Night Of The Kickfighters (1988)

This feels broken. Like, the people who made it didn’t really understand how movies worked, but went ahead and made one anyway. None of the subplots make any sense, the main plot is missing hefty chunks, the acting is – to put it exceptionally politely – amateurish, the crew may have been drunk, some of the effects would be embarrassing if a ten-year-old kid made a film with them in it…but boy oh boy was it a lot of fun to watch.

We have new members of

THE ISCFC ONE-TIMERS CLUB

This is the highly sought-after prize for someone whose entire career is represented by just one movie. Director Buddy Reyes and writer / producer / star Andy Bauman, welcome!

Expectations are important. After the first scene, in which a wonderfully overacting Euro-hottie Kedesha (Marcia Karr, who’s already been in two ISCFC movies, “Death Blow: A Cry For Justice” and “Maniac Cop”) seduces a rather unprepossessing balding fellow then has Carel Struycken (the tall gaunt fellow from such movies as “Men In Black”) throw him out of a window, you’re expecting a hero to show up soon. When Adam West shows up as a scientist who’s invented a laser smart enough to ignore friendly people on the battlefield, you’re expecting him to sell it to some villains – joke’s on us, as they clearly only hired him for a day or two and he shares no scenes with the main cast. When his daughters and wife are attacked by the actual villains who figure kidnap / ransom is the best way to get the laser (I think, they don’t really tell us their plan at any point), surely, you think to yourself, the hero is going to show up soon? We’re nearly a third of the way into the movie and there’s not been a single star-looking guy show up yet.

What I wasn’t expecting was that middle-aged balding guy from the beginning to be the hero. He’s CIA agent Brett Cady, and is played by Andy Bauman, who was apparently a kickboxing world champion (although I can find no evidence of this other than the VHS box, which also claims he’s the star of three other movies – he isn’t) and now sells a cross-fit style exercise regime with his wife. He looks like a mid-level manager at a failing insurance sales company, not an action movie star, and this is probably the heftiest blow dealt to “Night Of The Kickfighter”. He’s not even that good an on-screen martial artist!

We’re also treated to one of the weirdest “getting the team together” segments of all time. There’s a computer expert who you might expect to be the love interest, but no; a generic brawler whose special skill seems to be that he owns a bar, then a sort of gutter version of Q from the James Bond movies, then a magician. A straight up stage magician! Aldo is his name, and I kept expecting him to drop the accent and delivery he’d gone with, but no – he speaks like a crazy person from beginning to end. Follow this weirdness with one of those team-training segments that manages to be even weirder, and you’re just strapping yourself in getting ready for a crash-bang-wallop last half-hour.

But, of course, that’s what a normal movie would do! What we actually get here is half the team go off to do the fighting, and half the team just sort of hang back for no reason, only getting involved when everyone else is tied up with a brain-frying lazer pointed at them (not the same lazer that Adam West was inventing, though). I’m not sure what the hacker gets up to, because she was so bland she started blending into the background. The magician guy does full-on disappearing tricks, inside the enemy compound, indicating he either went in there before and set all his tricks up while no-one was watching or he’s actually got magical powers. You know, the usual.

On top of all this, there’s the technical “shortcomings” too. The most obvious miniature I can remember seeing in years is blown up at the end – it’s only a few steps up from the “MRI machine made of paper” classic “After Last Season”. There’s the way the lazer effect moves with the camera, so a beam of purple light is sometimes beaming into someone’s head and then wanders over a few feet to the left or right. Tons of post-sync dubbing, like they kept forgetting to record sound too…then there’s the sets – the strip club is amazing, like a redneck version of a 1920s honky-tonk bar with a solitary stripper gyrating in the corner. Nothing fits!

This genuine puzzlement carries over to the acting too, with Bauman an utter non-presence in the movie he’s supposed to be starring in. Aldo and Kedesha are both overacting like their lives depended on it, and everyone else seems like they’re a little unsure that what they’re doing is a real movie, like maybe it’s just some rich weirdo’s vanity project that would never see the light of day.

One last acting comment – Carel Struycken. You’ll recognise him immediately, but what you won’t ever think while looking at him is “I bet he’s a good fighter”. Despite him having a powerful look, and being very tall, he just doesn’t look threatening at all. He looks like a slightly frail old man, but there he is, standing toe-to-toe with an apparent world kickboxing champion. Bauman has to wait for incoming punches and kicks so often, it almost becomes a joke after a while.

