Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Gweilo Dojo: MAXIMUM CAGE FIGHTING (2006)

Be it shame or finances, Jun Chong stayed off the screen for 15 years after the routine and silly STREET SOLDIERS (1991). But with the rise in popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Chong found an avenue of return with...

MAXIMUM CAGE FIGHTING (2006) - No doubt Chong spent the interim teaching at his Tae Kwon Do school in Los Angeles, CA and was probably doing a pretty good job at it. In 1995 he took on a student named Jason Field (who, incidentally, was born about an hour from me in Virginia Beach, VA) and, as with Philip Rhee, a creative relationship was born. With a script by Joanna Chong (I'm assuming she is his daughter), Chong's production got down one more time with this flick to cash in on the cage fighting craze.

I'm too tired to write out a synopsis, so here is what the back of the DVD case says:
Jimmy Garren, a former Tae Kwon Do world champion, is now retired and a widowed father to ten-year-old Katie. So when he's challenged by a famous cage fighter... and former rival Nick "the Nasty" Harper - to a fight, he refuses... until Katie is kidnapped by Harper's crew. With the match being the only way to save his daughter, Jimmy travels to Brazil to train with world-renowned MMA fighter Renzo Gracie for a deadly fight in the cage... that only one man will survive.

So how is that for originality - a martial artist is forced to fight in a tournament when a family member is kidnapped? Next you'll tell me his school was attacked and disgraced (it is!). I'm not kidding when I tell you this - Nick is still harboring a grudge from losing a Tae Kwon Do points exhibition match ten years earlier. You know, the kind done in a big hall with tons of pads on. Get over it, son! I've seen kids on playgrounds who harbor less of a grudge. Of course, what do you expect from a film where a diligent father swears to protect his daughter, only to have her kidnapped after he drops her off at soccer practice and falls asleep on the couch!

It looks like age has finally caught up with Master Chong. His hair is a bit thin on top now and he looks like a morph of James Hong plus Kris Kristofferson. He is still in pretty good shape for a guy in his 60s though. Sadly, during his final brawl with Nick's bad trainer Master Kim (Chul Jin M. Kim), you can see an obvious stunt double to do the flips and stuff. It is funny because they try to mimic Chong's balding on the double. I don't blame him for going the Jackie Chan route though as the last thing you want to tell folks is you broke your leg shooting a low budget shot-on-video flick. To the film's credit, they did actually shoot on location in Brazil for some of it.

Now, onto the main problem. One of my biggest beefs is how Hollywood filmmakers represent MMA. I'm not talking the "Rich folks get off on guys fighting in a drained pool for them" cliche of the 90s. I'm talking about how the sport is actually depicted on film. Only professional wrestling gets a worse portrayal in movies. For example, Nick the Nasty is so nasty that he actually killed a guy in the cage. Is he barred from the sport? Is he arrested? Nah! He is prepping for his big comeback and MMA magazines love promoting a guy who is a killer (see screencap). Who wrote this script? John "MMA is human cockfighting" McCain? Also, we never find out if Blue Steele's days are truly numbered. It is sloppy, lazy filmmaking to represent MMA so poorly. Frank "Embellish much?" Dux would even shake his head in shame at the fallacies. According to the filmmakers, the following can happen in MMA:

  • You can snap a guy's arm with an armbar in 1 second
  • You are allowed to grab the cage and flip off of it
  • You can learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in roughly six weeks
  • You can inject steroids into you and they will make you berserk
  • Best of all, if you win three fights in the MFC organization, you get to challenge whomever you want, even if they aren't a professional fighter!
It is double disappointing when you realize they had Renzo Gracie, a member of one of MMA's pioneering families, on set. Then again, after his last fight with Matt Hughes at UFC 112, who knows where his head is at.

So when the dust settles, Chong emerges with a filmography record of 2-2. His first two productions were enjoyable thanks to the fighting, ambience and some unintentional comedy. It also helped that they came out during the awesome 80s. The last two suffered from weak set ups, wonky fighting and lack of good production values. It is sad when the biggest kick I get out of the flick is catching a NINJA TURF poster on the school's wall. Well, that and the quote on the DVD cover saying, "It will leave you wanting more." Indeed (in Lo Pan voice)!

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