Best Of The Best 4: Without Warning (1998)

The hookline and subtitle to this film make absolutely no sense whatsoever

The hookline and subtitle to this film make absolutely no sense whatsoever

This series and, to pick another at random, “No Retreat, No Surrender” have a different attitude towards continuity. NRNS had Loren Avedon for 3 or 4 of their 4, 5 or 6 movies (depending on how you look at it), but he didn’t play the same character in any of them. BOTB has had the same actor play the same character through all four movies, but he goes from place to place and job to job without the least thought for whether it makes sense or not. I’d honestly pick NRNS, because at least they had a bit of fun with it.

But this is all about Best Of The Best 4. Tommy, who was a wandering type visiting his family in a small town in part 3, making a point of telling his family he’d abandoned teaching, now trains the police department in San Fransisco in hand-to-hand techniques. He’s friends with one cop but the Sergeant, played weirdly broad by Ernie Hudson, thinks all this “chop-socky” stuff is nonsense.

Once again, we’re treated to an extremely long preamble setting up the bad guys, which this time is only 10 minutes, a breeze compared to part 3’s 18. Some Russian thieves, led by a pre-Saw Tobin Bell, have inside cop info (from who? Only time will tell) and are able to steal a truck full of money paper, along with all the right ink and a disk with the exact designs on it – meaning the money they make will actually be real and therefore completely undetectable. Interesting!

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Tommy’s involvement with this case is extraordinarily coincidental, in case you were wondering. He’s in his local shop and the attractive young forger decides it’s too risky and goes on the run with the special disc, going to get help from her Dad, who runs that shop. Also, the crooked cop is…well, it’s not the most difficult conundrum to solve. If you’re relying on accidents like this to get you from A to B in your movie, then you might want to hire a slightly better writer (in this case, Rhee wrote, directed, produced and starred).

Again, for a martial arts movie, there’s not a lot of fighting in it. There is an awful lot of kid-centric plot, though, which is just beyond tiring. I can count the number of “mainstream” movies who’ve killed off a kid on the fingers of one hand, so you can be absolutely certain that whatever movie it might be, that kid is going to survive. They’re just an incredibly lazy script reason to get the hero to do something, and their near-100% survival rate means there’s no tension to any scene they’re in. Plus, they’re almost always terrible actors too. Just props for films too lazy to give their stars a decent reason to do anything.

Talking of props, the women in this are pretty pointless too. They have no agency, they’re just there to give the men reasons to behave the way they do, or to have the men demonstrate how evil or good they are, or to walk round in their underwear for a bit. These last two comments aren’t exclusive to this movie, obviously, but the weak script and acting reveal them a little more obviously than you’d normally get.

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Rhee is a much better director than he is an actor, writer or producer. He captures fights pretty well, even if they are a bit dull, the action makes sense and you can tell where people are in relation to each other; and he makes the scene in the tunnel look awesome, for instance. The problem is, he’s filming his own script and his own acting.

Too many of the fights in this movie feel like they’re from an instructional video on how to disarm an attacker on the street, and just aren’t particularly exciting. Rhee’s love for stick-fighting remains baffling; and the scene at the end where he dodges bullets is just ludicrous, and not in a fun way. It’s just sort-of solidly a little below average, which is a sad way for a franchise which started off so crazily strong to go.

Rating: thumbs down

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