The Story So Far…
The Undisputed franchise has the unique distinction of being quite possibly the only film series I can think of where the first entry was my least favorite.
Released in 2002 and directed by Walter Hill of The Warriors fame, the original Undisputed was, at the time, an odd combination of genres, specifically that of the “prison drama” and “underground fight club” niche genres.
More of a B-Grade drama and social commentary film than anything else, the film featured several prison-based boxing sequences nonetheless.
Though Ving Rhames and Wesley Snipes performed their boxing scenes ably, the fight scenes in the film served more as story beats and bookends to the drama, rather than rousing set pieces, kind of like the difference between the fights in Rocky 1 and Rocky 3.
Directed by prolific straight-to-video action film director Isaac Florentine this time around, the film retained it’s predecessor’s hokiness and melodramatic atmosphere, while placing a much greater emphasis on the execution and “wow” factor of the fight scenes.
Featuring Michael Jai White handling Ving Rhames’ role of George “Iceman” Chambers (a character analogous to Mike Tyson), and Scott Adkins as the villainous Uri Boyka, the film featured stunning fight work and cinematography, as well as a storyline that was far more personal and organic than it’s predecessors’.
Undisputed 2 was simply a better film in every way.
The most important element in the films’ success however, could be attributed to one man: Scott Adkins.
Despite having several acting and action roles prior to Undisputed 2, (most notably director Florentines’ Special Forces) Adkins’ performance in the film could easily be regarded as his “arrival” to the action movie scene.
Possessing a chiseled musculature, and an uncommonly large frame, Adkins’ fighting movements were spell-bindingly exacting and swift, with many of his strikes coming from unique angles, often while airborne.
Together with J.J. “Loco” Perry’s choreography, and Isaac Florentine’s elegantly framed and almost balletic use of steadicam work, and under and overcranking, Adkins and White put out some of the best fight scenes ever seen in an American film.
Scott Adkins on the other hand, has largely kept to fringe of the industry, continuing to star in straight-to-video projects with director Florentine, as well as score a few bit roles in major Hollywood films.
As mentioned before, the story of the film concerns an 8-man fighting tournament sponsored by shady gangsters, and conducted in a Georgian prison (the one in Europe. Well, kinda. Actually it’s kind of close to Asia too now that I think of it…).
Boyka enters the tournament, eventually befriends Turbo, and together they work their way through the ranks in hopes of facing the installed betting favorite of the tournament, a ‘roided out Colombian named Dolor (“The Pain”).
As it turns out, the tournament is rigged, with all the fighters but Dolor being restricted to one hour a day of training, while at the same time being forced to eat a poor prisoner’s diet, and do back-breaking hard labor every day.
Dolor, meanwhile, lives a life of leisure outside of a prison cell.
Oh yeah, and he’s on the ‘roids.
By stories’ end, Boyka puts his pride at stake and faces Dolor in the final match of the tournament.
Merry mishaps ensue. Roll credits.
Undisputed 3: Redemption sees Scott Adkins in the leading role, once again reprising his role as Uri Boyka.
The plot of the film has Boyka, still hobbled from his shattered kneecap in previous film, retraining himself and earning the right to enter an international 8-man prison fighting tournament.
In the second film, Boyka was largely one-dimensional. Pious, and possessed of a rudimentary sense of justice and fair-play, but otherwise devoid of character.
This time around, nothing has really changed, however, due to circumstances that are out of his hands, he softens over the course of the film and actually manages to hold a conversation or two without hitting anyone.
Despite this, his motivations never rise above that of “God gave me the tools to fight, so I fight.”
As in the previous film, Adkins assumed a convincing Russian accent, however my reaction to it, given the character’s role as the protagonist this time around, was not as favorable.
In Undisputed 2, Boyka is gruff, and often unpleasant, making his constant frown and drawn out, slurred words seem appropriate given the character’s menacing nature.
In this film however, Adkins recycles many of Boyka’s quirks, however now that he’s front and center for most of the dramatic scenes, his character comes across as petty and childish, like a kid that doesn’t want to share his Playmobils.
For the most part however, Adkins gets the job done, with his eerily even more expanded and toned physique, and his heroic features more than making up for his delivery or intonation.
There are some fun parallels to be found between Jenkins’ Turbo and the previous films’ “Iceman” Chambers, both in their fighting styles and general reactions to prison life.
