Enter The Dragon (retrospective)

“Finally! What the hell took you so long?”

I can tell the wait has distressed you.

Enter The Dragon! One of the most famous, beloved, iconic kung fu flicks of all time. Starring Bruce Lee, the man who, via a combination of superb skill, airy philosophizing, fiery charisma and a tragically early death, did more than any one man to bring chop-socky action to the wider world.

Is it a great movie? Good grief, no. It’s strange and choppy and at many times laughable. But is it a great action movie? Well… not entirely. It’s unevenly paced and there’s little suspense, given that the majority of the fights are so uneven. Indeed, this is the failing of most Lee movies: typically, his character’s arc goes from most fights where he is in no danger whatsoever, to the final fight(s), where he is in moderate danger. This is a type of action that’s meant to be enjoyed less for the suspense or excitement, and more as simply a showcase for the godlike physicality (and absolutely magnetic personality) of its lead. The Raid, this is not.

Again, this flick is just packed with fights, many of them small or inconsequential, so we’ll look at it as a retrospective and give each battle a light touch.

1) Lee vs Fat Guy

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Still way less homoerotic than Top Gun.

Enter The Dragon certainly wastes no time getting down to business. Before the title appears and barely after the production company logos have faded, the audience is taken to an open-air duel between two men. Surrounded by Shaolin monks, the pair are for some reason dressed in nothing but speedos, shoes, knee-high socks and light boxing gloves.

The camera immediately and purposefully zooms in on Bruce Lee’s character (simply known as “Lee,” because why not), capturing his focused intensity. Of course even amongst perceived equals Bruce’s physique and persona would stand out, but here he’s faced off against a very unimpressive opponent. Visibly overweight, unimposing and never seeming particularly skilled, Lee’s unnamed foe is laughably doomed from the start. (Apparently this hapless opponent is a very young Sammo Hung, a contemporary/close friend of Jackie Chan and someone who would go on to become a Hong Kong legend both on and off the screen. All of which makes his non-entity appearance here more puzzling.)

As could be easily predicted, Lee wipes the floor with Sammo, taking him down multiple times with quick, powerful blows and skillfully evading all his counter-strikes. Hung performs a nice backflip evasion at one point (one of his career trademarks is how spry he is for such a large man), but he’s no match for the star. In the end, Lee defeats him by curling him up into a wrestling hold and making him tap out.

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“Matte!”

Again, this is all too easy for Lee. It’s also fairly cheesy, full of the HK exaggerated sound effects that defined the genre at the time. Still, there’s a loose, unpredictable energy here that distinguishes the battle from the kind of action both sides of the ocean had been used to, and that’s all due to Lee and “Jeet Kune Do”– the actor’s self-created martial art/philosophy which mandated improvisation and adaptability, rather than other rigidly traditional Chinese disciplines and their limited move sets. (Many argue that Lee essentially created what is now modern mixed martial arts.) You can even see some of JKD’s more explicit influence, such as the wrestling-like move he finishes with, and a foot-punch he pulls off early in the match.

All in all, not a bad introduction.

2) and 3) Williams and Roper

Bunching these two together for brevity’s sake. They’re our secondary protagonists. Before they even got to the villain’s island, we already saw both of them in some quick defensive bits that are too simple to feature here, but very telling as to their characters: Roper beat up some loan sharks on a golf course because he’s a reckless gambler, while Williams knocked out a couple racist cops because he’s an awesome 70s black dude who doesn’t have time for Whitey’s bullshit.

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As you can see, he doesn’t have time for this guy’s face, either.

Williams is played by the late Jim Kelly, a genuine karate champion who parlayed his role in this movie into a healthy stint as a blacksploitation star. Roper is played by John Saxon, apparently another black belt, who would later go on to be better known for his appearances in the Nightmare on Elm Street series.

Both are apparently world-class martial artists, and have been invited to Han’s secluded island tournament. After a brief demo with spear-fighting, the first match is of Williams against an unnamed western fighter. Williams blocks all the man’s blows with ease, and puts him down twice, the second time for good. Afterwards, he gets some money from Roper, the two friends having an agreement to bet on each other with other viewers and then split the winnings.

The next match, in fact, is more dragged-out gambling joke than an actual fight. The “chump” these two pals are stringing along is a goofy-looking, middle-aged Asian man who inexplicably has a Hitler mustache. In addition to being a big gambler he’s also the most oblivious person alive because he fails to miss the painfully obvious collaboration Roper & Williams are doing right in front of his freaking face.

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“Hey Williams, don’t forget to tell me when I can op-stay owing-thray the ight-fay.”

Basically, the plan is that Roper takes enough punishment to the point where their sucker agrees to tilt the odds/payout ratio heavily against Roper. I don’t really gamble so I don’t know, but this doesn’t strike me as standard betting procedure or even common sense– can you really change the odds in the middle of the contest, and if someone was offering to do that for you when it looks like they’ll lose, wouldn’t you suspect something? Anyway, Asian Hitler doesn’t, and after Roper gets battered enough, he finally goes along with Roper’s hoped-upon 8/3 odds. At a completely un-subtle hand gesture from Williams, Roper gets up and knocks his erstwhile tormentor out with one punch.

Which reminds me: I might have missed something but the rules of this tournament don’t seem really clear. You would think they have a “best of X falls” system, because when any fighter goes down, they both stop fighting and then line up against each other to start the next round. But so far the fights only end when one party is unconscious. Meanwhile, Roper hits the dirt a total of three times before he wins, so if there’s any TKO, it’s some time after three falls. Say what you will about Bloodsport, at least it established some firm rules.

Anyway, of these back-to-back sequences giving us a fuller introduction to our secondary heroes, Williams undoubtedly comes out better. Saxon is indeed enjoyable and his character has a certain lazy charm, but he pales (ahem) in comparison to Kelly’s size, power, and cool-guy attitude. Williams also gets the only thing resembling a real fight, whereas Roper’s is more of a comedy routine (which, arguably, pulls the “rake joke” trick of going so far past tiresome it actually comes back around to amusing).

