Bloodsport (day 3 of 3)

Toss one more off.

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Look folks, not all the puns can be winners.

Here we are at the grand finale!

8) Frank Dux vs Paco

The Fighters:

  • Frank Dux, the kumite’s new man-to-beat. Possessed of a new determination to win after visiting his buddy Ray in the hospital, and even outwitted the CID thugs pursuing him so he could attend. Played by Jean-Claude Van Damme.
  • Paco, the Muay Thai kickboxer we’ve seen a few times already. Never addressed by name on film and without any spoken dialogue, he nonetheless leaves an impression. (Would a modern action film give little bits of characterization to secondary/tertiary competitors like Pumola?) Played by Paulo Tocha.

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The Fight: Actually a nice little rev-up before the main course, suitably difficult for Frank but not an easy stroll through the park like his early fights.

As they start, Paco does the classic cheesy villain/bad guy wrestler thing where he holds out his fists so the two can bump together as a sign of respect, only when Frank goes in, Paco sucker-punches him in the face. Ha! Evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.

Ahem. Frank, always one to turn lemons into karate-lemonade, retaliates by tripping up Paco while he’s still on the ground. Paco gets up and Frank takes him down again. Soon enough, both are on their feet and just outright trading blows, even outright inviting the other to take free hits, which they absorb into their meaty thighs. It’s actually very cool, in its raging-testosterone way.

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There’s a deleted scene right after where they each drop their pants and see who’s got the biggest junk.

This goes on for longer than you might expect. Eventually, Frank’s power is too much even for Paco’s surely formidable calcium deposits, wearing him down. Dux finishes his enemy off with, what else, a high spin kick. On to the finals!

9) Chong Li vs Chuan Ip Mung

The Fighters:

  • Chong Li, the villain, of course. Played by Bolo Yeung.
  • Chuan Ip Mung, who seems to be one of those super fast kung fu fighters we saw before. Played by Dennis Chiu.

The Fight: Gonna be honest: this fight was unremarkable enough I apparently forgot to get any screen grabs for it.

Instead, just look at this and revel in what could have been.

Chuan is very fast and gets in a couple licks on the champ, but not enough to faze him. Soon, Li is countering everything, which puts the challenger down. He finishes with a verrrrrrry drawn-out punch to Chuan’s face while he’s lying motionless on the ground, which outright kills him.

Chong Li wants to revel in the glory, but is angered when the judges– and soon the crowd– turn away from him in order to pray for the fallen fighter. Writing them off as sentimental fools, Li has a quick warning for Frank before he sits back down: “You are next.” (Which sounds like “necks” with his accent, but I wouldn’t laugh at his English if I were you.)

10) The Final Showdown:

The Fighters:

  • Frank Dux
  • Chong Li

They prop up all but the middle the ring beforehand for some reason, so that most of the ground is now slightly inclined. Presumably it’s for the added challenge, but it seems unnecessary. Does any other sport do this?

Badminton, maybe?

Badminton, maybe?

Also, as the two prepare in their respective corners, the camera makes sure we see Chong Li’s coach furtively stash a little capsule of something into his shorts. Foreshadowing!

The two meet, and before the ref calls things to a start, Li– sporting Ray’s bandanna tied around his knee, because why not– does another nice little bit of intimidation: “You break my record. Now I break you.” [points to bandanna] “Like I break your friend.” The man has a way with words.

The Fight: Frank kicks Li right in the face as soon as the match starts. Proactive! Li responds by grabbing the referee and throwing him right at Frank, which makes you wonder why the ref (to the extent he serves any purpose to begin with) has to be physically IN the ring anyway– it’s at ground level, not like an elevated boxing ring, so he could still see just fine from a few steps outside. Anyway, the tactic is useless, because Frank just climbs right over the ref and delivers another jump kick.

"They don't pay me enough for this."

“They don’t pay me enough for this.”

At this point it’s pretty much Frank’s game. Li does score some big hits and gets a throw in, but Dux always comes back and is clearly the more skilled. A series of awkward and stiff punches drops the reigning champ to the ground, but just as Frank charges in for the big finish, Li, having “stealthily” ground up the capsule into powder, tosses it right into his opponent’s eyes. Like, in full view of everyone.

Chong Li tries to get in an immediate follow-up kick, but Frank still blocks it, which is hilarious. Soon enough, though, the powder starts to take effect, damaging Dux’s vision to the point of near blindness. He stumbles around like a confused baby.

Many years later, Jean-Claude would make a similar face when told he'd be co-starring with Dennis Rodman

Many years later, Jean-Claude would make a similar face when told he’d be co-starring with Dennis Rodman

This was always the part I hated most as a kid, not so much because the hero was getting beaten up but because it takes him waaaaaaay too long to remember something the audience showed him flashing back to like 70 minutes ago: namely, that he specifically trained to be able to fight blind. I mean, come on. There’s only so much slow-motion flailing and screaming you can do before it mutes the payoff.

