Thursday, 29 July 2010

Undisputed 3: Redemption (2010)

Dolor keeps his pimp hand strong

I was really impressed with Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing, a direct-to-DVD sequel to a Wesley Snipes film that was way better than it had any right to be. It starred Michael Jai White, so I was predisposed to like it anyway, but it's surprising quality really comes down to the one-two punch of director Isaac Florentine and his high-kicking frequent collaborator Scott Adkins. Florentine does some amazing things with fight scenes and Adkins steals the show even in minor henchmen roles, so when I heard that Florentine was directing a third film in the series and bumping Adkins up to a starring role, I just about vomited in excitement.

As the title suggests, Undisputed 3: Redemption carries on the series tradition of having the villain return as the protagonist of the subsequent film. Well, maybe after two films it's too early to call it a "tradition", and it's probably not so much a thematic consideration as it is a financial one, but I still think it's a neat idea. In this case it means the return of Scott Adkins as Yuri Boyka, who touts himself as the world's most "complete fighter", whatever that means.

When the movie begins Boyka's knee and confidence are shattered after his loss to MJ-Dubs. It must have been a while because he has grown a hobo beard. He spends his days mopping the filthy prison toilets and his nights re-training his injured leg with a system of weights and pulleys. You'd think the rest of the film would be about Boyka fighting his inner demons and crawling his way back into the ring but no; it takes all of five minutes for Boyka to give himself a shave and a haircut (he did an amazing job with just a rusty razor blade) and leap into the ring. One of his signature double-spinning kicks and the prison's best fighter is down for the count. Boyka is back.

The first Undisputed film was about an underground prison boxing ring, while the second film moved the setting to Russia and changed it to free-form martial arts. The third film goes the next logical step and introduces an International Prison Fighting League, where the best prison fighters from around the world are shipped to a remote prison in Bulgaria and forced to compete for the amusement of rich guys. This allows for a wide mixture of fighting styles, with Koreans (Ilram Choi) bringing some Tai Kwon Do, Brazillians (Lateef Crowder) busting out the capoeira moves, etc. Of course there's also a loudmouth American named Turbo (Mykel Shannon Jenkins).

I don't know if you're supposed to think Turbo's in-your-face American sass is supposed to be charming, but he annoyed the shit out of me for the first half of the movie. This guy never shuts up. He's the complete opposite of Boyka, who rarely says a word except to give Turbo a richly-deserved "shut the fuck up" now and then. Of course, it's pretty clear from the beginning that these two are destined to get into a fight and then be BFF. Eventually they do the bonding thing and although Turbo gives Boyka his life story (he's ex-military with two kids etc), Boyka doesn't reveal anything about his past, which I liked. It would ruin the mystery.

The villain here is Dolor, played by Marko Zaror, a Chilean martial artist who you might know from Killtro and Mirageman. He's the pampered, drug-addicted superstar of the prison fighting league. He even gets to sit under a tree sipping a cocktail while the rest of the fighters break rocks in a quarry. Turbo and Boyka have the last laugh because they make prison wine out of lemons and turn hard labour into an impromptu training session. Dolor seems completely unhinged and makes a pretty colourful villain, but unfortunately he doesn't get a lot of screen time. Hopefully they can remedy that in Undisputed 4: Fistful of Dolor.

There's not really much of a plot here, but I like that. Like in Ninja, Florentine just jettisons all the superfluous bullshit. We spend some time with Turbo and Boyka's fight managers, Farnatti and Gaga (no relation to Lady I think) who in the end decide to sell out their fighters to the crooked kingpin and bet all their money on Dolor. Even worse, it also turns out that all of the losing fighters are driven out into the middle of nowhere and machine-gunned. Boyka doesn't find out until the very end, when he learns it from the old man who sweeps the fighting ring. If you're ever in a prison fighting league, keep an eye out for an old guy with a broom; he's probably an ex-fighter with some helpful tips.

At the end the guards rig the fight by crippling Turbo before his match with Dolor, so Boyka helps Turbo escape the prison so he can fight in his place. Not sure why the guards didn't just beat the shit out of Boyka too, especially after he injures a dozen guards during that prison escape, but I guess they thought he'd never win with his gimpy leg. The joke's on them, because after Dolor breaks his busted knee he wraps a filthy mop around it and he's as good as new. I hope that wasn't the mop they used to clean the shitters.

The big attraction here are the fights, and do I ever love the way Florentine shoots his fight scenes. The guy is a martial artist himself, so he knows what his fighters can do and how to show off their moves as effectively as possible. Ring fighting can be really boring if filmed incorrectly, but here the camerawork is almost as acrobatic as the fighters themselves, sweeping around in a way that makes you feels like you're the one getting kicked in the head. The fights are choreographed by Larnell Stovall, and combine the bloody brutality of early 90s kickboxing flicks with the acrobatics and careful choreography of Hong Kong kung fu films. Every punch and kick feels like it's going to take someone's head off.

Watching something like this it makes me wonder when people got together and decided that shaky-cam was an acceptable substitute for fight scenes. I know it got really annoying in that post-Matrix period where every film had to have slow-motion wire-fu, but this is a million times worse. Surely I can't be the only one who feels this way. I'll bet one day I'm going to find a pair of sunglasses that reveal subliminal messages on billboards that say SHAKY HANDHELD CAMERAS ARE MORE REALISTIC and RAPID EDITING MAKES THINGS MORE EXCITING. Thankfully we've still got Florentine fighting the good fight.

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