4) Bolo vs Unlucky Guards

Uh oh. This guy look familiar?

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He’s hard to forget.

Yep, our old pal Bolo Yeung had an early role in Enter The Dragon. Like Bruce, his character has one name but it’s actually not the same as his real name. Yeung was born Yang Sze and is credited that way in this movie; in a strange case of life imitating art, enough people started giving him the nickname “Bolo” because it’s the name of his character in this movie, and eventually it stuck.

Whatever his name is, young Bolo (see what I did there) is just as enormous and creepy as he would later be in Bloodsport, though so smooth-skinned and young-looking he seems almost boyish, like an embryonic Chong Li. But there’s nothing boyish about his hulking physique and the occasionally manic grimaces we’ve come to expect from before, though his rictus grins are more like a rough draft of what we’d eventually see in the Van Damme film.

Anyway, Bolo is introduced in this scene to dispense some very public punishment to four hapless guards who failed to stop an unidentified post-curfew prowler the previous evening (the culprit was Lee, skulking about doing recon, who knocked out or evaded all guards before they could identify him). Han shows he means business by having Bolo basically execute these chumps in front of the tournament crowd.

And an execution is definitely what it is. One at a time, Bolo calmly approaches and dismantles the terrified, smaller men. They try to fight back but their blows are either quickly blocked or calmly absorbed by the quiet killing machine. Bolo tosses one man casually over his head as if he were a rag doll (showing off that crazy strength) and then steps on his face, apparently fatally. After knocking the second opponent face-down to the ground, Bolo pulls back hard on his head from behind until his neck snaps from the pressure. Conspicuously, the third doesn’t seem to receive any killing blow, just a very painful-looking knee to the nuts.

But the final victim gets it worst of all: after being knocked around by the giant villain, he’s cradled in Bolo’s mighty arms almost like a child, and Bolo pushes him together until his spine breaks– he literally folds the man in half. Holy shit.

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Is… is this even possible? Holy shit.

Not very exciting, of course; just a nice bit of focused cruelty. Even young, rookie Bolo Yeung is plenty entertaining, even if his move set isn’t much more complicated than what we saw in the rather simplistic Bloodsport fights. But this is all a lot less stiff.

5) Lee vs O’Hara

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Finally, Lee shows up to work his mojo. (It only took, what? A little over an hour?) His designated opponent is one of Han’s top men, O’Hara, played by martial artist and veteran actor/stunt coordinator Robert Wall. The fight is a personal one for Lee, since it was O’Hara’s pursuit of Lee’s sister (who had been investigating Han) which ended with her killing herself to avoid capture. He got that ugly scar in the same encounter.

Lee simply gives one of his trademark smoldering glares, but his opponent opts for a more ostentatious approach, smashing a wooden board he’d brought along just for show. Lee is not impressed, uttering his famous “boards don’t fight back,” maxim. They line up, wrist to wrist, for the opening blow, and Lee scores it immediately, his fist striking out with blinding speed and intensity to hit O’Hara in the face and send him to his knees. Then he does the exact same thing again. The third time, his foe is able to block a bit, but Lee still gets him on the follow-up. (Again, any kind of “points” system in these matches and what indicates when they will take breaks from the fight to line up again is quite opaque.)

Eventually, O’Hara gets unhinged and desperate. He tries to grab Lee’s foot from the ground, which only earns him a backflipping kick in the face. When he tries to charge in with a powerful jumping kick, Lee simply ducks underneath him and puts his foot right where O’Hara’s nuts will land.

owowowowowowowowowow...

owowowowowowowowowow….

Rather improbably for a man whose genitals just had an unfortunate encounter with Bruce Lee and gravity, O’Hara can still continues to fight, though he only gets sloppier. Lee, however, only gets more worked up: at the beginning of the fight, he only moved to attack, but soon enough he’s bouncing around energetically, bobbing & weaving in the combat space.

Lee repeatedly puts O’Hara down with strong, single strikes, to the point where the audience even stops applauding since it’s not even a contest anymore. Lee puts O’Hara down harder with a strong kick to the chest he executes from very close, sending him into the audience.

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Ooooooh that’s a lot of straightening for his leg to do.

It certainly seems like a finishing move– it’s even in slow motion and everything– but O’Hara can’t seem to get enough. Over Han’s objections, he breaks two random glass bottles nearby him and tries to take Lee out, barfight style. Lee doesn’t exactly say “wow, seriously?” but it’s implied. He easily disarms O’Hara and knocks him on his back. He ensures it’s the last time when he leaps onto the man’s (not shown on camera) body with a look of deranged intensity.

Some sort of doctor confirms it afterward: he’s dead, Jim.

This is an improvement from a lot of what we’ve seen before, but still not too great. For all his stature and build-up as the villain’s right-hand man, O’Hara is reduced to a stumbling ox for Lee’s swift, flawless strikes– basically a walking punching bag. Bruce is, as ever, fantastic and graceful in his almost-too-quick-to-see attacks, but this barely seems like a workout for him.

6) Williams vs Han

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Having been shamed by O’Hara’s disgraceful behavior, Han cancels the rest of the day’s matches, and calls Williams in to his office for a private meeting. Han, played by longtime Hong Kong star Shih Kien (and whose voice was dubbed by Keye Luke), is a major criminal mastermind and drug trafficker. He holds these tournaments every three years as a covert way to find new talent and connections for his organization. He’s pretty much a straight-up supervillain, “right out of a comic book,” as Williams himself says in this scene. Dude even has a white pet cat he carries around sometimes.

He tries to get Williams to play ball by asking him who he saw snooping around last night, but Williams doesn’t have time for that jive crap. The confrontation turns ugly and Han calls in several guards, who the hero of course defeats easily.