Meanwhile, Chong Li is just beating the crap out of the helpless hero, though his grandstanding tendencies keep him from finishing Dux off too quickly. With the help of a repeated flashback, Frank is able to finally calm himself enough to enter the Zen zone where he can magically fight blind. He demonstrates this skill right away by plucking Li’s next punch right out of the air.

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He just catches that punch, by the way– he didn’t push it to the side right before this frame or something. It was nowhere NEAR his face. Is Chong Li blind too?

And I do mean “magically.” It’s not specified what the justification is for how he can fight without seeing (he can even distinguish between targets, as he proves when he deliberately doesn’t strike the referee when Li shoves the poor guy at him again), but presumably it’s by listening carefully and picking up the sounds/vibrations. However, this is a relatively small room filled with about a hundred screaming spectators– his sense of hearing would be completely boned here. Even the superhero Daredevil, whose powers are ridiculous, would have had his radar sense wrecked in this situation. But you know what? It’s that kind of movie. Frank Dux is a karate sorcerer, end of story.

In fact, if anything, Dux is even better from this point on. Before this, the villain was able to at least put up a good fight, but now he’s completely useless against Frank’s sense-deprived, slow motion and cheerful music-aided comeback; Li doesn’t even land a single hit. Dux should have blinded himself right from the beginning.

Frank knocks Li all over town, turning this into the biggest showcase yet for Van Damme’s acrobatic skills– the most impressive of which is when he for NO reason does a jumping split high into the air, and Li subsequently rolls right under it to no apparent tactical gain. This ridiculousness culminates with Frank delivering the exact same spin kick FOUR times, and Li just stands there like a dunce for all of them. After the last, Li falls to his chest, for once finding himself at the mercy of a deranged opponent.

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“Ah, I see now how this is not a nice thing to do to people.”

With some helpful encouraging from Dux, Chong Li does the unthinkable, shouting “matte!” and willingly surrendering. Total ownage!

Day Three is kind to the viewer by not diving straight into the final showdown, though it might have helped showing Li be a little more vulnerable– especially considering how much the hero is going to school him anyway at the end. Similarly, while the climactic match has some strong choreography, it could have been handled a bit better, been more even, and descended less into absurdity.

Or would it? Bloodsport is a curious case, where nostalgia and an ever-escalating cheese factor really do serve the movie better than tackling the (let’s face it, very silly) material straight-on would have. It does make a strange sort of sense for the movie to take a hard left turn into full-on camp at the conclusion.

Grade: A

Recommended Links: Once again we turn to Internet hero Seanbaby for the best paean to Bloodsport in this language or any other.

Coming Attractions: A smashing good time.

The madder Hulk gets, the more teeth-grinding Hulk does

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Bloodsport (day 2 of 3)

Kumite, kumite, kumite, kumite…..

"I figh to surVIIIIIIIIIIIIVE"

“I fight to surVIIIIIIIIIIIIVE”

Here we are on Day Two, which is I suppose the semi-finals. It is, as they say, where Shit Gets Real.

6) Montage 2

This second tournament montage stretches the definition a bit. The clips are much more uneven: some fights are shown seemingly from beginning to end, while others are only glanced fleetingly, but we do see the conclusion of almost all of them. With all the chumps having been eliminated in the first round, only serious fighters remain, allowing for some better competition.

First up is our pal from before, Paco, now wearing much more stylish black shorts and up against an Asian man named (as best as I can tell from squinting at his name on the board in a wide shot) Toon Wing Sum, played by John Cheung. Well, whatever his name is, he gets in just one solid hit against Paco, whereas the Muay Thai fighter is able to destroy him with a series of strong elbows & knees. He finishes off rather cruelly, holding a clearly helpless Toon still while raining down more gratuitous blows. The crowd boos.

Frank goes up against an anonymous karate man. With almost dance-like precision, they do alternating round kicks which barely miss, then try simultaneous jump kicks against each other. Frank wins due to, apparently, going higher. He later scores another flawless victory against another nobody.

A couple more random Asian men fight, and again it’s quite complex but glimpsed only briefly. The one in black pants wins.

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One of the more notable matchups is the sumo-esque man, Pumola, going head to head with Ricardo Morra, the wiry little fighter who bounces around like a monkey. Morra’s technique serves him well at first: he gets in some good harassing blows on Pumola, including one to the crotch area that looks like it should hurt worse than Pumola makes it seem. But ultimately the larger man is able to use his size to repel Morra’s attacks, and even worse, he catches the little dude in a bear hug. After that, it’s all over: a distinct snapping sound is heard and Morra stops moving.

Later on, Dux goes up against a tall, muscular and intimidating black guy– he sort of looks like a male Grace Jones. (Please restrain yourself from making the obvious joke.) Frank’s opponent halts the referee just before he calls for the match to start, so that he can do a comically prolonged threatening gesture (sloooooowly dragging his finger across his throat) and signal that he’s going to put the hero down. But it’s a big buildup for no reason, because Dux is unfazed: he immediately opens with a quick kick to the face, and knocks not-Grace out of the ring shortly after.

