May 1, 2014

Don "The Dragon" Wilson... Bloodfist 4: Die Trying (1992)


Let me say up front that this is going to be a less in-depth review than my usual Bloodfist pieces. The first two films were pretty straight forward martial arts plots, and the third a typical prison film story, so there wasn't much reason to hold back on spoilers. With part 4, however, they've decided to go all Hitchockian thriller with crosses and double crosses and false identities and a web of individuals that leaves you guessing who's working with or fighting against whom. Actually, it's a lot like Charade, the greatest Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made, which the film calls out not once, but twice as Don "The Dragon" Wilson's character goes off about how he's "Sick of all these charades!"

The basic setup is that Don "The Dragon" is Danny Holt, an agent of Sal's Repo Lot, and spends most of his days duking it out with people pissed he's legally stealing cars they owe money on. On one unfortunate day, he repos a car belonging to weapons dealer Weiss (Kale Browne), who would very much like to get his hands on a box of chocolates sitting in the front seat. When Weiss mows down the entire repo service, Danny is on the run from cops, FBI, people pretending to be cops and FBI, Weiss's men, a killer pretending to be the babysitter of his 10-year-old daughter (who quickly falls into enemy hands), and the only person Danny can turn to is Shannon (Amanda Wyss) the school teacher best friend of one of Danny's slain co-workers, who's violently yanked from what was supposed to be a vacation get-away weekend as she gradually helps Danny solve the riddle of the box of chocolates.

I could say more, but I really really don't want to, as they absolutely nailed the twists and turns of Charade and kept me on the edge of my seat up until the end. In their own way, of course, with lousy sound work, a stock score from countless Roger Corman films, some weak acting, and gloriously silly fight scenes exploding out of nowhere. But in their way, through their means and methods, they make it work, as every five minutes, they keep sweeping the rug out from under Danny and myself, leaving us constantly guessing as to where it'll go, and then playing off the likeliest of guesses by veering off in clever new directions. Someone really put some thought into this script, and it shows, and there's even great character moments to further invest our interests. The people here have personality, like the repo men who charm us with their slovenly brotherhood before they're shot down, or Carla, the tragic secretary just looking for a weekend away, or Shannon serving up a vegetarian meal while drawn to the taste of chocolate which she hasn't enjoyed for a lonnnnnng time, or the adorable little girl kicking the baddies in the shins, or government agents casually getting up and walking away from their own staged murders, or a cop car squealing to a stop, "Protect & Serve" prominently featured on his door, as he steps out with a pizza that he promptly serves to his lieutenant at a crime scene.

And you wouldn't believe the cast in this thing, as my eyes lit up with enthused familiarity half the time a new character was introduced. Amanda Wyss I know all too well as Tina from A Nightmare on Elm Street. The lieutenant investigating the murders is Liz Torres, known to television audiences a decade later as Miss Patty on Gilmore Girls. The FBI shows up, and the lead agent is Back to the Future's James Tolkan, shoving his cigar in everyone's face as he ballbreaks his way through the investigation. Hell, even Michael McDonald from MadTV shows up briefly as a newscaster.

Most important (to me, at least) are Weiss's two main goons, played by Australian martial artist Gary Daniels, and the tragically short-lived model and shampoo heiress Cat Sassoon. Cat I'll get into a bit more deeply when I wrap this series up with Angelfist, where she headlined a female spin on this franchise two years later. Here, she's great as a femme fatale who loves to do her fataling with spin kicks and a switchblade. And Gary Daniels continues to be one of the most beautiful martial arts stars I've ever seen. That flowing mane of golden hair. Those tender, baby-blue eyes. That chiseled face softened by an adorable pout. Okay, yes, I have a bit of a crush on the man, and I've loved him in everything from City Hunter to Fist of the North Star to The Expendables. No, he can't act, but who cares! Just look at him!

It's only with the Daniels vs. The Dragon fight that we get a major martial arts showdown in this movie. In light cutting through whirling fanblades diffused by clouds of tear gas which are ineffective in doing anything but cause these men to shed their shirts, they throw down, and it's glorious. All the other fights are much more grounded, with a slightly exaggerated yet realistic street fight quality as Danny isn't some kung fu god who mows through the competition. Even when he's duking it out with a cranky old guy in a bathrobe in the opening scene, he takes licks and gets knocked on his ass, making him all the more relatable and charming as he needs to think his way through the unfolding plot and often overwhelming odds. Don "The Dragon" still isn't a great actor, but he is improving, showing even more physicality and expression, with only his voice still leaving lines flat. He's gotten far enough to at least make it work, and scenes like him bonding with his daughter or trying to win over the trust of Shannon sell pretty well. I also love the revelation of his backstory about the death of his wife and why it left him on the bad side of cops. And the rest of the cast, already named or otherwise, ably dive into their roles with more gusto than you'd expect from a production like this. It's like they signed on with a sigh, then saw the script was actually putting in effort, so they all agreed to match it with their own.

It does have some clumsiness, with some odd shot composition and editing, especially in the fight scenes, but for the most part, there's a lot of love and care on display in the making of this film. Honestly, when it now came time to start dipping into the direct-to-video entries of the Bloodfist franchise, I figured the enjoyable quality of the first three films would take a plunge, but I'm thrilled to be proven wrong. I'm not arguing it's a masterpiece, but for what it is, it's really a damn good piece of entertainment, and a genuine thriller that kept me guessing all the way through.

Don "The Dragon" Wilson series index

3 comments:

  1. +JMJ+

    I have to say that I wasn't a big fan of this one. The first two won me over (because Philippines) and the third, which happened to be my first prison movie, pleasantly surprised me with tropes reminiscent of high school movies. Bloodfist IV reminds me of Cinemax movies that I change the channel on. ;-)

    But you're right that there was decent thought put into the script! The big twist in the ending was great, and it was set up beautifully. =)

    I was also pleased to find all the women here interesting--something I don't really expect from a direct-to-video movie. Carla is very poignant; Lisa pulls off both her substitute babysitter persona and her deadly gun moll character; and Shannon is probably the exact type a man would love to run into if he were running from the police, the FBI, and the bad guys. She binds his wounds, she makes him dinner (yes, one he doesn't eat--but it's the thought that counts!), and she bonds with his child! =)

    May I also confess that I enjoyed the "fight" between Shannon and Carla the most, among all the fights in this movie? =P Yeah, I know it wasn't much of a fight (no choreography at all!) but it was true to their characters, and gave me a highly satisfying answer to my question, "How is Shannon going to get out of this?" (Note to self: always go for the hairspray can.)

    Speaking of the female element, did you notice that Danny seems to be a ladies' man of some sort. Carla certainly has a crush on him, and the woman he calls for information on the plate number makes him agree to go out on a date first! =P Now, Wilson is really not my type, so I can't see it (LOL!), but this ties into my theory that Bloodfist IV is also trying to push as many male adventure fantasy buttons as it can. ;-)

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  2. What really impressed me is that, for an R-rated, direct-to-video action movie of the early 90s, they never went the T&A route. There was no nudity that I can recall, no expected typical love scene with Shannon. In fact, the relationship between Danny and Shannon was much more a battlefield bond, where they find solace and support in one another, instead of a typical romance.

    It's not going to work for everyone, though, so I get it not working for you. I just found myself far more swept up in events than I expected. :)

    Are you referring to the encounter between Shannon and Lisa in the women's room? Yeah, that was great, with Shannon using her wits to take on a physically overwhelming force that otherwise had her dead to rights.

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  3. +JMJ+

    Argh! Yes, that should read "Shannon and Lisa"! *facepalm*

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