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Once Williams has awesomely dispatched those punks, Han springs into action personally. The American is immediately caught off-guard when his opening strike gets blocked by what turns out to be a heavy iron prosthetic replacing his left hand. Besides that, Han turns out to be a surprisingly agile and canny fighter in his own right, dodging most of Williams’ attacks and making excellent use of his handy (heh) advantage.

There’s some nice camera work here, such as alternating POV shots as the two trade blows, and a brief view of both characters’ silhouettes as they battle behind a paper screen. And a fun bit of background detail: after a stray blow from Han’s hand breaks open a bird cage, the occupants of which fly around the room and at one point into Williams’ face.

The fight spills through the wall into some kind of disco-themed opium den, where several slave girls baked out of their minds laugh uproariously at everything they see.

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“Talk to the hand!”

An ignoble place to die, and too bad because the fight’s pretty much over for Williams at that point. Increasingly tired and beat up, he admirably continues to rise and gamely fight back, but Han is able to take him down for good with repeated iron blows to his back. Brutal.

This marks the unfortunately too early departure of Williams from the film, leaving us with the less interesting Roper as the sole secondary protagonist (and we all know why). But at least he goes down fighting, and in a scene which proves that the movie isn’t afraid to kill the guy you like halfway through. Not a bad fight, either, especially in the beginning. So long, Jim.

7) Lee vs Everybody

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This is the big one, the centerpiece. The legendary sequence. It was even the centerpiece of this movie’s parody in Kentucky Fried Movie.

But here’s the thing: it’s… not very good. It’s not even the best fight in this movie.

“Dude, what are you talking about?” I inevitably hear when I say this. “It’s awesome! That’s the scene where Bruce Lee fights like 50 guys!” Well, that’s true in only the most technical sense. It’s more accurate to say it’s the scene where about 50 guys run right into Bruce Lee’s fists & legs one or two at a time, and stay down after they’re hit once. Less exciting, but more accurate.

Although one of those 50 guys is Jackie Chan. This one, I believe.

Although one of those 50 guys is Jackie Chan. This one, I believe.

Not once does Lee ever seem like he’s in danger here, not just because the individual guards he attacks (setup: after he Metal Gear Solids his way into Han’s underground lair to find evidence and send a message to his MI6 handlers, someone sets off an alarm and Lee has to fight his way out) pose no threat to him whatsoever, but also because there’s barely any sense of scale to the conflict. Only once toward the very end is there an angle showing a large crowd of thugs at one time; otherwise, both because of poor camera-blocking and because Lee encounters the bad guys in waves, you really have no idea how many foes he’s facing at one time. On several occasions, the camera keeps so tightly on Lee you don’t know there’s anyone else in the room at all until one of the hero’s limbs lances out and strikes someone.

The poor execution mutes the concept of what it should be… and again, Bruce Lee is so perfectly invincible in the world of this movie it probably wouldn’t have been thrilling even if it had been shot better. Look at more recent scenes like the dojo encounter in Jet Li’s Kiss of the Dragon or the famous hammer hallway rumble in Oldboy if you want to see this sort of scenario done right.

As ever, the entertainment value is just in watching Lee’s dazzling speed and power. He strikes with sudden wild ferocity of a coiled snake (incidentally, Lee did use a poisonous cobra as an improvised stealth tool just prior to this scene), taking down each thug with ease. Eventually they start coming in with weapons, but he simply disarms them and uses them himself.

"Great, we just made him MORE dangerous!"

“Great, we just made him MORE dangerous!”

First a bo staff, then two smaller sticks, and finally Lee’s signature nunchaku. Curiously, he spends more time twirling those around to scare a bad guy than he does actually using them to take down opponents. Considering his remarks about O’Hara’s board-related antics, Bruce is oddly hypocritical when it comes to showing off.

The only other bit of interesting incident is when the fight wanders down to where Han’s prisoners/experimental subjects are being held behind bars. They provide Lee with some help by seizing guards who get too close to their cells, but it’s not like he needed it.

The fight ends when Lee is trapped between several slamming steel doors. Lee sits down resignedly to await his fate.

"I just took down like 50 guys and I get defeated by a DOOR?! fml"

“I just took down like 50 guys and I get defeated by a DOOR?! fml”

You always have to wonder about what guys through the minds of henchmen in movies like this: “Hmm, I just saw this unbeatable superman mow through 30 of my colleagues, should I rush in at him too? Sure! One of us HAS to get lucky and it might as well be me!”

8) Roper vs Bolo

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After Han captures Lee, he brings him to the tournament grounds, and demands that Roper– who he’d been courting as an employee– execute him. After some hesitation, the cocky American decides there are limits to his sleaziness, and he refuses. Incensed, Han has Bolo fight Roper, instead.

As the hulking fighter approaches, Lee moves as if to help, but Roper gestures him away, preferring to handle this himself. Pretty gutsy, if not suicidally so.

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“You sure about this? I mean, you can see it’s Bolo Yeung, right?”

Their fight is the most entertaining one so far. They have a very solid back & forth, especially at the beginning. But soon Bolo’s strength advantage puts Roper on the ground, and Bolo pins him in an arm lock. Roper resists but he’s held quite tightly, and it looks like only a matter of time before his arm breaks. However, the plucky gambler takes the unusual step of biting Bolo’s leg, which lies conveniently near his mouth. Considering how much pain it puts Bolo in, and how he’s limping a bit after he finally lets go, Roper might actually have chewed some flesh right off.

But an hour later he was hungry again BECAUSE BOLO IS CHINESE GET IT

but an hour later he was hungry again BECAUSE BOLO IS CHINESE GET IT HA HA

When they both get back up, Roper presses his advantage, but Bolo still comes back strong, at one point throwing him down with an overhead press. Eventually, Roper is able to wear him down with repeated, rapid strikes to the face, and finishes him with a deadly combo ending with a kick to the nuts. Down goes Bolo. Freddy Krueger will avenge him.