Chong Li also gets to work his magic in three separate fights. The latter two are pretty easy fights against nondescript chumps who he takes down while pumping the crowd up. But his first one is against Suan Paredes, the kickboxer we saw in the very first battle, and Suan seemingly does fairly well at first. He lands several good blows to Li’s face, leaving the champion slightly dazed and oddly amused. He comes back strong and systematically breaks his opponent down. Suan briefly rallies with a punch to the stomach but the villain is unfazed, putting him down hard. Li finishes by hoisting his senseless foe back up, and kicking Suan’s leg so hard his bone pops out. Ouch. Afterwards he works the crowd harder than ever, reveling in his own sadism.

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The big finishing number is Frank vs Pumola. Dux takes a hit early on, which prompts him to remove his shirt (so you know this is Serious Business). The big guy is clearly pained as Frank delivers some strong blows, but also strangely enthusiastic.

“If I were anyone besides Jean-Claude Van Damme this would REALLY hurt!”

“If I were anyone besides Jean-Claude Van Damme this would REALLY hurt!”

Much as he did with Morra, Pumola is soon able to take advantage of his size and negate the impact of several of Frank’s kicks. He then catches the hero in that same bear hug, but Dux escapes from that with some headbutts.

Here our hero makes the transition from serene ninja to deranged berzerker. He delivers a fierce palm strike to Pumola’s abs– probably liquefying the dude’s internal organs, if he’s using the same skill as the “Dim Mack” from earlier– and lingers on the blow with a wild, slow-motion shriek.

Pumola's expression looks like he took a break from the intense pain to wonder "wow, seriously?"

Pumola’s expression looks like he took a break from the intense pain to wonder “wow, seriously?”

Dux follows that up by doing the splits (because why simply duck when you can do the freakin’ splits) and uppercutting Pumola right in the crotch. You’d think he was hitting him in the balls, but according to the real Frank Dux (who, as we know, never lies), it was actually the bladder. Either way, Pumola’s groin has seen a disproportionate share of action today, and the big guy is so stunned with pain that a simple nudge from Frank just tips him right over.

7) Ray Jackson vs Chong Li

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Don’t congratulate yourself if you can guess what happens.

The Fighters:

  • Ray Jackson, our hero’s loutish buddy. Played by Donald Gibb.
  • Chong Li, the unstoppable villain. Played by Bolo Yeung.

The Fight: Just before he heads to the ring, Jackson receives some advice from Dux, who has been watching Li carefully: stay away from his right leg, and go for his abdomen. “Chong Li is weak in the gut, that’s how Paredes surprised him,” Frank cautions, even though that’s not an accurate depiction of what happened in the Li/Paredes fight. Correct or not, Jackson is cocky as ever and waves off Frank for being over-anxious.

The two have a pretty even exchange of blows at first, and soon Ray is actually able to hit Li hard enough to send him to the mat– much to the latter’s surprise.

He probably could have broken Li's leg here, but they probably don't teach you that at the Drunken Brawling Idiot dojo.

He probably could have broken Li’s leg here, but they probably don’t teach you that at the Drunken Brawling Idiot dojo.

Ray wastes no time (but a lot of energy) celebrating his “victory” prematurely, running around the ring and boasting about how awesome he is, despite Frank’s sideline urgings to finish the job. However, Chong Li is nowhere near finished. He arises and engages with Jackson again, this time neutralizing his opponent with the same brutal efficiency as he did all the rest. When Ray hits the mat, Chong Li doesn’t let up, repeatedly kicking the clearly defeated American.

As Van Damme screams in hilarious protest from nearby, Li finishes Ray off with a monstrous stomp to the face. Then he gives Frank the mother of all Mean Muggings:

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Women all over Asia dread seeing Chong Li’s “O” face

Adding further insult to injury, Li removes Jackson’s signature Harley Davidson headband as a trophy. He even dangles it above Frank’s grasping hands, like a schoolyard bully. It’s so awesome.

Incidentally, at no point do you ever buy that Jackson is a serious threat against Li– or that he should have even gotten this far, really. He’s probably a handy guy in your average bar brawl, but not anywhere near the level of this gathering of the best martial artists in the world.

Still, Gibb’s performance does its job. Ray is likable & amusing, so his defeat (and subsequent hospitalization) puts a real human face to Chong Li’s cruel villainy, and higher stakes for Frank than just the honor of victory.

Day Two on the whole is an improvement. There are less matches, or at least fewer glimpses of matches, but that’s largely a function of the movie having gotten all its throat-clearing out of the way. Here we see our principals get in some higher stakes match-ups (even Frank takes a few blows!), as well as bringing back some of the non-speaking fighters from earlier on. Well done.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: One more post and then it’s Splitsville.

Go ninja, go ninja, go!

Go ninja, go ninja, go!

Bloodsport (day 1 of 3)

Now I show you some trick or two.

Bloodsport-Logo_2024x1012_17572633

Ugh, darn ambiguous titles never tell me what to expect.

