Future War (1997)

When I saw this in my “list of future movies”, I got quite excited – a cyborg master race from the future! Dinosaur trackers! Human slaves! The battle taking place in modern day Los Angeles! But something was nagging at the back of my mind.

Then I remembered. “Mystery Science Theater 3000” did it. Their last season, admittedly, when they weren’t exactly firing on all comedic cylinders any more, but still their writers are probably better at their job than I am.

The basic gist of things is a Nun accidentally runs over an escaped slave from the future, and helps him in his battle against not only the dinosaur trackers, but the cyborg super-race who “created” them both. Now, it’s shown early on that our hero Daniel Bernhardt (who was in the “Bloodsport” sequels before appearing in lots of fairly big budget things in small roles – he’s a goon in “John Wick”, for example) is really good at kicking ass, so you’re presented with the “why aren’t the cyborgs much stronger than the humans?” conundrum right from the beginning. It wants to confuse you! That the cyborgs are schlubby looking guys with mullets and raccoon-eye makeup is just par for the course here.

Anyway, not too much sense going on about this one. The experts have covered this ground, but I wanted to refresh your memory, in case you wondered why I’d ignored such a (relatively) well-known addition to the “Future” canon. Or, indeed, an entry in the respective filmographies of Bernhardt and the late, great Robert Z’Dar, who’s also a future cyborg but annoyingly eschews the makeup.

Rating: thumbs up

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Youtube Film Club: Bloodsport 4 (1999)

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The Bloodsport franchise had managed the almost unthinkable – to have three martial arts movies in a row follow roughly the same continuity. But they took their eyes off the prize for the last one, having Daniel Bernhardt play a different character and have the entire film feel completely different to what came before it. But will it reach the heights of films 1 and 2, or manage to be worse than part 3?

John Keller (Bernhardt) is a cop who takes part in underground kumite events to keep himself sharp, accompanied by his partner, who looks like a busted Natasha Henstridge. Despite literally every kumite we’ve seen so far being full of death and absolute scumbags, Keller gets a sweet monologue in about not wanting to kill and honour and other such notions (the realisation that he’s a cop in a room full of people cheering on a potential murder is not really brought up). Later, answering a call from maybe the ugliest, most atmosphere-free bar in the Bulgarian town that’s subbing for the USA, they find a criminal who Keller had not only arrested years ago, but was supposed to have been executed, with the wonderful name Shrek.

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All this leads Keller to go undercover at Fuego Penal, where there’s a really dirty low-rent fight club, and where inmates are executed at the whim of the Warden. He fakes their deaths and ships them off to the home of the wealthy and fairly insane Caesar, who organises fights to the death for the amusement of his (hopefully paying) guests. The Warden is absolutely sexually aroused by death and extreme violence, which definitely adds an odd layer to proceedings.

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The first thing you’ll notice is how ugly everything is. This is partly due to them not bothering to find sets that looked remotely American, but a lot to do with the way it’s shot. Cinematographer George Mooradian is a regular of ISCFC enemy Albert Pyun, and had been working for a decade before this, so I’m not sure the sickness-inducing spinning camera shots, awful handheld work and bizarre zooms can be blamed on him – I’m laying it on writer/director Elvis Restaino, who made a couple of films in 1999 but never wrote or directed anything before or since. He strikes me as someone who had no idea of how to do anything, so threw everything at the wall to see what stuck – one really odd example is the Warden walking towards the camera, pausing right in front of it and breathing in a panicked fashion, his breath fogging up the lens.

It’s like he was expecting to make a surreal little movie and then decided at the last possible second to make a fourth Bloodsport. It’s full of religious imagery, and I think there are some dream sequences but they’re shot too much like the normal sequences; plus the inmates wear pretty stylishly cut jackets, and Caesar dresses like a French dandy from the 18th century. Too many ideas and not enough clue how to execute them, maybe? Too many ideas but none of them were any good? One idea which was as strange as I’ve ever seen was, right before the fighting starts at the last kumite, where all the dandy-dressed folks are about to start baying for blood, they have an Eastern-European-flavoured song and dance number. Wow!