This one’s a lot more fun. It’s fairly quick but neither is it too drawn out, and is relatively varied in terms of content. Saxon acquits himself well and all kidding aside, between his performance and the choreography you can actually buy him being able to defeat this massive warrior. Indeed, for most of the fight it seems like either of them really could win at any second– a crucial ingredient in crafting a suspenseful battle.

“Okay, but this is just one of my early roles. Surely I won’t continue to be known as the big hulking kung fu fighter who loses to inferior white guys, right?”

“Okay, but this is just one of my early roles. Surely I won’t continue to be known as the quiet villain who loses to inferior white guys, right?”

Bolo’s boss, obviously, is furious about the outcome, so this segues directly into….

9) Free For All

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Han starts barking out orders and having several students attack Lee and Roper at once. This goes about as well as you’d expect, but Han just keep sending in new ones. Hilariously, he keeps picking out random students by name, when it would be quicker and more likely to succeed if he simply said, “Everyone, attack those two!”

Since the heroes are effortlessly mowing down these goons left & right, this is conceptually similar to the underwhelming sequence of Lee in the dungeons, but it actually works a lot better. The camera pulls back enough so that we get a real sense of the number of enemies the heroes are facing, the takedowns are a bit more complex than just one or two blows, and the whole thing is faster, looser, more fun.

Unfortunately Lee & Roper merely fight as discrete units rather than actively cooperating, though they get the job done just the same. The sheer amount of foes might have overwhelmed the pair eventually, but we’ll never know because early into the encounter, a British mole within Han’s organization springs all the prisoners and sends them to even the odds. Now it’s total chaos.

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A MAAAAAAADHOUSE

The film takes a little bit of time, but not too much, to savor in this free-form carnage. We see Lee & Roper continue to stomp away, but director Robert Clouse also takes the time to highlight a few other moments of combat amongst faceless fighters of either side. It’s pretty darn cool.

Eventually, Han decides it’s time to join in on the action, and he gets his bear claw. Not the pastry, an actual bear claw. His iron hand is detachable and can be replaced with several other alternates, one of which is a bear claw with fur and everything. He and Lee eye each other amid the chaos.

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Bruce Lee making this face at you is a more surefire guarantee of your death than seeing the Grim Reaper with a rocket launcher.

10) Lee vs Han

Wasting little time, the two have a great battle outside for a little while, with Han’s uncanny agility actually giving Lee some trouble at first. After the villain takes a fall and loses his bear claw when a missed swing embeds it in a wooden board, Han hightails it out of there while Lee is briefly distracted by a random goon.

He flees back up to his office, where Lee quickly catches up to him just as he’s attaching an even more deadly claw: an all-metal one with four knife blades. Lee is unfazed by the Wolverine-wannabe and coldly informs him “You have offended my family, and you have offended a Shaolin temple.” SICK BURN. The melee continues outside unabated but no one else has followed them to this odd little office/trophy room. Now it’s just Lee against Han, solo.

Lee mostly sticks to long-range attacks here and doesn’t follow up most of his successful strikes, in order to stay away from the claw. Still, Han gets in a few slashes on his face and torso, though they’re mostly just on the surface and Lee is clearly the superior. He’s able to pull off this classy move where he doubles Han over, puts him in a headlock, and delivers a scorpion kick to his head. It’s almost as painful as it is insulting.

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He also gives Han a close-up view of his butt. Rude.

Even crazier, Lee executes this wild double-trip thing where he slides his whole body in to attack one of Han’s legs, then, while Han is off-balance, Lee pivots his whole body and kicks Han’s other leg from the other side. It’s completely bonkers and I love it.

Knowing he’s losing, a dazed Han seizes a spear from a nearby statue, but it’s of little use and only ends up embedded in a nearby wall. Said wall turns out to be a revolving door– a hidden entrance to Lee’s private hall of mirrors where their showdown finally ends.

This is the other iconic part of the movie and it’s just so weird. Why does Han even have this place– did he have it built for just such an occasion? If so, that’s amazing. Also, I don’t think I’ve even been to a normal, non-supervillainous, funhouse hall of mirrors– are they as disorienting as the movie makes them seem?

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Yeah, that’s definitely a stuntman as Han and not Shih Kien.

It certainly is plenty disorienting to Lee, almost cartoonishly so. He advances cautiously everywhere he goes, not knowing which Han he’s seeing is real and which is the reflection. The hero’s confusion defies believability at a few points, because he does manage to stumble into the villain a few times and nail him, but then somehow can’t find him again a mere second later. Is Han disappearing into the mirrors somehow, like by magic or something? It almost seems that way.

Also triggering your “come ON!” alarm is the point where Han is able to sneak right up behind Lee and rather than deliver a killing stroke– he really does have him dead to rights– instead opts for a light slash on the back of his shoulder. Maybe next time aim for an artery, dumbass.

As with the big underground brawl, this is a great concept but somewhat underwhelming in execution, not to mention repetitive and overlong. There are only so many times you can watch a dozen refracted images of Lee sidling forward an inch at a time while a dozen refracted Hans sneak up behind him.

The whole thing comes to an end when Lee remembers his master’s advice about an enemy using “illusions” to win battle (a piece of wisdom that seems suspiciously apt for the bizarre uniqueness of this encounter), and he smashes every mirror he can reach. This allows Lee to easily find the Freddy-wannabe and kick him hard enough to impale him on the spear he’d left sticking through the wall.

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Schwarzenegger would have found a great way to make a “seven years’ bad luck” pun here.

Bye bye, Han.

In the end, though Enter The Dragon is highly flawed and disappointing, it’s hard to hold that against it. Since the film was such a breakthrough in so many ways (not the least of which was it being the first Hollywood production of an authentically Chinese martial arts film, a clash which accounts for much of its awkward sensibility), it pioneered a lot of what was to come. Earlier I compared the dungeon fight unfavorably to similar battles in more recent films, but without the success of Enter The Dragon and Bruce Lee’s legacy, it’s doubtful the scale of action would be where it is today. It’s the perfect example of a movie that needs to be seen primarily within the context of its time, and, in what’s recurring lesson here at this site, proof that movies are more than the sum of their parts.