Bloodsport, a movie SO painfully & gloriously awash in the 80s. It was a different time: when American pop cultural masculinity turned more aspirational than representational and was thus typified mostly by impossibly glistening strongmen with indecipherable speech patterns (often foreign). Possibly because what they said mattered so much less than what they did, and what they did was… well, just about anything. Action stars in the 1980s were not just heroes but gods: invincible, noble supermen whose physical prowess defied all logic, and who could only be threatened by treachery rather than being outright defeated.

Only in such an environment could one such as Jean-Claude Van Damme thrive. Although a bad actor (to be fair, he has slowly gotten better), like his contemporary Arnold Schwarzenegger he has a strange charisma & innate watchability, even apart from his athletic abilities. And despite all the instances of choreography which favors vanity over believability (why do opponents just stand there stupidly while he does a 360-degree jumping spin kick?), Van Damme’s skills are legitimately amazing: he was a national karate and kickboxing champion before he ever set foot in Hollywood. And even to this day, he can still rock those splits like nobody’s business. God bless you, JCVD.

"You're welcome."

“You’re welcome.”

Bloodsport, from 1988, was hardly Van Damme’s first movie but it was definitely his big break and first starring role. The movie is a special kind of ridiculous because it’s the Hollywood-embellished version of a story that was almost certainly made up in the first place. That story being the wild exploits of Frank Dux, who announced to the world many years back that before he was 30 he’d already been a super soldier and super spy when he wasn’t busy being a no-shit American Ninja Warrior who won the hell out of secret tournaments that no one else has been able to verify the existence of. Don’t you feel under-accomplished now?

Anyway, Bloodsport the movie is the story of (again) Frank Dux, who goes to compete in the “Kumite,” a secret full-contact tournament featuring the best martial artists around the world. Dux competes to honor his master, a Japanese immigrant who had taken Frank under his wing many years ago. In-between competition days he also has to dodge two Army CID goons (one of whom is Forrest Whittaker) who have been sent to keep Dux from getting hurt because he’s too valuable to Uncle Sam. Yes, really.

This entry is about halfway between a usual series and a retrospective (I first attempted to make it the latter). Every fight scene takes place under nearly identical circumstances, but some are much shorter than others or are not even shown in full. With the tournament unfolding over three days, the movie divides all its action into three large chunks, and that’s how we’ll tackle them all.

But still, we’ll be covering things pretty quickly. This is a relief because not only are there a lot of fights in Bloodsport but they can also get quite bland & repetitive; there’s not much to say about a lot of them. The film was definitely made during a strange time in American martial arts history, and gets by now on a combination of nostalgia and its own corny energy. Not to mention Jean-Claude’s hypnotically swaying legs.

[Note: I’ll list the names of the fighters and actors when I can, but sometimes they’re simply not provided.]

1) Sen Ling vs Suan Paredes

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The Fighters:

  • Sen Ling, apparently some sort of karate user. Actor not listed in the credits.
  • Suan Paredes, who seems to be a kickboxer. Played by Michel Qissi, Van Damme’s longtime friend in real life who would later play the villainous Tong Po in the movie Kickboxer.

The Fight: The very first match in the Kumite, actually, so it basically serves as our intro to the proceedings. It’s…. not bad, but not really great either. Beforehand, Ling and Paredes size each other up all macho-like, and as a final “reminder” (in reality for the audience’s benefit, as the characters would already know this), Frank & his pal’s escort explains the way the tournament is played: single-elimination, no body parts off-limits, and matches only end via submission, knockout or ring-out.

The two fighters are a bit tentative at first. Suan is pretty agile and skilled with some high kicks and knees.

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A good series of blows puts Ling down, including with a slow-mo shot (the film is never shy about its slow motion) showing blood fly from his mouth, prompting Frank’s buddy to utter the kumite’s “bloodsport” nickname that gives the movie its title.

Ling rallies a bit and puts a minor hurt on Suan, but the kickboxer comes back with a strong combo that puts the Asian fellow down for good– out cold AND out of the arena.

Bloodsport’s combat scenes tend to be either fantastically ridiculous or stiffly “realistic.” This definitely falls into the latter camp. It’s technically uninspired but oddly notable for its mean, brief ugliness.

2) Ray Jackson vs [Unknown]

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The Fighters:

  • Ray Jackson, Frank’s new pal and the only other American competitor. Despite having polar opposite personalities they built and unlikely friendship, which began with bonding over a few rounds of the justly-forgotten game Arcade Champ after arriving in Hong Kong. A hulking (with an unquantifiable mixture of fat & muscle) biker with no discernible fighting style, Jackson is a cocky brawler rather than a disciplined warrior. Played by Donald Gibb, who most know as Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds.
  • An unidentified fighter, leanly muscled but nowhere near Ray’s size. Like Jackson, he wears an uncomfortably tight pair of sweat pants.

The Fight: Short but sweet. Just as the fight starts, the freshly shirtless Ray calls his opponent an “asshole” for no apparent reason. When the match begins, Mr. Random unloads a good set of blows against Ray, who just stands there and takes it. It culminates in a strong high kick to the big man’s face, making his nose bleed profusely.

