments that made me smile. Frank makes strong bonds with relative strangers VERY quickly. He’s besties with Ray after playing a karate video game and falls hard in love with Janice almost immediately and would face a crazed killer for them in a heartbeat. He also gets into some ridiculous antics with the officers, like leading them on a wild goose chase through the city that looks like something out of a cheesy 80s comedy (and trust me, I’ve seen plenty of them). Still, if you can forgive the slow-ish-by-today’s-standards action scenes and some of the cornier elements, it’s a pretty fun martial arts movie from the 80s that helped launch JCVD’s career. Here are some of my favorite moments from the film.

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As is the case with Kickboxer, there’s also a remake in the works, which is a pretty good call. We don’t have enough martial arts tournament films these days and the advancements in film making will allow for faster moves to be captured more fluidly. Here’s hoping, though, that they carry over some of the bonkers nature of this final fight into the new one!

Friday Fisticuffs: Haywire (2011)

haywire poster There really aren’t enough action films starring female ass-kickers. And while I freely admit that seeing a woman get hit on screen still makes me uncomfortable, I’m still interested in any action movie that casts a lady in the lead. Haywire was even more appealing because I knew that star Gina Carano used to be a mixed martial arts fighter and it was directed by Steven Soderbergh who always makes interesting films (I love the Oceans movies hard).

The story, which focuses on Carano’s Mallory Kane, a freelance assassin or mercenary, is told in a non-linear format. The main thrust of the story finds Mallory betrayed by her former bosses, replaying recent events and trying to figure out who burned her. The cast is a fantastic one that includes Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Angarano and Bill Paxton, so there’s all kinds of quality in that regard.

As you might expect from a Soderbergh action movie, this one’s pretty far from traditional. He handles the fights incredibly realistically, pitting two people against each other in fights lacking the cartoonish sound effects we’re used to hearing and even dropping the music out of most scenes. The first brawl you see not only comes as a surprise because you’re not expecting it, but also because the violence is brutal, real and  shocking. The following clip is of that scene, but if you don’t want anything spoiled, skip it.

And that’s how all of the fights go. It’s an interesting breath of fresh air and shows how well-rounded this genre can really be if more people like Soderbergh are able to stretch out and do their thing within the framework. I looked up fight choreographer J.J. Perry and he’s done everything from more realistic action films like this to Ultraviolet, Machete Kills and Safe. It’s cool to see that choreographers like Perry can be as versatile as a director and writer like Soderbergh.

Overall, I really enjoyed Haywire, but I would recommend going in with a realistic mindset. If you want something packed to the gills with explosions and intricately choreographed fight scenes, you might want to steer clear. But, if you’re looking for the thinking person’s action flick told in kind of a Pulp Fiction way, watch Haywire.

Friday Fisticuffs: A Force Of One (1979)

a force of one poster As a 30 year old dude, I have a unique relationship with Chuck Norris (boy, that sounds weird). I actually didn’t see many of his movies growing up, but as a personality and character he was unavoidable. I mean, he had his own cartoon and action figure line in Chuck Norris and the Karate Kommandos, how rad is that? Long before he was a meme orwhatevertheheck, he was training Jonathan Brandis, and hundreds, thousands, millions(?) of kids how to defend themselves. It probably wasn’t until Way Of The Dragon that I got a real, good look at what he could do, but before then I’d seen a few episodes of Walker, so there’s that.

In more recent days, or as I like to call them the Blog Era of my life, I’ve had some pretty bad luck when it comes to picking movies from Norris’ filmography. I’ve seen The Octagon and Code Of Silence which were bad and okay respectively and Hellbound which didn’t do nearly enough with its Chuck Norris vs. The Devil concept. And the less said about 2005’s The Cutter, the better. Yet, burned as I might have felt, I still got excited when I saw that his 1979 film A Force Of One was on Netflix Instant, I got excited. And, thankfully, it’s a pretty good movie, though not one exactly packed with breakneck martial arts action.

In this one, Norris plays a former military guy/current karate champ and teacher who gets recruited by the cops to help them figure out what martial arts master is attacking and killing the members of their undercover narcotics team. While there are definitely some martial arts scenes, this movie actually felt and looked a lot more like a Dirty Harry/70s revenge film than the kind of action-packed spectacle I wanted from a Chuck Norris movie (or maybe I have a completely off-base concept of what his movies are like).

And yet, between a few fights that take place inside a ring and an ultimate one between Norris and Bill “Superfoot” Wallace (who also happened to be John Belushi’s body guard) there’s enough to qualify this as a proper Friday Fisticuffs entry (as you can see by the above compilation of fight scenes from the flick). The problem is that, even though you might know these guys are legit fighters, they look like they’re pulling punches and not going all-out on screen. Maybe it’s time I focus and watch Lone Wolf McQuade, the Missing In Action movies, Invasion U.S.A. and the Delta Force flicks already.

