Friday, April 11, 2014

The Gweilo Dojo: BLADE BOXER (1997)

Tom hit us with two reviews this week so I guess I’ll have to contribute something.  He also had the nerve to actually cover things that actually played in – gasp! – movie theaters.  That just ain’t right.  So I’m looking to straighten the ship here at Video Junkie with a review of something that had the grace to go direct-to-video.  Hell, the closest this would get to a theatrical release is if you drove to the theater and threw the VHS tape at the screen.

We love our martial arts movie clich├ęs here at Video Junkie.  My personal favorite is the “wealthy white folks like to watch people fight to the death” rule.  Never has a stereotype been so wrong, yet felt so right.  No doubt born from the “wealthy guy holds martial arts tournament” plot found in classics such as ENTER THE DRAGON (1973), this subgenre took on an even deeper and twisted meaning in the wealthy excesses of the 1980s where the us-versus-them sentiment was translated into the ultimate symbolic cinematic form, a modern day version of the barbaric Roman coliseum audiences.  Films like THE OCTAGON (1980) and THE KARATE KID (1984) kept the tournament format alive in audiences’ heads, but it was probably Jean-Claude Van Damme’s BLOODSPORT (1988) that was responsible for fully establishing the “rich folks have bloodlust” scenario so perfectly in martial arts cinema.  No doubt it was possible because martial arts, both in film and practice, still had an air of mystery behind them (enough so that Frank Dux, the basis for that film, was able to con people with his “true” story).  Just what do those wealthy do behind closed doors for kicks? They must pine for the blood of the common man, right?

Rare photograph from the annual Bilderberg meeting:

Coupled with the debut of the UFC (dubbed “human cockfighting” by Senator John McCain at the time) in the early ‘90s, this subgenre exploded and soon every martial arts tournament flick had dudes decked out in tuxedos and ladies in their finest evening gowns thirsty for blood (convention required a woman to get splashed with blood during a fight…and enjoy it). Shelves were overflowing with evocative titles like the BLOODFIST (1989) series, Van Damme’s LIONHEART (1990), THE KING OF THE KICKBOXERS (1990), BLOODMATCH (1991), AMERICAN SAMUARI (1993), DEATH RING (1993), the SHOOTFIGHTER (1993) films, ENTER THE BLOOD RING (1995), FISTS OF IRON (1995), and KICK OF DEATH (1997). Trying to catch the wave late in the game was BLADE BOXER (1997).

The film opens with undercover cop Rick Morgan (Kevin King, who also produced) infiltrating a cockfighting ring.  How do we know he is undercover?  Because he has a beard!  Rick is wise to the dealings of crime kingpin Jonathan Carter (Todd McKee, one John Sayles lookin’ mofo) as he just knows this operation is just “something small to hide something big.” Sure enough, like all rich people, Carter is evil and having his henchmen kidnap cops off the street in broad daylight so that he can use them in his Blade Boxer tournaments that he holds in an empty warehouse for his wealthy clientele. Here they fight…dramatic pause…to the death!  The champ is undefeated Mahietzo (Del Pollard), a pudgy guy who sports a Freddy Kruger-style glove on each hand in his fights.  Helping Morgan out are his partner Joe (Cass Magda, who also did the fight choreography) and his girlfriend Rita (Dana Plato; yes, that Dana Plato), who Morgan thinks so highly of that he makes her pose as a prostitute in Carter’s empire to help him out.  During one of their many arguments, Rita actually says, “I’d be better off if I was a hooker.”  Ouch.

After busting a cockfighting organization (“A lot of dead cocks, but no cocksuckers,” Rick comments) and finding some dead police officers sliced up, Morgan decides something needs to be done but his boss isn’t having it.  Why?  It turns out the Chief of Police along with the Mayor of Los Angeles are also on Carter’s payroll.  You see, these 1 percenters have to stick together.  Carter already killed Morgan’s wife a few years back, but feels he still needs to send a message so, naturally, Joe the Partner gets killed (in a scene where eight fighters calmly come at Joe one-by-one so he can show off his quasi-Seagal skills).  Morgan gets his revenge rather quickly as he kills Mahietzo (“He killed my cash cow,” Carter screams later) and then decides he must make extreme changes to elude this circle of affluence out to get him.  What does he do?  He shaves!  Not just his beard, but his chest and arms (all shown in detail in a King-loving montage).  Holy crap, this dude is deadly serious.  Not only that, but he dyes his hair and applies some tan-in-a-bottle.  These drastic measures are because he is going undercover to try and get into the to-the-death tournament.  So, yeah, our undercover guy is going undercover again.  Under-undercover, if you will.

You hear that sound?  It isn’t one of the blade weapons from BLADE BOXER slicing against human bone it is the sound of the bottom of the barrel being scrapped.  How cheap is this film?  It got a VHS release in the US from Dead Alive Productions, the company that built its foundation releasing the vile TRACES OF DEATH mondo series. It seems only fitting that such a cheap production would end up in bed with folks like that.  Director Bruce Reisman obviously had a low budget to work with.  This results in our delighted rich folk watching the bloody fights while seated on bails of hay.  And some stuff can’t be forgiven as just lack of budget as there are some hilarious continuity errors.  For example, Morgan gets some gnarly scars during his fight with Mahietzo.  They even make a point of showing them later.  So what happens when he goes under-undercover?  They magically disappear!  He must have some amazing shaving cream.  Later, in the final fight, they make a big deal of Rick getting his midsection sliced open (they do an insert shot of his abs being bloodied) only to have the next shot have no blood on him at all.  Of course, this is a film so dumb that a character deduces that Morgan couldn’t have shot the Mayor because “how would a man who kicks ass stoop down to firing a bullet point blank?”  That will surely hold up in court.

To show how inept the filmmakers are look at how poorly they fail to exploit the film’s biggest asset.  Of course, the hot selling point here is the appearance of Dana Plato.  Not to be confused with the Greek philosopher, this Plato was indeed the former child star from DIFF’RENT STROKES who was having a very hard time transitioning to features after that show went off the air.  The grown up Plato leaves no breast implant unturned here as he does a full body nude scene. Despite having a former child star showing all in their feature, they don’t play up her presence on the cover at all outside of a tiny credit in the world’s smallest font.  This film was shot in 1994/5 so it put it just a few short years after Plato was nude in Playboy. How do you not capitalize on that? The cover should read “starring DIFF’RENT STROKES actress and Playboy model Dana Plato.”  Instead, the only bare flesh on the box belongs to the male lead.  The film was also made a few years after Plato had been arrested in Las Vegas for robbing a video store.  Had that crime happened post-BLADE BOXER’s release, I would have clearly known her motive.  It is kind of sad to see really when you realize how down and out she was at the time.  Honestly, if she had stayed clean, I could have easily seen her having a healthy career in direct-to-video T&A fare.  Sadly, that was not to be and she passed away in 1999 from a drug overdose.

Amazingly, Reisman and King announced a BLADE BOXER II: SUDDEN DEATH (alternate title BLADE BOXER II: BLOOD MASTERS) in early 1995 in Variety, but it never came to fruition.  I’m sure the major stumbling block there was trying to decide what else Morgan could shave to go under-under-undercover.

1 Reactions:

  1. Thanks for turning me on to BLADE BOXER. I get a kick out of montages in action and T&A flicks but have yet to witness a shaving montage. That was hilarious.

    Great read.

    "the closest this would get to a theatrical release is if you drove to the theater and threw the VHS tape at the screen." lol


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