Apparently a student of the “nobody makes me bleed my own blood!” school, Ray gets mildly pissed at this, and with one sudden move he seizes his foe by the hair and delivers a devastating overhead haymaker that puts the kid down instantly.

So... it's that simple, then?

So… it’s that simple, then?

Disproportionately jubilant over an easy victory, Ray pumps his arms up to make the crowd cheer louder, and takes the opportunity to publicly taunt Chong Li, the current champion, who seems amused at the prospect. After he resumes his seat, Frank teasingly asks what took him so long.

3) Chong Li vs Budinam Prang

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The Fighters:

  • Chong Li, the film’s villain and the reigning kumite champion. Obviously a celebrity within the martial arts world, Li is a consummate showman. He projects an aura of casual supremacy, and works the crowd after and even during some of his matches. But deep down he’s utterly vicious, cruel and amoral– he already killed one competitor in the last tournament, and that won’t be the last. A man of few words but amazing power, as is immediately evident in his ridonkulous physique. Played by Bolo Yeung, a veteran Hong Kong actor, contemporary of Bruce Lee’s, and former bodybuilding champion (hence the absurd pectorals).
  • Budinam Prang, a wiry & determined fighter. Given his name I’d guess he’s from Thailand. Played by Samson Li.

The Fight: In contrast to the high-strung energy he will channel later in the movie, Chong Li’s debut fight has him acting bored, almost irritated to bother with such a weakling. His cockiness is well-earned, though, because while Prang tries gamely with some spirited blows, Li simply shrugs them off and counters quickly. His second responding move leads to him putting the poor little guy into a simple hold, completely at the villain’s mercy.

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Some kind of distinctive snapping noise is heard, but all Li did was squeeze and Prang’s body doesn’t move in time with the sound effect, so it seems like a needless flourish.

Even without a snapped neck, Prang is helpless. Li milks the moment briefly with the crowd, and knocks Prang out with one brutal chop to the face. All done. The scoreboard say it’s a new record, about 14 seconds or so, but it felt longer.

It’s an odd way to build up your villain. Li certainly does shut down his opponent with little effort so we get the idea that he’s incredibly strong, but it’s done in a very limp way– there’s nothing terribly impressive about the attacks Li overcomes, or the pain he dishes out. Remember in Ong Bak when Ting took out that first chump with a single, incredibly cool knee to the chest? It’s nothing like that. Fortunately Yeung’s considerable charisma & physical presence go a long way.

4) Frank Dux vs Sadiq Hossein

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The Fighters:

  • Frank Dux, our protagonist. Odd that it’s taken so long to finally see him fight, even if we did see him endure a lengthy training montage flashback earlier. Dux is the ideal hero: quietly noble, supremely capable, effortlessly handsome; navel-gazing viewers who prefer the profoundly flawed protagonists of the 70s and the modern era will have a hard time watching Bloodsport. Frank uses a style of “ninjutsu” (i.e., very flashy karate) taught to him by his mentor, Senzo Tanaka, after Tanaka’s own son & martial arts heir died young. Played by, of course, Jean-Claude Van Damme.
  • Sadiq Hossein, a Syrian fighter of unknown discipline. He already had a hostile confrontation with Dux the night before when the hero intervened to save a plucky female reporter from Hossein’s lecherous advances. Between his misogyny, cowardice and dishonorable fighting tactics, the character doesn’t exactly push back against Arab stereotypes. Played by Bernard Mariano.

The Fight: It’s even sillier than Chong Li’s. Hossein taunts a bit but can’t walk the walk. The Syrian tries a simple punch, which Frank seizes and then smacks Hossein a few times with his free hand.

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He tries a kick and Dux does the exact same thing. Hossein goes down, and Frank holds a fist over him menacingly. Sadiq takes the hint and feigns unconsciousness as a tacit surrender in the fight. The referee declares Dux the winner, but Hossein suddenly decides he doesn’t like being chumped out, and tries to attack Frank from behind. Effortlessly, our hero blocks him, then takes him down with a couple elbow strikes. Now he’s really done. To top it all off, Dux has just barely beaten Li’s still-fresh speed record.

Just as with Chong Li, it’s an odd way to establish how good one of your leads is– in this case, putting him up against a complete chump.

5) Montage I

Ah, the beloved 80s montage. Bloodsport wisely elides over many of the intermediate matches so we can spend more time with the leads, but still lingers on enough colorfully distinctive tertiary fighters so that we remember them as they recur and eventually face off against some of the bigger names. Ironically, some of the best and most complex fighting in the film happens in these fleeting matches full of characters we never get to know. This first montage is set to the film’s signature tune, the ever-catchy “Fight To Survive” by Stan Bush, who has both the touch and the power.

There’s a sort of Blah matchup between a white guy in shiny blue pants and a nondescript kung fu dude. The most notable thing about it is how the white guy falls down to his left after being kicked on the left side of his face. Sometimes I think this movie’s choreographers missed the part of choreography school where they taught choreography.