Friday Fisticuffs: Lionheart (1990)

lionheart I’ve watched a lot of Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, to the point where I’ve given him his own category, something I’ll be doing for actors and actresses I find myself watching over and over again. While I’ve made my way through a good deal of his filmography, there are still plenty of movies I either haven’t seen or haven’t written about here on UM. Lionheart actually falls into both categories, so I was pretty excited when I saw it added to Netflix Instant recently.

This time around, JCVD’s brother gets in some trouble in the States. He tries to leave the French Foreign Legion by the books, but they’re jerks and don’t let him, so he kicks his way out. Once he gets to America he’s disheartened to learn the boat he’s on is going to New York and not California, where his brother lives. After wondering around awhile he finds his way to a street fight run by a guy named Joshua Eldridge (Harrison Page). JCVD wins handily and eventually decides to team up with Eldridge who knows where all the highest paid fights are. With each fight he wins, our hero gets a few dollars closer to being able to afford transport to LA.

Or at least that’s the set-up your given. You expect him to go through a series of fights across the country or something, but instead Eldridge sets up one fight for an uber-80s business lady who takes a liking to JCVD. Soon enough they’re in LA and doing awesome trying-on-clothes montages. But the goodness doesn’t last forever as Jean-Claude eventually has to throw down with a guy who’s considered one of the best around. Will he win? Well, yeah, of course he does. He’s gotta help his brother’s wife and kid after all.

As far as fight scenes go, these definitely aren’t some of JCVD’s best. It’s not really his fault though. You can see he’s got the moves, but it looks like his adversaries aren’t nearly as good as him. Also, the choreography and editing are a little iffy in the beginning. But, the street fights were all pretty convincing, so that’s a plus.

It’s interesting to note that JCVD has worked with writer/director Sheldon Lettich on several occasions. Lettich wrote JCVD’s breakout hit Bloodsport. He then wrote Rambo III and then got the chance to write and direct this film. Lerrich then went on to direct Van Damme again in The Order, but also wrote the scripts for Double Impact, Legionnaire and The Hard Corps (apparently he specializes in JCVD movies I haven’t reviewed). However, he also directed Dolph Lundgren in The Last Patrol (haven’t seen it, but want to) and the Marc Dacascos high school capoeira fight film Only The Strong which I have seen and even wrote about!

All in all I’d say this is a pretty good entry in the JCVD’s filmography. It’s kind of a small little story that pits him against some interesting characters along the lines. It’s not the ultra-slick fight film you might want, but it delivers on what it is. I also like the time capsule aspect. Even though this movie came out in 1990, it certainly feels like it shares the sentiment of Gordon Gecko 80s NYC.

Friday Fisticuffs: Safe (2012)

safe poster I think I just fell in love with a movie and it’s called Safe. Of course, being a huge Jason Statham fan, I wanted to check this flick out with a quickness after seeing it had been added to Netflix Instant. And, as it turns out, it might actually be the quintessential Statham movie. Not only does it include the kind of ass-kickery you’ve come to expect from franchises like Crank and The Transporter, but it’s also got some pretty sick driving, gun play and the dramatic gravitas I think Statham brings to every role, but is more well-featured in films like The Bank Job, War and even Blitz. I fully believe that Statham is a really fantastic actor who also happens to be awesome at kicking dudes in the face, so the latter wins out over the former. Safe happens to be the the kind of film that lets him show off his many facets.

This time around, Statham plays a one-time cop turned cage fighter who doesn’t take a fall when he’s supposed to and winds up peeving off the Russian mob. They kill his wife and tell him he better go on the run, but add that they’ll be watching and will kill anyone who’s even remotely nice to him, a threat they make good on. Meanwhile, there’s a young girl named Mei in China who’s super good at math and winds up getting kidnapped by the mob. The mob boss, played of course by James Hong, sent her over to the States because her memory doesn’t leave a trace like a computer would. She gets thrown into this crazy gangster world which is not easy on her. The Russian mob finds out about her and starts a war with the Chinese to get her and whatever secrets her brain holds. As it happens, Statham meets Wei in the subway and decides to keep her safe.

When I heard that Safe was about Statham protecting a kid, I worried that it would be pretty boring, like one of those awful levels in a video game where you have to constantly watch out for some useless person, but it was actually a lot more interesting than that. When he tells her to hide, she actually does! When he tells her to run, she runs. It felt like a much more realistic take on the idea than you tend to see in these kinds of things.

