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?

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Youtube Film Club: Tiger Claws (1991)

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I’m finally getting the hang of this film review lark. From knowing absolutely nothing about him, at the halfway point of this movie I successfully guessed three things about Jalal Merhi, second billed but undoubtedly the star. I guessed he was the producer, or the director, or both (he’s producer & executive producer); that he’d never acted a day in his life before this (he hadn’t, this was his first movie); and that he was the son of a wealthy Middle Eastern family, and had used his family’s wealth to fund his vanity film career (his family own a successful jewellery business, he helped establish them in Canada before cashing out to start producing movies).

But enough of how proud of myself I am. Due to ISCFC favourite Loren Avedon appearing in part 3 of this series, I thought I’d watch them all, and they also star Cynthia Rothrock, an actress whose career completely passed me by at the time but who I’m looking forward to revisiting, thanks to the large number of her films available for free on Youtube. She’s a cop in the New York district of Sexistville, and despite her being a highly trained martial artist she’s reduced to prostitute “sting” operations. Tarek Richards (Merhi), who I thought was called “Derek” for the first hour of the movie, is the cop on the edge, who is suspended for being too much of a badass.

Someone is killing martial arts masters, and astonishingly it takes Rothrock barging into the Captain’s office with her “research” before someone figures out that there might be a martial arts link to it all. She’s given the case and Derek is brought out of suspension to help her out, being a martial arts master himself. What he’s not is a master of police work – his big plan to try and find the place where the special Tiger Claw style of kung fu is being taught is to just go to Chinatown and ask random people…from some seedy backstreet dojo, he discovers the big piece of information that progresses the case. This closely guarded secret is a huge martial arts tournament being held the next day, with competitors from all over the world, that the police would surely have known about. Boy, is this film dumb as a box of rocks.

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I feel bad for Cynthia Rothrock in this movie. She’s seen at the beginning in heels for her sting, and is clearly uncomfortable walking in them. When she kicks ass, her shoes have changed – so if she can’t fight in heels, why force her to wear them? Later in the movie, Derek goes undercover in the Tiger Claw academy while she’s reduced to sitting in the car outside listening via a wire to the conversation inside, despite being by far the better actor and the better martial artist. I presume they paid her well, as she came back for two sequels – but bear in mind, Rothrock was an established star by this point and Merhi was an amateur martial artist / jewel salesman whose acting ability was roughly equivalent to a malfunctioning Teddy Ruxpin doll. Literally no-one (including Merhi’s family) was watching this movie to see him, yet he’s front and centre and she’s a spectator, his putative boss who he ignores at every single opportunity.

“Zero” is the answer to two rather important questions about this movie.
1. How much explanation is given for why the killer is killing people?
2. How much chemistry do Rothrock and Merhi have?

Heck, you could add a third – “how much explanation is given for why scratching someone’s face instantly kills them?” if you were feeling bold.

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Even Bolo Yeung as the baddie isn’t enough to save this. As awful as it undoubtedly is, we don’t really get films like this any more – complete vanity projects by people who really have no business being in front of a camera; therefore, I can’t hate it quite as much as I ought to. Merhi clearly cares a lot about “traditional forms” of martial arts, going out of his way to defend them several times against modern versions. I sort of think Yeung and Rothrock did this for a laugh, expecting it to never get a proper release, because it really didn’t deserve one – rather oddly, despite Merhi producing and starring in films regularly throughout the next decade, this didn’t get a sequel for six years, and a third film in 2000.

From my limited knowledge of martial arts movies, there’s a heck of a lot of them where the basic plot goes – cocky local hero knows his own martial art; friend or family gets killed by someone who knows a badass new style; cocky local hero can’t protect people; he has to go and learn the new style in order to defeat the killer. “Tiger Claws” has a hero who already knows the killer style and, as soon as he gets the chance to take on the villain, wins. Plus, it’s made by a person who doesn’t understand how movies work. Let’s see if parts 2 and 3 are any better!

Rating: thumbs down