There’s a hilarious, recurring “monkey fighter” named Ricardo Morra who we see in a training montage that opened the movie (his “training” consisted of climbing up a tree and smashing coconuts) up against a generic white karate man. He’s known by the vaguely offensive “monkey fighter” name due to his frankly ape-like fighting style: he constantly squats low to the ground and moves around very quickly in a bouncing manner. While it’s unpredictable and fun to watch, it’s not any real or practical martial art that I’m aware of; it certainly must be murder on the quads. Anyway, Morra pretty thoroughly kicks the white guy’s ass by repeatedly going for his legs, then jumping on his back while he’s down and going to work on his head.

Two Asian kung fu guys present the best traditional Hong Kong martial arts moves in the whole movie, going at each other with a fast & complex exchange. Sadly they have little personality and are given marginal screen time.

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A distinctively Muay Thai fighter (a Westerner who the boards will later identify as “Paco”) fights an acrobatic man in a karate gi. His opponent is fast but ends up getting beaten badly by the kickboxer’s deadly feet and knees.

A sumo-looking man named Pumola also makes an impressive if brief debut. Even more so than Jackson, Pumola is a thick wall of muscle and fat, and although skilled lets his size do much of the work. Here all we see him do is pull a Bane and crack some poor fool’s back over his knee. Hardcore.

We also get quick glimpses of Dux, Chong Li and Jackson cleaning up more competition. Ray’s brief inclusion is the funniest: he simply flings one poor kid right out of the arena like a television bouncer. No ticket!

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Not everything’s great, but it moves so quickly it’s a lot more fun than the stand-alone fights have been so far.

And with that, Day One is over. Again, it’s silly but not lacking in its own awkward charm. The stakes will increase both physically & emotionally soon enough, but the first day of fighting is a solid introduction to our principal characters and what kind of combat we’re in for.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: Day Two!

In which we learn the deadly Wheelchair Technique

In which we learn the deadly Wheelchair Technique

Scott Pilgrim vs The World (fight 4 of 4)

For once I’m at a loss to make a video game analogy that the movie itself hasn’t already beat me to.

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+6 Blogger Pre-emption

4) Gideon Graves

The Fighters:

  • Scott Pilgrim, obviously. Much more pissed off and determined than before. Played by Michael Cera.
    • Armed with: Eventually, he gets to use two swords, The Power of Love and The Power of Self-Respect. They’re both in the form of flaming katanas, the latter being more powerful.
  • Ramona Flowers again takes part in the proceedings. Played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
    • Armed with: Nothing much, but she briefly makes use of a standing lamp to defend herself.
  • Knives Chau, the teenage “Scottaholic” who’s been messed up since Scott ditched her for Ramona. She incorrectly blames Ramona for this. Played by Ellen Wong with manic enthusiasm.
    • Armed with: Befitting her name, a pair of short but wide knife-like blades.
  • Gideon Gordon Graves, aka G-Man. The Seventh Evil Ex and leader/founder of the League. A wealthy businessman who has his own record label and several nightclubs, Gideon is manipulative, arrogant and cunning. The comic book incarnation is more overtly evil & villainous, but here he’s portrayed more passive-aggressive, a kind of transparently phony kindness that’s both creepy and amusing. Played by Jason Schwartzmann.
    • Armed with: Two swords, one of which is concealed in the cane he carries with him. The other he seems to conjure basically out of thin air, with a glowing blue blade that makes it resemble a lightsaber.
  • Also there’s some henchmen, who are pretty nondescript.

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The Setup: After a fight with Scott, Ramona ditches him and goes off to be with Gideon, who rubs it in by signing Sex Bob-omb to his label (Scott refuses to come along, and with no objection whatsoever from the rest of the band he’s instantly replaced). Our hero spends a while being lonely and rejected, but a follow-up call from Gideon– oozing obseqious insincerity– spurs Scott to go fight for the woman he’s in lesbians love with.

A series of improbably correct passwords gets him into Graves’ new nightclub (the Chaos Theater, a reference to the amazing game Earthbound), where he quickly finds his enemy, perched at the top of a stage, captive princess and all, like, well… a boss.

"You have no chance to survive make your time"

“YOU HAVE NO CHANCE TO SURVIVE MAKE YOUR TIME”

Sex Bob-omb is playing, feeling conflicted at Scott’s presence but still reluctantly obeying their new boss. Pilgrim tells off the villain and goes to charge the stage, but gets repeatedly stopped by Gideon, who pretends to act confused at Scott’s hostility. When Scott explains he’s in love with Ramona and fighting for her, he gains the Power of Love sword, which emerges from his chest and increases his level.

Of course it’s never that easy, as Graves demonstrates when he snaps his fingers and summons several henchmen. At G-Man’s request, Sex Bob-omb plays some accompanying music.

The Fight: Pilgrims and the henchmen waste little time throwing down, but he makes short work of them– really, Lucas Lee’s stunt men were more of a headache. Though that’s to be expected, because Scott is not only armed with an amazing weapon, but he’s also got some serious narrative momentum on his side.