I feel like just how down-to-its-bones odd this movie is hasn’t been fully gotten across. It’s a thing that looks like a movie but isn’t – it doesn’t start or finish in a logical or fun place, it picks up and abandons plot threads like they’re going out of fashion, and, for a movie starring a martial artist and having the name it does, has not one single fight that’s interesting or exciting to watch.

It’s available for free, though, so you’d be a fool to not check it out. Ease yourself into this world, though, as it’s like an expert-level crazy 80s kung-fu movie. Also, there’s another movie with “Kickfighter” in the title, “Revenge Of The Kickfighter” (aka “Mission Terminate”, “The Kick Fighter”) which of course bears no relation to this movie at all. But it’s got Richard Norton in it and he’s amazing, so we’ll be watching it soon and reporting back.

Rating: negative thumbs up

PS – this is a production of AIP, Action International Pictures, which has a reputation apparently for producing movies of this sort of quality. Anyone interested in reading about a few more?

Advertisements

Youtube Film Club – Dragon From Russia (1990)

dragon-from-russia-movie

Why is it that being really good at martial arts gives you the ability to pretty much fly? I feel we accept a lot from our old-school wire-fu films, one of those things being people just bounce around, have fights in mid-air, and so on. It’s one of the things that seemed cool as a kid and now seems a bit odd, but enough of my prejudices.

I will now give a recap of this film, both to show the plot doesn’t really matter in kung-fu films, and also to demonstrate how even if it did matter, it makes absolutely no sense. A guy called Joe, a girl called…nope, can’t remember, but she was played by Maggie Cheung, lovely lovely Maggie Cheung…and another girl called Queenie, are orphans, raised by a man whose name is, I believe, Snooker. Snooker! They live in Russia, but for some reason are forced to get on a train to go to Hong Kong; the train is raided by some badass masked killer types who kidnap Joe, take him to a guy’s dojo out in the middle of nowhere and train him to be an assassin. While doing his assassin-y thing, he keeps running into Ms Cheung, his former girlfriend, but as he’s lost his memory he’s got no idea who she is.

dragon_from_russia7

Then the trainer’s other assassins and him get in a fight, I think, and the police are tracking Joe down, and there’s some other people after him as well, and who want the assassin school shut down (understandably). Joe has to go and confront his old trainer, rescue his girlfriend (who seems to get shot in the middle of the film and dies, but that must just be someone who looks a lot like her, who had the same woman dubbing her voice).

Admittedly, I wasn’t paying the closest attention, and it’s a pretty well-regarded film in some circles, but I couldn’t make head nor tail of it. And the worst thing is, fight scenes have moved on. Back in 1990, this was certainly state-of-the-art, but we’ve had the good fortune of fighting movies becoming big business since then, and martial arts films have come on in leaps and bounds. Nothing really looks like it hurts in this film – every punch and kick is laughed off, and people barely ever have a scratch on them after a huge fight to the death.

I might be misrepresenting the culture of this sort of film, and I’m sure afficionados would look down their nose at the new crop of fighting movies coming out of Eastern Europe. But to a film-literate outsider such as me, this looks like the product of a very different time. There’s stuff like the 20 minutes of weird knockabout comedy as he trains with his new master – an extremely evil man who plans assassinations for a living, lest we forget – and the way that the women in this film all look…and please don’t take this the wrong way, dear reader…very alike, to the point where I could identify Maggie Cheung, just about, and the main villainess, but everyone else might as well have been one character (and may well have been).

The reason you’re likely to have heard of this film is due to it being sold in the UK as a box set with “City Hunter”, the Jackie Chan classic, and “The Story of Ricky”, perhaps the most insanely over-the-top film ever made. Compared to those two, this sadly pales in comparison, and unless you’re in a really good mood, I’d suggest going elsewhere.

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: Chinese Super Ninjas (1982)

I accidentally wiped the hard drive that contained all my films the other day (rips of legally owned DVDs, you guys) so I’ve been going through the long and annoying process of getting them all back. Part of that was the long-neglected section of kung-fu films – stuff I’d watched as a teenager and in my early 20s, but had been largely ignored since. Anyway, I realised I’d never seen this, and the reviews seemed to state it was a classic, so here goes.

