December 18, 2013

Bloodfist 2 (1990 film)


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.

6 comments:

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I agree that Bloodfist 2 is a surprisingly entertaining and well-told movie! Like you, I expected that it would be pretty bad, so I felt especially gratified that it wasn't. =)

Of course, despite all the elements it has in common with the first Bloodfist movie, it is its own story. I'm sure the title and main character's name were changed for marketing purposes, but now I'm wondering how good a decision that turned out to be. Do you think a movie this delightful (if also unprepossessing) would have been lost in the B-movie shuffle if it weren't for the Bloodfist branding?

PS -- Hey, isn't Future Kick a Don "The Dragon" Wilson movie as well? =P

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

"Well-told movie" should be well-told story." =P I made the edit without rereading the whole sentence. Sigh . . .

NoelCT said...

I'm sure the title and main character's name were changed for marketing purposes, but now I'm wondering how good a decision that turned out to be. Do you think a movie this delightful (if also unprepossessing) would have been lost in the B-movie shuffle if it weren't for the Bloodfist branding?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Bloodfist, from all I've read, was an unexpectedly huge hit when it first came out, so I'm sure the branding did give this a boost, and when it turned out to be a good film in its own right, that gave it an extra kick and cemented the series as a brand. On the other hand, the brand does bring with it expectations, which is why I'm surprised they made so little effort to even try to make this a continuation of Jake Raye's story instead of the "in name only" aspect, and that subsequent films drop this all together and just go with different characters.

I don't know if you're aware, but none of the first four Die Hard films featured the character of John McClane in their original incarnations, but all were reworked (to varying degrees of success) to spotlight that character and his continuing struggles with heavily armed bad guys. Here, they're betraying their cheapo production roots by blatantly not caring. Which, however, is pretty easily balanced out by the films (at least these first two) being pretty darn good. :)

PS -- Hey, isn't Future Kick a Don "The Dragon" Wilson movie as well? =P

Gah!

Tony Williams said...

Future Sport is indeed a D"TD"W flick, and it's about as entertaining as a colonoscopy if memory serves. If you're looking for dystopian sci-fi with a martial arts bent, Cyborg is the Citzen Kane of the genre.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I had known that the script for Die Hard 3 was originally meant to be a Lethal Weapon movie, but hadn't realised that the majority of the scripts had been "adopted" in similar ways. When I think of how quickly I warmed to the second simply because so many familiar faces from the first film showed up again, I see that continuity doesn't necessarily have to start with the writing. Similarly, the reason I didn't bother to finish Die Hard 3 was that there was no way I was going to buy that McClane's wife left him after the events of 1 and 2!

NoelCT said...

Die Hard was based on a novel called Nothing Last Forever, which was actually a sequel to an earlier book called The Detective. As The Detective has already been filmed at another studio (starring Frank Sinatra), that left the licensors of Nothing without a main character. First, they tried to make it a sequel to Commando, with the wife instead being the lead's daughter (which is actually how it was in the novel), but Arnie's schedule was too tight, so they instead invented the character of John McClane.

Die Hard 2 was based on a novel called 58 Minutes by an entirely different author and had no relation. It was initially licensed as a stand alone picture, but then they merged it into the series. Die Hard 3 started as an original spec script called Simon Says, which was, yes, first looked at as a Lethal Weapon sequel before being retooled for Die Hard. Die Hard 4 started as a script called WW3.com, adapted from a non-fiction article in Wired, which was shelved following 9/11 until they dusted it off for the retooling.

As far as I can tell, Die Hard 5 is the only entry in the series to feature John McClane from draft one. Which could be one of the reasons it fails so hard. :)