There were no grades given for the ten fights in the movie; it seemed unnecessary. But the top three worth truly singling out are, in order: the final Lee/Han duel, Roper vs Bolo, and the wild brawl which happens between the two. Strangely those happen to be the last three fights to happen– a rare treat for such a succession of excellent bits to happen one after the other. Wataa!

Coming Attractions: It’s time to go back.

The Incredible Hulk (fight 2 of 2)

Rumble in the Bronx.

“WRONG BOROUGH, PUNY BLOGGER!”

2) Hulk vs Abomination

The Fighters:

  • The Incredible Hulk, aka Bruce Banner. For probably the first time, Bruce has willingly triggered a transformation, hoping that he can, if not control the beast, then at least “guide” it to the right target. Played by Edward Norton, but mostly CGI.
  • The Abomination, aka Emil Blonsky. (Note that this is the character’s comic book name, not something he’s addressed as here. There’s only a cute reference to the word when Dr. Sterns says it as a warning of what Blonsky could become.) The combination of Blonsky’s repeated treatments with an unstable super-soldier serum and a dose of Banner’s gamma-radiated blood have transformed him into an enormous monstrosity. He’s roughly Hulk-sized if not bigger, but more reptilian, with scaly skin and spiky bone protrusions. Unlike the Hulk he seemingly retains more of his intellect, as evidenced by his fluent speech, but between Blonsky’s previously deteriorated mental state and anything else the transformation might have done to him, the Abomination is wildly aggressive and hungers for destruction. Played by, again, Tim Roth and CGI.

The Setup: Once again the military has managed to track Banner, but this time they actually get him– probably because they quietly sniped him with a tranquilizer rather than charging at him with a small army in full view. They get him just after he’s hooked up with his digital pen pal “Mr. Blue,” aka Dr. Samuel Sterns (teased to become the comic villain “The Leader,” if Marvel Studios ever gets around to it), who gets some samples of Banner’s blood and manages to suppress a transformation. Before they can determine whether the process was permanent or not, Bruce gets taken out and the Army storms the lab.

Later, an unhinged Blonsky coerces Sterns into applying the Hulk formula to him, and the results are… ugly.

As in, “scaly Goomba Hulk without pants” ugly.

The transformed Blonsky rampages through nearby Harlem, easily fighting off the military’s attempts to subdue him. When captured on a video feed going to Ross, in a helicopter with Betty taking Bruce into custody, the Abomination bellows “GIVE ME A REAL FIGHT.”

Before you can say “challenge accepted,” Banner convinces Ross to release him into the urban war zone– send a monster to stop a monster. Relying on an adrenaline charge to trigger the transformation, Bruce has them drop him from very high. He apparently Hulks out at the last moment, emerging from a crater as his jolly green self.

The Fight: There’s a nice moment of quiet after Hulk’s crash landing, as the two eye each other. Hulk roars, and Abomination charges over gleefully. The two fling themselves at each other in a glorious slow-motion shot.

Abomination gets the better of the collision, tackling Hulk to the ground and immediately using his momentum to fling Hulk several dozen feet away.

The green guy is actually quite dazed after he gets up, but once he gets his head right, he displays a bit more of that tactical thinking when he rips open a nearby police car, then shoves one hand in each half of it, effectively turning the vehicle into boxing gloves. (This move is a longtime favorite of Hulk’s in the comic, even popular enough to make its way into a great video game several years before this movie.)

With the reach-advantage the car-gloves give Hulk, he’s able to get the first strike on his abominable foe, and beats him down quite thoroughly, until the car parts are all ground away and Blonsky is embedded in the pavement. However, the monster reveals his resilience with a callback to his line from the previous confrontation, taunting Hulk with “is that all you got?” Before Hulk can respond with a finishing blow, Abomination kicks him hard enough to launch him into the air and through a neighboring building.

Sadly, the best parts of the fight are now all over. Abomination’s search for Hulk soon changes into him avoiding heavy automatic fire from Ross’ helicopter (which, incidentally, keeps getting way too close to its target for comfort).

The two titans tangle again when hero just barely prevents villain from tackling the helicopter (which also has Betty in it, because of course it does) right out of the sky. With Abomination dangling from the landing gear and Hulk dangling from Abomination’s leg, the chopper has to make a crash landing on a rooftop, trapping all inside and knocking everyone who isn’t a main character unconscious.

The combatants clash again at the crash site, with Abomination pinning Hulk against a nearby wall through sheer brute force. Telling him “you don’t deserve this power,” he stabs Hulk’s pectoral with one of his shoulder spikes and invites him to watch Betty die.

Opting not to, Hulk once again draws strength from the sight of Betty in distress, and slowly breaks free, then smashes Abomination’s head into the wall. He takes a moment to quell the fire spreading around the helicopter with the force of a super-powered clap (cool!), which gives Blonsky enough time to rise behind him and grab a chain attached to… something. I’m not really clear on what this very long, very heavy chain with a heavy weight on one end is doing atop this random Harlem building, but okay.

Abomination blindsides Hulk and puts him down with a couple swings from his chain. The villain begins to swing it again in preparation to bring it down on the chopper, asking the general if he has any last words. Hulk replies in Ross’ stead, bellowing his iconic “HULK SMASH!” for the first time on the big screen.

Curiously, what he actually smashes is the rooftop in front of him. The point of impact creates a wide crack that snakes over to where Abomination’s standing, trapping his foot inside.

Thrown off-balance, the monster loses control of his weapon, which falls right back down on his ugly mug. Hulk wastes no time grabbing the chain and choking his opponent with it, fending off all his scrambling attempts to fight back. Truly bloodthirsty, he seems quite ready to hold on until Blonsky stops breathing, but Betty cries for him to stop.

With Abomination subdued, Hulk has a quiet moment with his love and says her name, before fleeing again to leave Ross to clean up the mess so he can go do more sad-music-accompanied hitchhiking.