The sequence, though light, is shot with Wright’s usual dazzling style, switching effortlessly between multiple camera angles (including one excellent, extended tracking shot) as Scott cuts them down one by one, leaving a man-shaped pile of coins each time.

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With no one standing in the way, Scott & Gideon leap at each other to exchange mid-air sword blows a la Ninja Gaiden, but surprisingly (or not so surprisingly if you played Ninja Gaiden) it’s villain who gets the best of it, his cane sword smashing the Power of Love into pieces. Before the villain can finish Pilgrim off, he’s interrupted by Knives Chau’s arrival. Descending from the ceiling, Knives kicks the sword from Gideon’s hand, but immediately turns her rage against… Ramona.

"You broke the heart that broke mine!" she actually says without somehow making you hate her

“You broke the heart that broke mine!” she actually says, somehow without making you hate her

Knives starts dueling with Ramona, to Ramona’s confusion and Gideon’s amusement. Meanwhile, Graves gets back to the business of attacking Scott, this time more physically since both of them are unarmed. The villain is pretty good hand-to-hand but not great, the two of them seeming more or less even. The ladies’ brawl is a bit more frantic, with Ramona gruntingly denying Knives’ accusations in-between avoiding her attacks.

Filming simultaneous fights is always tricky but Wright handles it well, alternating between showing the battles unfolding both separately and concurrently.

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On the lower level, Scott is eventually able to get the upper hand, or perhaps foot– he wraps his legs around Gideon’s neck and scissor-flips him down the stairs. Then he goes to sort out the cat fight up above, and in doing so has to face the painful truth that what he did to both these women was actually pretty crappy. Even as he retreats back into his old persona and tries to duck responsibility, Scott is suddenly stabbed from behind by Graves.

No visual symbolism there.

No visual symbolism there.

It looks like Game Over, with Scott seeming to drift into the afterlife as he says goodbye to Ramona (and also learns that Gideon was controlling her via computer chip in her neck) in a limbo-esque subspace desert.

But then we’re reminded: Scott has an extra life, having collected the strange icon after his battle with Exes 5&6. In the book, the 1UP was employed in a more arcade-traditional way: Scott simply got back up to fight some more. But here, Wright employs it more ingeniously, like starting the whole level from scratch or picking up from the last save point. In a rapid montage, we see Scott run off to the Chaos Theater, only this time he accesses the club more smoothly, makes amends with his band, and wastes less time on Gideon’s small talk.

Most importantly, rather than declaring he’s fighting “for love,” Scott answers that he’s fighting for himself– for his own dignity rather than any tangible reward. This is apparently worth way more experience points than before, because it gives him the Power of Self-Respect sword, and a Level-Up that’s even stronger than the first time through.

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See? Check the stats.

Scott makes even shorter work of the henchmen this time, a veritable purple blur. He faces down Graves again and this time it’s Scott who wins the Ninja Gaiden-off, breaking through the villain’s sword and cutting him on the arm.

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Graves collapses for a while, giving Scott time to call out Knives and try to dissuade her from attacking Ramona. She drops down in a frenzy anyway, but Scott cuts her rampage off early by coming clean and apologizing, to her and Ramona both. Through some unexplained means, this shuts down Ramona’s control-chip.

But Scott and the Evilest Ex still have unfinished business and, in true genre fashion, the previous incarnation wasn’t even his final form.

Silly Canucks don't even know how to spell

Silly Canucks don’t even know how to spell

In his upgrades form, Gideon fights with a kind of lazy but graceful power, often holding his sword in just one hand with the other poised oh-so-aristocratically behind his back. He is able to work a good number on Scott at first, but things look up when Knives decides to enter the fray (looks like a simple “I’m sorry” can do wonders for a girl). Their first assault against him is enough to make him swallow his gum, which he reacts to with disproportionate outrage.

The next stage of the fight is more overtly video-gamey than ever, with characters flashing red as they take “damage” and even flickering a bit.

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The Pilgrim/Chau team does quite well at first but soon Graves is able to knock Knives off the platform, and soon after he hits Scott’s sword hard enough to break it, too. With the hero stunned, Ramona walks over to Gideon, who still thinks she’s under his sway. She surprises him with a knee to the groin (attack his weak point for massive damage!), which earns her a block that sends her down the stairs. Fortunately that’s just long enough for Knives to recover and disarm the villain.

The attack on Ramona gets Scott incensed as well, and Graves is looking at a tough combo.

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It goes higher than two, trust me

Without his glowing sword Gideon is no match for the team, and they pepper him with a furious onslaught of blows in a brief, exciting and stylized montage. Knives delivers a devastating attack at the end that whittles his (visible) life bar down to the very last, leaving him to utter a final bitter monologue while he flickers on the edge of death.

Scott has little patience for it, and delivers the final blow himself.