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The way the fights are shot also spoils them. Bernhardt is great, and there are some other fighters in there who really seem to know their stuff – plus there’s a couple of sequences that could have come straight from UFC, indicating MMA was at the height of its first flush of popularity. But the camerawork is trying to make it look ugly or expose the distance between fist and face, so a lot of it is tough to watch. But as if to get on the incompetence bandwagon, everyone else follows suit. The editor has decided to use multiple takes of some scenes, so despite us seeing a guy climb out of the ring before a fight, every third cut or so reveals him still stood there, watching things. A few of the actors look at the camera accidentally. Someone has a head injury, and the pressure pad is just stuck on top of their hair.

It’s not so much bad as, I can’t figure out why it was made. The idea of the kumite is a distant memory, and none of it feels “real” enough to get bothered about or unusual enough to just revel in.

Rating: thumbs down

 

PS. See if you notice anything unusual about the DVD covers for the three Bloodsport sequels.

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Youtube Film Club: Bloodsport 3 (1996)

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“Bloodsport 2” was one of the most ludicrously entertaining films I’d seen in ages – almost pure fights with only enough plot to give those fights a bit of spice. It seems all the plot they cut out of that one found its way into “Bloodsport 3”, which is a much more traditional and much slower “man needs help – goes to mystical guru – defeats enemy” movie.

Perhaps to excuse the plot’s oddities, both this and part 2 are framed as stories being told to children after the fact, although this one is being told by Alex (Daniel Bernhardt) himself. Okay, it’s not like we were relying on a lot of “will Alex win or won’t he?” tension to drive the movie along, but still. Alex’s 12-ish-year-old son is getting into trouble at school, so he tells him about that time, years after he was Kumite champion, when he became an art dealer / gambler and got involved with Jacques Duvalier and his beautiful daughter Crystal.

John Rhys Davies! We’re long time fans of his here at ISCFC, my personal favourite of course being “Sliders” – this would have been filmed right at the same time. He’s great, of course, and plays a fine villain – he’s imported a Kazakh war criminal called The Beast and is arranging a new Kumite, which unlike the last two, which were all about honour (no prizes other than an old sword), is all about cash. He wants Alex to compete, then take a dive after everyone’s bet on him, and to show just how serious he is he kills Master Sun (James Hong), his old teacher from part 2. Alex still says no so Jacques decides to run it normally, but tries to stop Alex from getting in. Want to guess if he’s successful?

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After a quick visit to Pat Morita, the other old friendly Asian guy from part 2, he’s off into the wilderness of (UNNAMED FAR EASTERN COUNTRY) to get help from Sun’s brother, who’s also a martial arts guru. One might ask why he needs further training, what with being the utterly dominant current Kumite champion, but one would not be answered by this movie. He learns to catch an arrow, I suppose, although it’s a skill which he never needs again.

Anyway, you know the drill. Morita and Hong were clearly not interested in returning for part 3 but were persuaded to do a few hours of shooting each – they use a bunch of clever angles to disguise that Alex is never in the same shot as either of them (Hong also looks about 20 years younger in his death scene than he does in the flash-forwards in part 2, which indicates some hurried filming or editing).

Bad guy’s daughter Crystal, a stunningly beautiful but terribly underdeveloped character, sings at one point and…well, I presume she was related to one of the producers, because there is no way on Earth she got to sing based on merit. Ye gods! Part 2, for all its fighting, managed to give the other fighters a bit of personality – this just doesn’t bother – although one of the fighters brings a whip to a fight, so if weapons are apparently fine, why not just bring a gun or a chainsaw or something? The fight choreographer was a fan of pro wrestling, I guess, because The Beast (who’s made to look a lot bigger than he actually is by only being seen in shot with tiny guys) does a suplex and an elbow drop in the final fight, and one of the other competitors is using pro wrestling as his main fighting style. It’s a rare moment of fun in what is a pretty joyless film.