This is a lot of fun, but its biggest sin is that 90% of the fighting happens in one brief, furious spurt right at the beginning; from there it’s an uninspired chase scene that we know will come to nothing (come on, a whole battalion AND a gunship couldn’t take down Hulk in the last battle, what’s a lone helicopter going to do to Abomination now?) and some back & forth between the two on the rooftop.

That brief bout of fighting, however, is everything a titanic superhero fight should be. There’s suitable dramatic buildup to the confrontation, and the CGI is not just empty special effects; it’s obviously not real but there’s some genuine weight to it, and the combatants move in ways both believable yet fantastically impressive; you can almost feel the power behind each punch. Also welcome is how you can generally keep track of the action– a more significant accomplishment than it sounds considering it’s a night-time battle between two fast-moving CGI monsters of similar size & shape. And the Abomination, with motion-capture work apparently done by Roth himself, makes for a fantastic villain.

The fight’s ultimate solution is yet another example of a time when we find ourselves in a bind because it’s laudably clever/unexpected yet somewhat disappointing; you don’t usually expect a Hulk fight to end with him tripping his enemy and then choking him out from behind. Still, hearing Hulk say his trademark line (said by Lou Ferrigno, in a gratuitous but sweet bit of fan-service) goes a long way, and there is some cold brutality to go along with Hulk’s smart thinking. Not to mention the delights of the oh-so-comic-booky elements like the car gloves, the sonic clap and the aimable mini-earthquake.

As with before, the movie’s heart being in the right place helps smooth over its imperfections. That aforementioned dramatic buildup is something to be applauded– the movie has the courage to put some real action gravitas behind what is frankly a very boilerplate and predictable confrontation. It was very refreshing at the time for a big-budget superhero movie to be so straightforward and have the Hulk square off against what’s basically another, more evil Hulk… and not, say, a goofy absorbing weirdo who turns into a giant electric cloud.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: An even more dangerous man named Bruce.

Don’t make him Bruce Lee. You wouldn’t like him when he’s Bruce Lee.

The Incredible Hulk (fight 1 of 2)

They have an Army, but we have a…

Um. Not quite.

2008’s The Incredible Hulk is underrated. It’s not great by any means, being underwhelming in certain aspects and lacking in others. But its heart is in the right place, and more importantly, it helped continue the groundwork its same-summer companion Iron Man had just recently begun. Again, this sort of thing is taken for granted in Marvel movies now, but all throughout the film you can feel a solid sense of respect & affection for the source material, an understanding that these people get the property, and want to have fun with it.

Certainly it can be credited with swerving the franchise sharply away from the dour, pretentious Ang Lee version. The director of the reboot, Louis Laterrier, is generally known as a genre schlockmeister, but in addition to all the competent action Laterrier actually pulls off some very striking shots and a few other nice tricks.

Unfortunately, while the movie fulfills its action quota, only two of its action beats could be reasonably qualified as “fights.” The first real Hulk-out, in a bottling plant after a tense chase through Brazilian favelas, is excellent but over too quickly and takes place mostly in the shadows; in one of the film’s smarter moves, it’s seen mostly from the perspectives of Hulk’s tormentors, and plays out more like a horror sequence.

But there’s still plenty of fun left to be had.

2) Hulk vs The Army

The Fighters:

  • The Incredible Hulk, aka Bruce Banner. In case you haven’t heard, Banner is a mild-mannered scientist who, thanks to a lab accident involving gamma radiation, turns into a nigh-unstoppable rage beast whenever he becomes too angry or afraid. (This movie seems to tie the transformations directly to his heart rate reaching a certain threshold, a rather bland interpretation.) The Hulk is enormous, incredibly strong, durable, and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. He’s also typically seen as “dumb” in contrast to the brilliant Banner, but this varies with each adaptation and even more so throughout the comic’s history; some Hulks are child-like idiots, some have a normal intellect, and some have just flat-out been Bruce Banner in a big green body. More recent work has even claimed that all incarnations of the Hulk retain Banner’s genius on some level, allowing the creature to intuitively calculate his seemingly random destruction so as not to harm innocent bystanders. Also important: not only does rage trigger the Hulk’s transformation, increased anger will amplify his power. “The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets.” Played by Edward Norton, who acquits himself well as a brooding & thoughtful man of action, and also apparently did extensive but uncredited re-writes of the script.
  • A small element of the United States Army, maybe a few dozen. They’re mostly equipped with small arms, but have several Humvees, a few of which are mounted with .50 caliber machine guns, and two more have some other interesting tech. Additionally, there’s a helicopter gunship nearby. (They’re also all wearing the woodland-camouflage Battle Dress Uniform, which the Army had fully phased out before 2008, the year this was released– let alone by 2011, the year this apparently takes place. Oops.) The troops are led by Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, a general deeply involved with the DoD’s gamma radiation/”special weapons” department, who has been obsessively hunting the Hulk for years and is also the father of Banner’s ex-girlfriend, Betty (awwwwwwkward). Played by William Hurt.
  • Emil Blonsky, Ross’ point man in this endeavor. A British Royal Marine “on loan” to Ross for the Hulk chase, Blonsky is a cold-blooded special forces veteran. As the lone non-casualty of the bottling plant encounter, Blonsky has a bone to pick with Hulk, and Ross has worked to enable this rematch by pumping Blonsky full of an unthawed attempt at a re-creation of the super-soldier serum– the same one that made Captain America. Played by GFS hall-of-famer Tim Roth.

“Huge invincible super-monster? Pfft, we got this.”

The Setup: Ross, as usual, is chasing Bruce Banner. This time around he’s pinpointed the fugitive’s location to the sprawling university campus where Betty works, after he’d re-surfaced there seeking assistance. Uncle Sam wants Banner alive, so they can figure out from his body how to re-create the Hulk, so as before they’re going after the guy with non-lethal means. After the hero bolts, Betty tracks down her father and implores him to stop. She is less than successful, and gets detained on the sidelines.

