Let's open this by saying there's absolutely zero continuity between this film and the last. I about expected as much, but it still feels a little hollow that we never find out what happened to Nancy (the first film was Riley Bowman's lone credit, so they might not even have been able to get her back), what Jake's business partner Hal has been up to (probably still bumming around the Philippines to dodge the IRS), Jake apparently has both kidneys again (though it's never commented on either way), and the villain of both pictures is played by the exact same actor (Joe Mari Avellana) with zero reference to him visibly being the same guy. No "I was the third brother!", no "I'm still alive muwhahahahahah!", no "I'm a slightly more well fed clone!" He's just there and we move forward. If I had to guess, I'd bet this was a separate kickboxing script they had laying around which was retooled for the franchise when they needed a quick sequel. To this day, it's a pretty standard Hollywood tactic, though most will do a hair more work than simply "search and replace" the lead's name.
As this entry opens, Jake Raye (Don "The Dragon" Wilson) is once again at the top of the world kickboxing circuit. In his latest fight, his opponent is so doped up on stimulants that he literally won't go down until Jake kills him, leaving Jake so disgusted that he announces this is his last fight and retires on the spot. Much to the consternation of his trainer/business partner/fellow fighter/BFF Vinny Petrello (Maurice Smith). A few years go by, and Jake wallows in seclusion, his old trophies littered about a ratty apartment as he spends his lonely nights with cheap hookers (the credits call her "Jake's girlfriend", the fifty bucks she demands says otherwise). Jake gets a call from Vinnie, who's fallen into trouble in the Philippines, and Jake heads to the shooting location to track his friend down and help.
It's all a trap, of course, as big bad Su (Avellana) is stealing away the world's top fighters to his private island, where he'll pit them in gladiatorial combat against his own men so as to sell an untraceable brand of steroids to foreign investors. Jake pulls a John McClane as he sneaks about the island until he's caught, but not before he meets Mariella (Rina Reyes), the lovely adopted daughter of Su, who finds out she's the real daughter of Su, and has to find out if her love for the man who raised her is enough to overlook his crimes (spoiler: it's not). Oh, and Jake's old friend Vinnie? He's totally in the pocket of Su.
Is these dynamics which give the film some legitimate dramatic weight. Jake is betrayed by one of his oldest friends and has to face the man - also amped up on the roids - in the ring for one last fight which echoes the match that led to his retirement. Mariella decides she can no longer turn a blind eye to what her father is doing and starts rifling through the records of his entire operation to bring him down. There's a great bit where, after Vinnie is dealt with, Jake is about to pursue Su, but he stops and turns to Mariella, asking what she wants him to do. After a pause, Mariella says Su has to be stopped. It's unsurprising to see a romance rapidly blossom in a film like this, but I like how the bond between Jake and Mariella is deeper than "I'm pretty, you're pretty, let's get nasty", to the point where they never even have the stereotypical sex scene. No, what pulls these two together is a mutual collapse of the people around them, the loss of figures they both believed their trust was safe with.
Also adding to the emotional resonance are the group of fighters Jake is captured with. Aside from his representation of kickboxing, you also have karate, taekwando, judo, Greco-Roman wrestling, boxing boxing, and even military combat training, all of which is demonstrated by genuine champions in each field in some marvelously choreographed sequences. And each of those sequences is gripping because we've gotten to see the camaraderie build between these fighters as they all come to chained in the same boat, work together during an initial escape attempt, then are all forced to wait in the same cramped cage as they see one after another of their own go down in the ring. Until they put their heads together and work out strategies to take out opponents who can feel no pain, then start winning round after round after round, proving no cheap performance enhancing drug is a match against purely honed skill in the ring. And as the remaining fighters rally and escape, I was cheering each Redshirt guard they plowed through.
This is a legitimately good movie, and I'd go so far as to say it surpasses the first. That one had some lovable characters and neat flourishes, but was still pretty clumsy around the edges. Here, the direction and editing are much cleaner, the pace has a constant build, the fights are very thoughtfully put together (especially love the wrestler who drops into a lotus position and totally kicks ass without moving from it), not only showing off moves but allowing story and characters to build through the battles, and it even makes great use of the locations, with a wild taxi ride and a chase through alleys showing off some neat spots around the city, and the mansion on a lush tropical beach making for a great Bond villain stronghold. There's even great flourishes like fighters stripping pieces out of the arena itself to use in combat, or Vinnie using the fact that Jake doesn't know he's turned yet to take him by surprise, or revealing an airport through a shot of the shadow of a plane on the ground, or the rich douches in the bleachers going giddy over the effect their thumbs up or down can have, or Su owning a seemingly unlimited supply of vases which he keep hurling at our hero, or Jake sizing up one guard after another as he takes them each out, looking for one who has a uniform large enough to fit his studly broad shoulders.
The only real weak point of the film is some of the acting. Avellano is great as Su, but his main henchman, Dieter (Robert Marious), is such an evil German stereotype that I was genuinely surprised we never saw him sporting a red arm band and thrusting up a salute. He's comic relief, but a little too far on the screwball sniveling side for me. Don "The Dragon" is still pretty good as Jake, with a good physicality and some nice work on his expressiveness, but he's still a bit heavy on line delivery. To be fair, they minimize his line delivery. The rest of the fighters are... they're professional fighters, not actors, so they're a little stiff and awkward when they actually need to chew the fat between fights. But put them in the ring and they shine, and as we get far more of them in the ring than chewing fat, it works. And Reyes never quite sells as Marcella. Her flat (though pretty) expression rarely changes through all of her character's well written conflicts, and they try to show that she's a skilled fighter as she battles guards alongside Jake, but she's mostly using the Judo chops and shin kicks that reveal an actor who hasn't actually had much in the way of training.
But those are just blips in the face of an otherwise slick, rich, entertaining popcorn flick, and I absolutely had a great time watching it. I'm surprised to see director Andy Blumenthal has no other credits beyond this and second unit work on a pair of other Corman films. Either that name is a pseudonym which IMDb is unaware of, or he's some fleeting filmmaker who swopped in from the night and was never heard from again. I'd put my money on pseudonym. The script is by Catherine Cyan, who continues to this day to write and direct flicks for the direct-to-video market (one of which is a scifi kickboxing film wonderfully titled Future Kick). This has me curious to check out more of her work. IMDb also credits Michael Ferris for work on the script. A few years later, Ferris would team up with writer John Brancato and they'd storm Hollywood with blockbuster cheese (and I don't say that as an insult as I mostly enjoy their work) such as The Net, The Game, Terminator 3, Terminator: Salvation, and The Surrogates. They also created a short-lived TV series called The Others which I recommend tracking down.
Again, this is a really solid film. After having a blast with the first, I expected there to be a steady decline as we skipped from one sequel to another, but they've already raised the bar with this one, and I can't wait to see where they take me next with Bloodfist 3: Forced to Fight!
Until we get there, have fun checking out Enbrethiliel's great review of Bloodfist 2.