Okay, he's maybe got a few inches on them

Okay, he’s maybe got a few inches on them

What’s curious is this is from the same director as part 2. The budget must have been substantially smaller (part 2 was a cinema movie, this was straight to video) but it doesn’t explain how the sense of fun and excitement is completely gone. I was sort of expecting a twist at the end, or a final kink on Alex’s way to victory, but it never came. It feels three-quarters finished.

I shall leave you with one final thought. While telling the story to the kid in the “future”, Alex looks exactly the same age as he did in part 3. It was years between parts 2 and 3 as well, so did he have the kid offscreen between the two movies? Did he retire from the Kumite a second time and go and immediately impregnate someone? Does his kid have that sad illness where he ages quickly? Or did he just kidnap a child from somewhere?

Rating: thumbs down

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Youtube Film Club: Bloodsport 2 (1996)

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Fighting! Then some more fighting! And FIGHTING! Plus the greatest closing credit music in the history of film. Don’t believe me?

This could just be the fightingest martial arts movie of all time. At 82 minutes, I’d put the amount of plot at around 15 minutes, say 7 for training montages, which leaves a solid hour of people beating the crap out of each other. And I loved it!

Surrounded by one of the most pointless framing stories ever, where an elderly-looking James Hong (aka David Lo Pan from “Big Trouble In Little China”) tells the story of how Alex got his groove back to a bunch of pre-pubescent martial arts students, we’re thrown right into Alex’s story. He steals a sword from Pat Morita’s house but is double-crossed by his partner and arrested; fights his way through the prison; has to spend some time in “The Cooler”; and is taken under the wing of Sun (Hong) who, seeing that Alex is a good guy really, teaches him the Iron Hand technique and helps him back to being a good guy. This would normally be the first hour of a movie, but is dispatched with here in about 30 minutes, which is incredibly refreshing.

The one problem, to this point, is Alex just looks like a villain. Daniel Bernhardt has had a decent career of mainly playing scumbags, so it’s a bit weird seeing him as the underdog, as it is seeing the guy who was David Lo Pan play the kind old teacher. But at least we have two actors definitely playing to type – Ong Soo Han, who was the main villain in “Tiger Claws 2”, is prison guard / kumite contestant Demon, sort of a pale imitation of Bolo Yeung; and OGRE IS BACK! The great Donald Gibb, who was in the first “Bloodsport” eight years previously, returns as Ray Jackson, only this time he’s the handler for the fighters rather than getting involved himself (despite one of the contestants looking a good decade older than he is).

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Yes, “Bloodsport” means kumite, the completely fictional fighting competition dreamed up by Frank Dux to sell books. Pat Morita is in charge, and he pays for Alex to get out of prison so he can find the stolen sword and compete in the kumite (the sword, it turns out, is going to be the first place prize). I admire a man so calm about being robbed.

All this is window dressing to the fighting. Aside from some great scenes in the prison, most of the fighting takes place at the kumite – despite being a world renowned competition for the best martial artists, it’s being held in a large barn with an audience made up of poor-looking locals for some reason. The 8 years between parts 1 and 2 have meant some changes – while not getting rid of the “secret mystical art is the way to success” thing, some of the fighters incorporate grappling and submissions into their arsenal; and there’s a female fighter who isn’t treated as a figure of fun. She’s Kim, played by Lisa McCullough who’s much better known as a stunt-artist than an actress. It’s a damn shame, because she can obviously fight and looks like a strong athlete as well as easily being attractive enough to base a movie around; makes me wonder why it happens for some people and not others.

 

The variety of fighting is fun, which is handy because there’s a lot of it. Some of the outfits are truly staggering in their awfulness too (one fighter looks like he’s wearing a rainbow-themed gymnastics lycra monstrosity) but the fighting looks great – no obvious “air” between striker and strikee, simply and effectively shot. They even manage to tell a bit of story through the various fights, and give some of the secondary characters personalities, so well done movie.

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It feels a little silly wasting this many words on such a pure fighting movie. I was half tempted to put the video of the closing credits music up, ask if you were pumped, and if you answered yes tell you to watch this awesome movie. But I hope you enjoyed reading about it, and now you can watch it for nothing on Youtube:

Rating: thumbs up