Though Banner’s inside, Blonsky and the majority of the troops remain out front, knowing that’s where they’ll need to be if they can’t subdue him before a transformation. In a neat practical effect, Blonsky is shown very easily out-running the rest of the infantry behind him– a cool way to introduce the effects his “treatments” are having.

Banner leads them on a merry chase across the campus, stopping at one point to swallow a thumb drive containing important data. Gross, but a necessary move for a guy whose pockets are about to get jacked up. Eventually, Banner finds himself trapped in a nifty glass walkway separating two buildings. Soldiers lock the doors on either side, and on Ross’ orders they fire knockout gas into his confined space. He starts to succumb, but when he looks outside and sees Betty distressed, his eyes turn green….

And then this happens.

The Fight: At Ross’ order, all the soldiers start to unload on him, mostly with M16s. It’s little more than an annoyance to Hulk’s thick skin, and deters him not at all as he charges forward. A few Hummers with mounted .50 cals show up and begin firing, but even good old Ma Deuce can only cause Hulk moderate pain. Before they can even try to do worse, Hulk knocks over the nearest Humvee to him, then picks up another and smashes it repeatedly into a nearby sculpture, then the ground. Not one to let a nice piece of wreckage go to waste, the beast rips out part of the vehicle’s engine block and hurls at at a third Humvee, hard enough to knock that one into another Humvee. They both explode, which is always welcome.

This leaves Blonsky to take on the Hulk directly. Armed with a grenade launcher, he starts closing in on the Hulk, firing at intervals the whole way. The first couple rounds catch Hulk before he can react and do knock him back a bit, but soon he’s able to display some battlefield improvisation, and seizes two huge chunks of the metal lawn sculpture and uses them as shields.

Isn’t the guy with the super soldier serum supposed to be using a shield?

After he gets in close enough, Blonksy drops the weapon, though it’s not clear if it’s because he ran out of ammo or if he lost his grip when he has to leap forward to avoid Hulk’s first counter-swing. Either way, Emil is reduced to just using his sidearm from here, which obviously doesn’t faze the big green guy at all. But his acrobatic dodging is quite incredibly, leaping and flipping all around Hulk’s would-be swings.

Ross, impressed, orders Blonsky to draw the target into the next phase of the plan: the sonic cannons.

Sonic BOOM

These new weapons (apparently made by Stark Industries, of course) are non-lethal devices which fire visible waves of “sound” into the air and somehow incapacitate the target. It’s not clear if they do so merely by causing overwhelming pain to the target’s hearing/inner ear, or if they have their own concussive force, as is implied when Blonksy gets grazed by one just as he’s jumping out the way, which sends him tumbling too. But either way, you have to love these things: they’re SUCH a deliciously comic book-y contrivance, symbolic of how much fun this movie’s willing to have.

The cannons, once they’re both trained on Hulk, actually fix him pretty well at first, bringing him to the ground in pain. But once again, Hulk draws his strength at the sight of Betty’s visible distress over him, and forces himself back to his feet. Mitigating the sonic waves somewhat by first putting the metal shields in their path, and then he throws one right down the middle of the vehicle it’s mounted on, blowing it up. With the damage output reduced by half, Hulk is free enough to leap right onto the other cannon, destroying it personally.

Nearly out of options, Ross calls in the nearby gunship. Overly confident and disregarding orders to stand down, Blonsky takes a few more rifle shots at Hulk. When he’s out of ammo, he confronts Hulk face-to-face, daring him to continue their wildly disproportionate duel. “Is that all you got?” he taunts.

This seems… unwise.

Disgusted, Hulk casually but swiftly boots Blonsky right in the chest, propelling into a tree about a hundred feet ahead. It looks like it hurts.

Betty tries to get close to the Hulk to make him calm down, which her dad somehow fails to notice before the gunship closes in. He tells them to not fire but it’s too late, leaving Hulk to use his body to protect her from the hail of powerful ammunition. The entire patch of grass they’re standing on is reduced to a smoking pit by the strafing helicopter, but Hulk survived it. Cradling an unconscious Betty, he leaps away to safety. Mark this one as another loss in the government’s War on Hulk.

This is good, if not great, stuff for the superhero genre. It’s a tight and confined to one location, but still fairly epic in its small-scale way; the 2003 Hulk disaster had another, bigger confrontation with the military which eventually wore out its welcome. Hulk goes up against not just conventional Army might but also some wonky sci-fi weaponry and a deranged, British version of Captain America (not to be confused with the other British version of Captain America), which adds to the fun. And throughout there’s nice beats like the Hulk’s improvised shields, proving the creature’s tactical intelligence.

We even some nice character moments: right after the Hulk transforms, Ross mutters to himself, “now she’ll see,” thinking that Betty will lose her affection for Bruce now that she personally witnesses how much of a monster the Hulk is. But ultimately it’s the Hulk who bravely rescues Betty from Ross’ own monstrous bad decisions.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: Something abominable.

Ladies.

Pause

Tired blogger needs a break

Hey folks. You may have noticed there were no updates last week; there also won’t be any updates this week.  Without getting into the vagaries of my work schedule, home life and overall down time, I often have very small windows in which to obtain, watch, and take notes/screen grabs on subjects. This past few weeks, for various reasons, it just wasn’t happening.

At the moment I have two entries in the can and will hopefully be able to start some more drafts soon, so next week we should be able to return to a regular schedule of two entries (or one long entry) per week, so fear not.

Not that I’m getting a lot of desperate queries as to where the content went, or imagining that people are even wondering it; curiously, even as my page views have gone up dramatically this year, reader feedback has gone down. Writers are a needy bunch, so feel free to Like, comment, or share an entry which catches your interest.

