Directed by Mark di Salle. Co-Directed by David Worth
Among the cheesiest of the cheesy 80s movies. Great fight scenes but you’d find better acting and a better script in a porn film. It’s nothing but clunky direction, bad acting and a script that seems to have been tweaked on the fly as either budget or scheduling dictated with little thought to how it connects to everything else.
Jean Claude Van Damme stars as Kurt Sloan who with his brother Eric (Dennis Alexio in his only significant film appearance) decides to compete in Bangkok. Before a match Kurt sees their opponent Tong Po practicing. In a bit of heavy-handed foreshadowing he knows that the fight will not end well for his brother as he watches Tong Po (Jean Claude Van Damme’s friend Michel Qissi) beat the crap out of a pillar. By the end of the fight Eric is paralyzed and Kurt vows revenge.
Van Damme’s ugly cry in the hospital when Kurt is distraught over Eric’s condition he starts crying. Really crying. And it is probably some of the ugliest crying ever put the screen and definitely the ugliest crying Jean-Claude Van Damme has ever done. I laughed when I saw it. This is not a comedy, but it was probably one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
A random stranger they met at the fight named Taylor (who later becomes an important character) helps get Eric who has a very serious back injury to a local hospital in the back of his Mazda van. This van gets a lot more screen time than a van usually does. It is the main thing in quite a few shots in this movie. I’m curious if there was some kind of contract with Mazda. Turns out Taylor is the exact person that Kurt needs to talk to in order to get revenge. Seems he knows the right person that will train Kurt to be skilled enough to exact revenge on Tong Po.
Most of the movie is a series of training montages with vague hints of oriental wisdom and a touch of mysticism in the form of an eagle that’s never fully explained as to why it shows up and gets screen time. It’s a nice-looking bird but so? I have no idea what it indicates or if it indicates anything at all. It could be an attempt to imply symbolism by a very bad director. I just have no idea. It just really sticks out.
There’s a scene in the movie where Eric while in his wheelchair grabs a nurse’s butt. That’s it. It has nothing to do with the plot at all. I’m not sure if it’s even supposed to be character development. Other than to show that the brother is a pig, I’m not sure what it does. He just grabs the nurse’s butt, shrugs his shoulders and everybody laughs. Doesn’t really have anything to do with the story, but I don’t think in the history of ass grabbing that people have gotten the chuckles while being ass grabbed by some random stranger.
The scene is just dropped in there as if to break up the film. You certainly couldn’t get away with even thinking about that scene today let alone putting it on film. But here it is in all of it’s casual sexism glory. I’m not even sure what the point of it is other than to fill a few minutes in the movie.
What is with that dancing scene in the bar? I understand why Kurt’s trainer Xian Chow (Dennis Chan) did it but it was just weird. How can we ignore that weird dancing? The reason it happens is clear but on the same token it’s just so weird and awkward. I am left wondering what was supposed to be in its place. I get the feeling that something happened at the last minute and they couldn’t do what they actually wanted to do but they needed to get Jean-Claude Van Damme in the ring in order to set up the end fight. I would’ve loved to have been present when they thought this up. Scenes like this are concocted when a joke goes too far.
The end fight is epic. Even by low budget standards it’s a great fight to watch. It’s visually and technically great. They finally bring together the hero and the villain for an epic throwdown and they do not disappoint. It is bloody and vicious and it does make you cheer. Jokes have been made about the resin moment in this movie but for me it does escalate the danger. It turns their hands truly into weapons. If the rest of the film had been this well done this movie would have been genuinely great.
The rescue scene with the crippled brother is another matter. By this point he’s been captured by the criminal behind Tong Po. It’s just weird and awkward and filled with tight shots because it’s done on the extreme cheap. Taylor is pushed abruptly front and center here on an equal footing with the Xian. Up until this moment he had just been a side character used as a storytelling shortcut. Here he’s a gun toting bad ass. This is in contrast to Xian who as the master had been implied to be a bad ass. He got to show some of the goods here.
Having said that it’s still good. It’s a very well done very B movie. It embraces that reality it will not be great and just tries to be an enjoyable work of the time. And it does succeed. It doesn’t try to be a great film because it knows it isn’t. It’s meant to get the adrenaline pumping and to impress you with the visuals. It’s a great action movie with great fight scenes and that’s why you watch a movie like this.
Is it great cinema? No. Is it adequate cinema? Not even close but somehow it manages to be entertaining and a very fun watch. If you want to see Jean-Claude Van Damme in his prime you must see this. If you want to see an 80s action classic you have to see this. If you want to see a more brutal version of the Karate Kid this is your movie. I recommend it.