And another thing – thank you Youtube!

Heck, this copy is better quality than my old old DVD.
I have been trying to write a brief summary of the plot of this film, but the more I think about it, the more I realise it doesn’t make a lick of sense, even for a kung fu film. It starts with a group which seem like they’re good guys but are outlaws, and they’re about to have a scrap with a group of guys dressed in white, who seem to all the world like they’re the baddies. This is to decide something or other – either who’s the best, or if the outlaws can continue to do crimes. The various members of the groups take it in turns to fight, and it seems that the guys in white are winning 8-0 in the best of ten format, until one of their fellas loses and he, in an “honourable” move, guts himself. So I guess I was wrong about which side was which?

The last guy isn’t even part of the gang, he’s a Japanese samurai, brought in as some sort of ringer by the…bad?…guys, and he successfully fights a few of the guys in white until he also misses a strike, and by his own wacky logic, kills himself too. But before he does he poisons the boss of the guys in white, and tells them his friend will be back to kick their asses.

So far, so good. Nice bit of fighting, characters have been sort-of established and the battle lines are drawn. Then, things go a bit odd. There’s usually a moment in films like this where I get the feeling I spaced out for ten minutes, or my cat jumped on my chest and demanded attention, and I missed a crucial bit of plot. But it’s my job as a film reviewer to navigate these deep waters for you, so here goes.

The guys in white, who are the Alliance of Martial Artists, have decided to go and defeat the Five Element Ninjas (this film’s actual, not quite as cool title outside the USA) – gold, fire, water, wood and earth. The reason for this is either so they can get the powers of these ninjas in order to beat the apparently invincible King of the Ninjas, or because he gets his power from them and they want to weaken him. Or possibly so they can learn ninjutsu, the technique that is too powerful for them. I really don’t want to be vague here, I just couldn’t for the life of me figure it out.

They divide into groups of two – two each for each of the elements, and the last two guys to defend the clan boss, who is using his martial arts mind powers to defeat the poison in his body. We then get one of those amazing extended sequences that this genre of film is famous for. Wuxia is the name for fantastic kung fu films, where there’s magic and weirdness and garish coloured fights, and this film is a prime example. We see the groups of Alliance members go to take on the five elements, and to a man they get killed. It’s embarrassing how badly they get whupped, but as I didn’t recognise any of them, while the guy who stayed behind at the camp is a Hong Kong star of yesteryear, I figured out how it was going to go.

It gets worse for the Alliance, as the woman they rescued from being beaten by her father and gave a place to live, turned out to be a spy who let the Ninja king, his ninja followers and the outlaws from the beginning of the film, in to their base to kill the main Alliance master and take over. Ninja King turns on the crime-boss fella, for reasons which remain stubbornly out of reach. And what sort of over-the-top revenge is slaughtering an entire clan because they beat you in a fight, didn’t kill or arrest you and just wanted you to stop doing crimes?

So begins part two of the film. Our hero decides he needs to power up, after literally everyone he knows has been murdered. So, off he pops to a mysterious teacher of Ninjutsu, who he was friendly with from before. He joins up with a bunch of the teacher’s other students, and after a nice training montage to show him learning the new style, they go to take on the Five Elements.

 

Again, because I don’t think this point can be stressed enough, absolutely no reason is given for anyone to want to bother with the five elements. They’re supernaturally tough, and aren’t bothering anyone! Just minding their own business, doing whatever a representation of an element does, and some guys in white come along to kick their ass. If they have any relation to the king of the Ninja, apart from him showing up at the end to defend the last element, then it’s certainly never mentioned.

The first four of the five elements crumble like a Weetabix in a vice, and then it’s on to the last one. The reasoning of it all isn’t important – yes, the good guys win – but the style of the fights is what’s important. There’s some fantastically bonkers choreography, which is the reason this film is so fondly remembered by fans of wuxia and kung-fu films. It’s blindingly fast, magic-powered and although it’s pretty cheaply done (the sets at the end look like a poor theatre production) you’d struggle not to enjoy this film.

 

Chinese Super Ninjas on IMDB
Buy Chinese Super Ninja [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]