For the most part, I enjoyed Jenkins’ performance, particularly during the scenes in which his character’s vulnerability shone through.
His character came across as one of those guys that just can’t shut up ’cause he can’t stand silence.
The man obviously is not an English speaker, and indeed much of his dialogue is stilted and awkward at times, however much like Scott Adkins, his natural gravitas and body language allow him to get away with it.
The man is able to chew scenery with what few scenes he’s in just by bugging out his eyes and doing a little jig.
I’m serious, at one point during a training scene he does a little dance, seemingly just for the hell of it.
I came into the film half for Scott Adkins, and half for Marko Zaror, and this marks the first time I’ve gotten to see Zaror.
Based on his performance in Undisputed 3, I now feel that I need to see them.
In general, most of the ancillary performances are hammy and over-the-top across the board, with Mark Ivanir’s Gaga and Robert Costanzo’s Farnatti turning out fun performances despite a few hiccups in the script.
It should be noted that one of the key villains in the film, Vernon Dobtcheff’s Rezo, seems to be dubbed or ADR’ed, and very poorly at that.
Though it’s not that big a deal, and doesn’t impact ones’ enjoyment of the film whatsoever, I found it distracting and somewhat disappointing given that the actor’s face seemed to match his role so well.
*Warning! Spoilers Ahead!*
Undisputed 3 is, like it’s predecessor, a powerhouse when it comes to fight sequences and choreography.
While Undisputed 2 felt a bit thin at times in terms of the amount of running time the fight scenes occupied in the film, Undisputed 3 feels much more balanced.
The fights are plentiful and varied, with a number of different disciplines and styles being represented throughout.
Conventions of the “fighting tournament” genre are all met, with most of the preliminary fights being staged as nothing more than exhibitions of the more story relevant character’s skills as opposed to actual give-and-take fights.
The sole exception to this is Jenkins’ fight with the Croatian, which begins as being totally in Jenkins’ favor, only to suddenly shift to a shockingly close fight as his character’s focus begins to falter after being hit for the first time.
In general, Jenkins’ manages to be convincing in portraying a fighting man.
His movements are sharp and educated to some extent, leading me to believe he may have at least some martial arts background.
In the film, his character utilizes a primarily boxing based fighting style, and when on the offensive, that is, delivering double jabs and 2-3 combinations, Jenkins looks great.
On the defensive though, executing elbow blocks and parries, I have to point out that Jenkin’s timing seems off at times, which lucky for him, actually seems to go with his character given his insecurities.
Jenkins is featured in about 3 fight scenes, only 1 of which takes place during the tournament.
Despite the unbelievable amount of hype surrounding Scott Adkins after his performance in Undisputed 2, he somehow managed to live up to all of it in Undisputed 3.
In the nearly 4 years since Undisputed 2, Scott Adkins grew eerily close to losing his appeal in my eyes.
I’ve always maintained that, as an actor in action films, his good looks and charisma could take him very far.
As a screen-fighter however, I began to feel as if his talents were being abused.
I attribute this to the various choreographers that were handling him, as for the most part, it seemed like he was no longer doing fight scenes, but instead was being told to simply run down a list of his trademark moves, like I being forced to watch the same highlight reel over and over again.
That feeling evaporated from the first moment Adkins struck a fighting pose in Undisputed 3.
Adkins’ movements in Undisputed 3 are just are quick and fluid as ever, however this time around his repertoire is more varied and the “wow” factor generated by his attacks is more the result of entire beats in the choreography, rather than flashy, singular motions.
I suppose this is appropriate, seeing as Adkins’ Boyka declares several times in the film that “he is the most complete fighter in the world.”
Throughout the film, the intensity of Adkins fight scenes escalate in concert with the drama.
His first fight, against a burly and somewhat slow fighter named Sykov, is brief and somewhat disappointing.
There is a surprising amount of honest to God contact during the fight, particularly in an instance when Adkins check-hooks the poor Russian in the face, but outside of a 3-kick combination, and one of Adkins’ trademark flipping side-kicks, the fight is entirely one-sided and is very short.
His first fight in the tournament sequence on the other hand, is excellent.
During the fight, Adkins manages to pull off nearly all of his trademark moves, though most of them are framed in such a way as to appear less showy, and more believable as practical fighting moves.
As I mentioned before, the preliminary tournament fights are devoid of drama, and Adkins’ fight is no exception.
In total he is hit once, seemingly out of negligence on his part.