And the story’s pretty solid. In addition to all the players I’ve mentioned, you’ve also got a group of dirty cops in play. Statham used to work with them, but didn’t want to be dirty himself so he tried to do the right thing which only lost him his job. As we discover from the mayor, though, Statham was brought in in the wake of 9-11 to be a kind of under the radar super cop who would take care of NYC’s more nefarious elements. I thought that was a cool little touch, something I didn’t expect. While all this is going on and Statham does his best to take down the various mob factions, he runs into a guy who had, basically, the same super cop job as him. I’ll be honest, I was hoping for a real drop down drag out fight between them, but what wound up happening felt a lot more real.

Like I said above, this movie lets Statham do everything he’s good at while still keeping everything grounded. This isn’t Commando or something where emotions rarely come into play. Take the scene where he comes home to find his wife dead, other filmmakers would have had him immediately get into a fight, but instead he’s devastated by what he just discovered and basically gives them the opportunity to kill him. By bobbing when you expect it to weave, Safe offers a good deal of surprises for action movies fans while still offering plenty in the way of hand to hand combat, shoot outs and chase scenes.

I did a little looking into director Boaz Yakin’s filmography and saw a couple interesting bits. First off, he also directed Remember The Titans, which is a pretty great movie if memory serves. Before that he was a writer though, penning the Dolph Lundgren Punisher movie, the Charlie Sheen/Clint Eastwood joint The Rookie and also From Dusk Til Dawn 2, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights and Prince Of Persia, a pretty ecclectic group to say the least!

Friday Fisticuffs: Dragon (2011)

kinopoisk.ruLeft to my own devices, I probably wouldn’t have ever watched Dragon (Wu Xia in the native Chinese) and that would have been a shame. I tend not to like period piece martial arts films and I generally shy away from foreign films that only offer subtitled viewing experiences instead of dubbed ones (for reasons I wrote about here). So, how did I end up watching it? Well, I was sent a PR email asking if I’d be interested in checking out the recently release Bluray and figured I’d give it a shot because I’m familiar with star Donnie Yen and love martial arts films.

I can’t tell you how glad I am that I did so. This movie was a revelation. It mixes so many different elements that it not only captivated me throughout but also kept me from doing just about anything else while it was on (a rare feat when it comes to my movie viewing habits these days). The movie felt like something that would result from a weird genetic experiment involving Darren Aronofsky, Brian De Palma, Ang Lee and David Lynch, but also something wholly unique to director Peter Chan.

The actual story revolves around a man named Liu Jin-xi (Yen) fighting off a pair of thugs who were trying to extort protection money from a butcher in a small Chinese village in 1917. In the skirmish, which looks innocent enough, Jin-xi accidentally kills one of the men. The attack brings in the regional police force including a unique inspector named Xu Bai-jiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who believes there’s something fishy about this story, that a common man would not know the very specific places on an enemy’s body to hit in order to subdue and kill them. Basically, he thinks he’s dealing with a person with a much different past than he’s letting on, which proves to be the case.

So, not only do you have some fantastic action scenes, but there’s also a solid dramatic mystery going on as well and those two elements combine to form a fantastically original movie. For his part, Bai-jiu not only has forensic skills on his side, but also knows the ways of chi, how it can flow and how it can be manipulated, a talent he puts to use on himself and when looking at others. There are some fantastic scenes where he’s explaining what he thinks happened in the opening fight scene where he’s actually standing there watching even though he wasn’t actually present, it’s like something out of that show Cold Case or how Willem Dafoe sees things in Boondock Saints, but instead of taking place during a simple moment, this is during a wildly complicated and slick fight scene. Here’s a clip:

The movie initially won me over by way of a very simple, very normal conversation between Yen’s character, his wife and their children in the opening of the movie. This just felt like such a real and genuine moment without all the pomp you tend to see in these kinds of things and just got into real family life. Not long after that you get a hilariously awkward fight scene that proves to be much more as the movie rolls on. These unique and different aspects — not the kinds of things you expect from a Hong Kong action flick — got me in. From there I was seated in, buckled and ready to go on a ride that goes from that to wild police investigation, then swerves into an identity mystery before hitting some recurring horror elements, existential craziness (real Lynchian stuff) and back to some killer fight scenes before a final conflict that had me flinching, worried and nervous throughout the entire thing.

Basically, Dragon sucked me in by showing me a family man trying to do what’s right, revealing that he might not be as simple a character as I originally suspected, pitting him against several foes, having him deal with that past and eventually face off against his own father for the protection of his family. I can get behind that and I highly recommend you guys do the same.