When it comes to martial arts films made outside of Asia, I think the big problem comes down to consistency, especially with U.S. filmmakers. I mean sure, films such as The Matrix and Kill Bill took the time to create authentic Kung fu sequences, but those films unfortunately seem like the exception to the rule. More often than not, those of us that love martial arts cinema are stuck with shoddy, overly edited examples such as the fights in Ninja Assassin or G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which are films that may have even taken the time choreograph good battles, but ultimately shot them in a way to make them impossible to tell what’s going on. How surprising it is then, to find out that perhaps the Western film-maker constructing the best fight scenes for U.S. audiences these days isn’t a big screen “auteur”, like Michael Bay or Rob Cohen, but a man working exclusively right now in the DTV market. That man is Isaac Florentine and his new movie, which features some of his best work, is Undisputed III: Redemption.
Now there’s probably not a lot of you out there that remember the first Undisputed, the Walter Hill directed film about a former Heavyweight Boxing Champion, played by Ving Rhames, who is imprisoned and ends up fighting the prison’s champion, played by Wesley Snipes. The reason you don’t really remember it, is that it’s not all that memorable, and in fact, you don’t even need to have seen it to enjoy this new movie. In fact, you don’t even need to have seen Florentine’s DTV follow-up Undisputed II: Last Man Standing, with Michael Jai White in the Ving Rhames role, but I’d recommend it because it introduces you to the awesome character of Uri Boyka, played by Scott Adkins. A Russian Mixed Martial Artist determined to be the greatest fighter in the world, Boyka is actually the villain in the previous Undisputed sequel, but he returns in this new film as the movie’s protagonist, ready to unleash his fury on any fighter unlucky enough to get into the ring with him.
Basically, the film is in the tradition of a tournament movie, similar to Bloodsport or Lionheart, only the tournament is a collection of the best fighters from various prisons around the world, Boyka being one of them, with the winner gaining his freedom. Now, in the hands of a lesser director and star, this would be your standard DTV action picture, with tons of exposition, little to no real action, and fights that range from mediocre to lackluster, but with Florentine at the helm, what you get is a violent, kick to the gut of a movie that pummels your expectations into submission. The premise may be simple or even cliché, but with its skilled direction and choreography Undisputed III ends up giving you B-movie heaven.
Very close to the way that Zach Snyder shoots fights, Florentine manages both brutality and grace in his violence. A martial artist himself, the director is fond of playing with speeds, but never lets that get in the way of showing you exactly what each combatant is doing. He knows when to pull back and let the fighter speak for himself on film, with varying styles such as boxing, kung fu and capoeria all getting to display what makes them unique, but also he knows when to let his style take over and create something exciting with his action and timing, making his characters seem superhuman at times.
While this movie is definitely a terrific example of Florentine’s style, another great aspect of the film is that it’s also a wonderful showcase for two of Martial Arts cinema’s best up and coming stars; Scott Adkins and Marko Zaror. With Jackie Chan and Jet Li nearing retirement, Tony Jaa becoming a monk, and Donnie Yen saying he’ll put a cap on his career in the next few years, the next big star needs to be found fast. Undisputed III could be the breakout we need for these two to get more attention, and the duo definitely both put on a show worth watching.
Adkins has been the go-to-guy for Florentine for some time now, usually serving as a supporting player in his films and even starring as the lead in the very solid action film Ninja earlier this year. While he had to play a more straight-laced action hero in that film, Undisputed III has Adkins firmly in the role of a hard-nosed antihero, out only to show his skills and beat the crap out of anyone in front of him. Adkins is simply awesome here; kicking, punching, and flipping in a way that doesn’t always seem humanly possible. The actor looks like he’s made out of granite and moves with lightning quick speed. This guy seems like he was made to be an action star, and to his credit, he’s compelling enough in this story to keep you interested even when he isn’t fighting.
Having a little more fun is Marko Zaror. The star of cult hits Mandrill and Mirageman, Zaror’s athletic ability is incredible and his triple-spin kicks have to be seen to be believed. He’s playing the slimy villain here, which works really well with his screen persona, which is typically very good at portraying vulnerability. There’s something always just a bit off about him, which makes him surprisingly menacing and hard to read, and in the ring that sense of danger is heightened even further. Like Adkins, Zaror astonishes with his athleticism, seemingly able to defy gravity at times and making the perfect opponent for Boyka in his struggle.
With nonstop fights and tons of colorful characters, Undisputed III: Redemption is the movie that you’ve been waiting for, if you’re tired of the nonsensical films that have passed for action movies, especially in the last couple of years. This is a brawny, hart hitting fight film that knows exactly what it is and makes the best possible movie that it can out of it. For bone-crunching, spin-kicking, leg-breaking entertainment, you could do much worse these days, but I don’t know if you could do a whole lot better. It’s too often we see action films that manage to take all the fun out of watching them. Undisputed III may not be a lot of things, but it is most assuredly not one of those.
Probably shot on digital, this Blu-ray print of the movie is pretty much flawless. Colors are bright and image detail is pretty wonderful throughout. The sound on this blu-ray is also pretty spectacular, making note of every bone breaking crunch the movie has to offer.
Unfortunately, you get in the way of extras here are a couple of trailers and a digital copy of the movie.
While the lack of extras hurts this release, those that have a fever for a no-nonsense, hard hitting action film will find a roundhouse kick of a cure with Undisputed III: Redemption. Isaac Florentine’s old school action approach matched with top notch choreography is a breath of fresh air next to the silly blockbuster offerings coming out right now. The print on this blu-ray is also exceptional, so for a good time, this is an easy recommendation.
Warner Bros. presents Undisputed III: Redemption. Directed by: Isaac Florentine. Starring: Scott Adkins, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Mark Ivanir, Hristo Shopov, and Marko Zaror. Written by: David N. White. Running time: 96 minutes. Rating: R. Released on Blu-ray: June 1, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.
Robert Sutton feels the most at home when he's watching some movie scumbag getting blown up, punched in the face, or kung fu'd to death, especially in that order. He's a founding writer for the movies section of Insidepulse.com, featured in his weekly column R0BTRAIN's Badass Cinema as well as a frequent reviewer of DVDs and Blu-rays. Also, he's a proud Sony fanboy, loves everything Star Wars and Superman related and hopes to someday be taken seriously by his friends and family.