A westerner named Casey, studying Ninjutsu in Japan, is asked by the Sensei to return to New York to protect the legendary Yoroi Bitsu, an armored chest that contains the weapons of the last Koga Ninja.
Bizarrely a sequel to a film no one saw, about boxing, only this time it's about kickboxing. Now surely there must be more to the plot? Well no, it is essentially an excuse to have some downright superb fight scenes. Michael Jai White stars as George "the Ice Man" Chambers, played in the original by Ving Rhames. He's not playing the Wesley Snipes character as we might have assumed, considering White has been rumoured to be replacement Blade for Snipes, and after all Snipes and White are both martial arts demon's.
Anyway director Isaac Florentine has always shown a knack for filming fight scenes, without ever really getting the rest particularly right. Similarly his films never really look too polished, unable to look beyond their clearly meagre budgets. Similarly Florentine's previous films tended have bizarre mixes of time periods, costumes etc, to create non descript worlds, which just came out as strange on film. Bridge Of Dragon's for example was a pretty bog standard kind of fairy tale action movie. Also his use of cartoony sound effects for every movement, no matter how small, become tiresome in previous flicks. For example someone would raise an eyebrow and it would be accompanied by a "whoosh!" Having said all that I enjoyed his previous films for the action and the cheesiness of them. But Florentine has reigned himself in here, and in what is probably his most high profile and lavish production, he has produced a kick ass action film. Previously too he never really got any particularly good performances form his cast, be manages to here. White doe okay, and has the build and a certain amount of charisma that makes you wonder why he's not competing in the DTV wars with the top dogs like Seagal, Snipes and Van Damme. Strangely he's not much of an action star despite the huge muscular frame and martial arts prowess. Ben Cross also appears and as he did in the Lundgren flick, the Mechanik, he adds class to proceedings, because he can act. He does well in making his supporting part memorable in a fairly tragic kind of role, and he gives it some humanity and some humour. Ken Lerner too makes a welcome appearance playing a role we've seen many times before from him, and he of course he'll always be remembered as the agent, Arnold stabs in the back with a pen, in Running Man. Eli Danker is also superb.
However the real star of this piece is Scott Adkins, the British born, Kickboxer/Gymnast, here playing a Russian prison tournament champ. Adkin's not only has a good screen presence but like White is built like a brick outhouse, and to add to that he's an amazing athlete for a guy so huge. If marketed right Adkins could be the next big action star, he's got the ability to be one of the best. Adkin's performs some amazing gymnastic feats here. He's not a bad actor either and I think people will actually assume he's Russian, so he does a good job here, despite playing a comically two dimensional villains worthy of Ivan Drago himself. The fights are really well done. They feel unique too, much down to Adkin's himself but also the great photography, dolly and steadi-cam work.
This may have a plot that could have been written on the back of a match box, probably reading something along the lines of "Michael Jai White is forced to fight Scott Adkin's, twice!" However the film looks polished thanks to Ross Clarkson's photography, while Florentine is allowed to show some auterism that many DTV directors for hire aren't allowed to. It's simply a few situations that are thrown in to lead into fights, but the fights come thick and fast, and as well as that they are original, and pretty awesome. Thankfully the cast are good enough to rise above the trite situations which is why it's important in these films to include guys like Ben Cross, who can act.
Overall this is a film that will no doubt gain cult status amongst martial arts fan's. It's the most Drive-ish film since Drive, something simple yet for what it is, brilliantly delivered. There's rumours of another sequel, which I'd hope to see, but truthfully if it didn't have Adkin's it would be sorely lacking a one man special effect. Adkin's is even better than Kong! ***
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