Meanwhile, this month marks the one-year anniversary of the blog. Wow! That snuck up on me. I have to say it’s been a fun ride, with about 35 different subjects covered and 120 entries. I’ve enjoyed the reader feedback I have received so far and I’m happy if I’ve entertained or enlightened any of you, but I’m equally happy just for the opportunity to examine at length a topic I love and to have a place to express myself. (Finding even a minor way to monetize this project would be great as well, but getting ads on WordPress seems to be a harder process than I was led to believe.) So the blog’s birthday is just as good an excuse as any to take a two-week break.

Keep reading,

-Eric

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.

Picture6

“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

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.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World (fight 2 of 4)

In which Captain America whips it good.

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Scott doesn’t “fondue” either.

2) Lucas Lee

The Fighters:

  • Scott Pilgrim, obviously. Played by Michael Cera.
  • Lucas Lee, the second Evil Ex. A professional skater turned movie star, with plenty of ego to match. Apparently the comic incarnation is based on Jason Lee, who followed a similar career arc, but the movie version seems to be more of a riff on Keanu Reeves, what with his gruffly clueless/intense monotone and friendly relationships with his stunt team. Played with breathless gusto by Chris Evans.

The Setup: Pretty simple. While Scott & Ramona are on another date, they visit the set of a Hollywood movie being filmed nearby (a sly dig at how many movies are filmed in Canada for cost reasons), Scott having been informed of the event by Wallace, who has a crush on the star (and is also on set). As a scene is ready to start, Lucas Lee emerges from his trailer, accompanied by Universal Studios’ famous opening fanfare.

Lee skates over to his marker, and begins filming a tense hostage scene. Unfortunately, and also just as Ramona recognizes the actor as one of her past loves, it’s gradually revealed that the tense threats Lee is shouting are not his script lines, but are directed directly against Scott. Uh oh.

This actually comes later, but whatever

This actually comes later, but whatever

The Fight: It takes way longer than it should for Scott to realize the gravity of the situation; he asks for Lee’s autograph multiple times even as the actor repeatedly punches him, sending him to the pavement. (He’s so star-struck he doesn’t realize he’s getting struck by a star, hyuk hyuk.)

As Pilgrim lies dazed on the ground, Lucas turns briefly to Ramona and delivers what’s probably my favorite line in the movie. With all the forced politeness of a real-life encounter with an ex, and coupled with the hilarious intensity of Evans’ line reading, he asks “Sup? How’s life? He seems nice.” Without waiting for an answer, he picks up Scott’s body and hurls it into the nearby castle being used as the film’s backdrop.

Scott rises unsteadily and gets walloped again. The next time he gets up, he sees who he thinks is Lucas walking away, and pursues only to find that it’s the actor’s stunt double, dressed & coiffed similarly. He gets knocked down again by the stunt man, who’s soon joined by six other similarly dressed stand-ins. Meanwhile, the real Lee chills on the sidelines.

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Where’s Stephen Tobolowsky when you need him?

Before he can finish the suggested taunt from Wallace (ever the rabble-rouser) about getting Lucas’ “sloppy seconds,” the stunt crew start in on Scott. Our hero gets in an extended fight with them which is, again, surprisingly complex and well-done, considering the silliness of the situation. Cera cuts quite the incongruously heroic profile, perfectly ducking & blocking as he takes on a wave of fighters coming at him from all angles. He even breaks several weaponized skateboards as he puts down attacker after attacker. It’s completely unrealistic, obviously, and even more so than the ground-based segments of the Patel fight, but it fits in perfectly with the heightened reality of ridiculous action movies Wright is trying to emulate.

Pilgrim’s good performance comes to an end when he’s brained from behind by a skateboard, and when he goes down all the stunt men gang up for a good old fashion kicking bonanza. In real life such group-stompings can result in broken bones, internal bleeding and death, but Wright opts for a take more akin to a Warner Brothers cartoon dog-pile: the camera follows Lucas as he walks off for coffee when he sees our hero is down, but when he comes back, Scott is back up and seemingly unscathed, standing over a pile of defeated foes. Well played.

Responding to Scott’s “you’re needed on the set” taunt, Lee has a face-off with his new rival. There’s a purposely melodramatic, overextended moment as they charge each other, first in split-screen and then in super slow-motion. They leap into the air to attack, but of course Scott loses that contest.

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The big kick sends Pilgrim all the way through the fake New York skyline, leading to another funny moment when Lee has to pause his follow-up boasting as he rips through the rest of it in pursuit. They talk briefly, and Lee gets in a sucker-punch after pretending to befriend Scott. His acting is better than ever!

Displaying atypical cunning, Scott is able to goad the cocky Lee into hopping onto his skateboard and doing a thingy grind on the rickety, snow-covered railing along the impossibly long stairs they’re standing by. The ending is edited well, cutting back & forth between Lucas’ speed rapidly reaching absurd levels and Scott’s multiple, sedate “wow”s in reaction. Sure enough, the speed is too much to handle, and Lucas explodes after reaching the bottom. Two down!

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He totally bailed.

More fun is had here, but it’s disappointing from a fight-scene angle, more so than the last one. Scott can’t even lay a finger on Lee, making for an absurd power imbalance when he’s only two bosses in. He even uses a “cheat,” if a clever one, to make the final kill. This is mitigated somewhat by the long-ish fight with the stunt doubles, which itself was both a pleasant surprise and a gag that arose organically from the scenario.

Another mitigation: the scene is very funny, with Chris Evans doing some absolutely hilarious work in a rare-for-him comedy performance. With his rapid-fire & raspy delivery he actually finds a way to breathe some life into the overplayed caricature of the Egomaniac Movie Star. Evans may be another case of an actor with genuine comedic chops who rarely gets to exercise them thanks to his ridiculously good looks– please, don’t everybody pity him at once. (One of his earliest roles was in Not Another Teen Movie, but even if you did think that was funny, he mostly plays the straight man there.)

So while a nice and highly amusing change-up, it’s not particularly impressive aside from Evans’ performance. But fortunately there’s more to come.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: Her?

It’s as Roxy as the nose on plain’s face.