A highlight to this scene is Adkins performing a believable German Suplex on the poor Frenchman.
Crowder’s performance in Tom Yum Goong, was impressive, as any performance of Capoeira always is, but hampered by overuse of slow-motion and water-on-the-floor gimmickery.
The scene was also cut short, which I’ve read was a result of injuries during filming.
Well, Mr. Crowder looked pretty healthy to me in Undisputed 3, ’cause he did a bang up job.
Capoeira in movies tends to suffer from the choreographer’s over-reliance on the flashier and more acrobatic motions associated with it.
This was not the case in Undisputed 3, as Crowder’s attacks, while spectacular and full of gravity defying maneuvers, also incorporate basic punches and grapples, effectively making his fighting seem less like a performance, and more like a fight.
Watching Adkins and Crowder flip and roll about the mat in tandem was truly impressive, with neither man upstaging the other.
Also, it needs to be said that Crowder’s first fight in the movie, against a Greek fighter, features an amazingly long take (26 seconds by my count) with extremely complicated choreography.
Kudos to both men. Oh yeah, and the camera operator for keeping up.
The final fight in the movie, the battle between Scott Adkins and Marko Zaror, is separated into the 3 classic phases of movie fights.
Equilibrium is reached in the opening few minutes.
The bad guy starts to take control in the middle.
And then finally our hero makes his miraculous comeback, winning against all odds.
It’s a classic formula, and Undisputed 3 loses no points for using it, however it gains an insane amount of brownie points for the content it uses to fill these 3 phases.
In short, the fight is spectacular.
Like many of the tournament fights in this movie, the fight is dropped into our laps with surprisingly little fanfare or build-up, but when the bell rings, we don’t care either way.
It’s fast, it’s furious, and the choreography communicates the character of the two men so very well.
Despite the fact that I said I was hyped about this movie because of both it’s stars, In many ways I felt I was more impressed by Zaror in this sequence, largely because of his speed and ferocity.
Adkins’ punches come out in classic “movie punch” fashion: wide, and with a lot shoulder put into them so as to maximize the urgency of the movement, while at once allowing for a degree of control.
Zaror’s punches on the other hand, are obscenely fast and compact.
In short, Zaror’s attacks look dangerous, their intent is clear and they don’t feel like fake punches.
Early on in the fight there is a sequence in which Zaror throws a feint, followed 1-1-3 combo. That was the moment my eyes started to shift their focus from Adkins to him.
Though Adkins has Zaror beat in terms of elegance and precision in his execution of some movements, particularly spinning kicks, I have to say, Zaror’s footwork in simply a wonder.
Even when he’s simply standing around keeping his rhythm, his feet remain busy and explosive, shooting out with his punches and springing to life with stunningly realistic counter-movement in response to his opponent.
Zaror was pretty much the perfect choice for a man to play opposite a talent like Scott Adkins, mostly because they are so similar.
While Zaror is definitely a much bigger and taller man, both performers have an acrobatic style that the choreographer, Larnell Stovall, was wise to have them pit against one another.
Watching one big man defy gravity during a fight scene is always thrilling, but to watch another, even bigger man do it response is a thing of beauty.
I won’t say much for any specific beats during the final battle, but I will say this, find a way to see it, because it’s easily the best fight scene of 2010, well, that is until I see Ip Man 2, then we’ll know for sure.
One thing worth noting is that I the phase of the fight in which Zaror took command, lasted just a little too long.
As you may have noticed, I truly enjoyed Zaror’s fighting in the film, however the middle of the final fight had him laying waste to Adkins so severely, that I simply couldn’t suspend my disbelief when the big comeback finally came.
Though I did like the way they had Zaror “sweep the leg” in terms of incorporating Boyka’s bum knee into the choreography. That was fun.
That being said, the ending portion of the fight was a little awkward as well, with the changes in Adkins’ approach to the fight being less than obvious.
It should also be noted that whoever made the decision to incorporate songs into many of the fights should get a big fat slap to the face.
I don’t appreciate LYRICS drowning out the ambience of my fight scenes, particularly when none of them are edited in montage.
Despite my gripes, the final battle, along with many of the others, were truly amazing, and definitely makes me want to see more from both actors, as well as director Florentine.
Well, that’s Undisputed 3: Redemption, hopefully I didn’t bore you too much with my Scott Adkins/Marko Zaror cock-sucking.