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Easily the best fight in the film. Not much in terms of laughs, relatively speaking, but it makes up for it with some sneakily-affecting character work. The gimmick of Scott’s extra life extends the fight in a way that feels both natural and not tiresomely repetitive. Though the staging is all combined to one very tight location, the fluctuating number of fighters and varying weapons still makes it quite dynamic indeed. Indeed, this is Scott Pilgrim’s finest hour.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: YOU ARE NEXT!

Scott Pilgrim vs The World (fight 3 of 4)

Girls, girls, girls….

Always fighting over a boy. Sorta.

Always fighting over a boy. Sorta.

3) Roxy Richter

The Fighters:

  • Scott Pilgrim, as always. Played by Michael Cera.
  • Ramona Flowers, Scott’s new girlfriend, joins in on this one. Turns out she’s a pretty capable and aggressive fighter in her own right. Played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
    • Armed with: A giant sledgehammer, which in true video game fashion she can produce at will from her deceptively small hand bag due to her skill at accessing sub-space (or perhaps more accurately, hammer space). She can wield the heavy weapon with surprising speed.
  • Roxanne “Roxy” Richter, a female ninja (or “half-ninja” as the comic elaborates) and Ramona’s fourth Evil Ex. (Their relationship occurred as a result of what Scott calls her “sexy phase” but what Ramona merely describes as “experimenting.”) Roxy is cranky, aggressive, and humorously insecure. She also has the ability of short-range teleportation, which she uses quite cannily. Played by Cera’s erstwhile television love interest, Mae Whitman. But I like to call her Annabelle because she’s shaped like a…….. she’s the belle of the ball!
    • Armed with: A very loose whip-sword she’s quite skilled with.

The Setup: At an after-party in a swanky night club, Scott’s relationship with Ramona is beginning to clearly deteriorate due to his insecurities regarding her past romantic history. They verbally jab at each other for a while, and Scott asks why Ramona keeps correcting his description of the League to the gender-neutral “exes” instead of “ex-boyfriends” as he’d repeatedly phrased it. But before she can answer, the explanation kicks him in the back of the head.

He gets up, assesses the situation, and puts it together.

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This anatomical depiction of the male brain is the most realistic thing in this movie.

You know what that means.

The Fight: As Ramona starts to explain, Roxy gets miffed at being reduced to a “phase” and decides to take it out on Scott, winding up a big spin kick… which gets blocked, rather effortlessly, by Ramona.

Though Scott will later vocalize his reluctance to fight a woman (“they’re soft!” he whines), Ramona’s motivation here seems mainly to be about finally being proactive in defeating her past. Snarling in defiance, Roxy calls Ramona a “has-bian” which is hilarious, and takes out her chain sword. Ramona prepares her own attitude-adjuster.

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The two have the most complex battle in the movie yet, with some really inventive staging to match Ramona’s slower, bludgeoning weapon against Egg’s Roxy’s longer, faster, cutting one. There are some neat acrobatic tricks & flips, though everything stays much more local than the high-flying escapades of the Patel duel. Neither one gains much of an edge against the other, though Ramona seems to be the more dominant fighter.

They break a lot of surroundings until Roxy is able to use her whip to seize Ramona’s hammer and send it out the window. But the villain gets too caught up in celebrating her accomplishment to defend against a brutal axe kick from her ex-lover, putting Bland to the ground.

After some taunting, Roxy insists that this is “a League game” meaning that Scott has to be the one to defeat her (it’s unclear what will happen if he isn’t. These rules are being unilaterally invented & imposed by one side of the conflict). So, getting by on a technicality, Ramona stands behind Scott and manipulates his limbs to use him as a fighting dummy.

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It looks better than this in practice, I promise.

The impromptu solution actually works pretty well and Roxy gets beaten back, until she employs her teleporting powers again and BAMFs right in-between the couple, separating them. She then punches the vulnerable Pilgrim into the ceiling, and after he falls back down she tries to finish him off with a devastating axe kick of her own. As her heel comes down in slow-motion, Scott & Ramona improbably find the time for a conversation, where she advises him to strike at the “weak point” just behind Roxy’s knee. It’s clear even before Roxy’s moan-heavy reaction that “weak point” is a metaphor for something else.

That's... hot? I think?

That’s… hot? I think?

So, yeah. Amidst the ecstatic moaning, Roxy collapses to the ground and explodes in a shower of coins. K.O.

Another fun if not spectacular fight. Throwing Ramona in the mix allows for a much-needed change, as does the addition of some unusual weapons. It’s also quite amusing on the whole and very fast-moving. Though the talented Miss Whitman doesn’t reach the heights of Chris Evans’ Lucas Lee, she’s really quite funny in what could have been an unlikably shrill role if played poorly.

The climax conclusion of the fight is… unusual. Obviously we all get the nature of the joke, but it seems a bit of a stretch, a double-entendre that’s also literally true. It just makes no sense for that to be the thing that kills her– not just distracts her enough to be finished off but actually kills her– even for this movie’s value of “making sense.” I guess they don’t call it le petit mort for nothing.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: The conclusion of the movie-length boss rush(more).

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War does funny things to men.