Highlander (fight 4 of 5)

A quick breather before the show-stopping climax.

4) Sunda Kastagir vs. The Kurgan

Similar to the film’s first “skirmish,” this fight takes place in a generic outdoor city area at night, and is walked into in media res by a non-Immortal bystander. This time however the bystander is not a sexy, yet determined police metallurgy consultant (such a stock character!) but rather Kirk Matunas, a machine gun-toting vigilante.

Pictured: someone Hollywood thinks is everywhere

A paranoid Vietnam veteran, he patrols the streets with fully-automatic machine gun (as one does), apparently wary of a Soviet invasion. We first see him driving around contemptuous of all the “filth” around him like De Niro in Taxi Driver, but soon he catches a glimpse of the second-to-last Immortal clash, and goes to investigate.

In a rather uninteresting alley, the Kurgan is fighting against Sunda Kastagir, an African Immortal who’s a longtime friend of our main hero. A pair of scenes showing Kastagir with MacLeod (one in present day where they meet pleasantly & agree not to fight, one in the past showing them abusing Connor’s invulnerability to mess with a French dandy’s head) have endeared us to him. We don’t love him like we did Ramirez, but we like him, certainly enough to not want him to get murdalized.

(Incidentally, Kastagir is played by British actor Hugh Quarshie, who never truly reached star status despite appearing prominently in several major genre works. Most people will at least recognize him as Captain Panaka, the security chief from The Phantom Menace who follows Natalie Portman around mainly so she can disagree with everything he says. No, seriously, if you ever watch TPM again and want to wring some extra amusement out of it, count how many times Amidala does the exact opposite of what Panaka suggests. It’s really funny.)

Unfortunately for Kastagir he’s already fighting a losing battle by the time Full Metal Wackjob arrives. He swings away desperately but the Kurgan, dominant as usual, clearly has his number. Overall, the construction of the battle is… not impressive. There’s much flailing but for the most part it looks half-hearted and not particularly creative. It is also brief, which is arguably good given how uninteresting it is.  Notably, Quarshie fails to sell the reality of the fight, several times holding his sword in such a way that he couldn’t possibly be blocking the blows the movie asks us to think he is.

Visually, however, there is still some nice stuff going on, mainly in the use of shadows. We cut back to Kirk several times, witnessing his disbelief as he watches something even his own paranoia could never have dreamed up, and he’s framed by shadows in such a way that you definitely get a sense of proportion: not just of how puny this mortal is in comparison to the titanic duellists, but of how huge the Kurgan is in comparison to Kastagir.

“I’m gonna need a bigger gun.”

The way the fight ends is an unexpected treat (for the viewer, if not Kastagir), too: the Kurgan slices off Kastagir’s head right in the midst of the battle, with a sudden spin move before the latter’s blade could block it. In not just this movie but most Highlander franchise fights, the loser tends to get his or head removed under much more mundane circumstances, after being cornered, disarmed, or beaten down into helplessness. It’s rare for Highlander fans to see an Immortal lose their head via surprise rather than while standing/kneeling there waiting for it like a chump, and this shows that Kurgan has some decent skills to go with that brute strength.

The Kurgan gets the Quickening, but not before being temporarily gunned down by Kirk’s probably-not-legal Uzi. Kurgan rewards the former Marine by impaling him, lifting him off the ground, and literally tossing him aside. With one hand.

Nutjob-kebab

A decent-sized crowd has gathered by this point as well, and the Kurgan escapes from the scene by ripping the roof off a nearby car, removing the driver and menacing the little-old-lady of a passenger, who he laughingly addresses as “Mom!” before driving into the night (Brown even manages to sound lascivious while yelling).

Overall this is a bit of a Blah fight with some nice trappings. Like the previous MacLeod/Kurgan dust-up, this is a skirmish– a smaller fight by design. It’s not a big deal, but it’s not meant to be and doesn’t need to be, though that still doesn’t excuse some lackluster execution. Extra points are gained for some sweet shadow-play and an unexpected finishing move; slightly less points are lost due to the unnecessary Hollywood caricature of an anti-Commie nutbar. Kirk’s presence in the scene and film serves no real purpose. We see him again in the hospital shortly after, giving the police a very not-MacLeod description of the headhunting killer, but there was about a dozen other bystanders there to describe the Kurgan too, so Kirk’s role in the “getting the cops off MacLeod’s back” subplot is extraneous.

Grade: C+

Recommended reading: Quite amusing CHUD article about the unfortunate fate of “Mom,” from which I will steal this GIF:

Coming soon: We finish the film and there can, finally, be only one.

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3 comments on “Highlander (fight 4 of 5)

  1. David Wharton says:

    With regards to Hugh Quarshie he has been working for the past dozen years on the long running hospital soap Holby City.

    I didn’t realise that Kastagir was him. You learn something new every day.

  2. as140 says:

    Where is Kastagir in the 18th century France scene?

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