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Thoughts on Mortal Kombat: Rebirth

If you’re like anyone else surfing around on the intersnatch these days, then you’ve probably heard news of Kevin Tancharoen’s 8-minute pitch video for a new Mortal Kombat movie.

If not, then you should probably click the video above and check it out.

I for one was very impressed, not just by the production values and artistic design of the video, but also by it’s cast.

In case you didn’t know, Michael Jai White of Undisputed 2 and Black Dynamite fame plays Jackson Briggs,

You knew I had to use this one again.

Capoeira expert, Lateef Crowder from Tom Yum Goong and Undisputed 3 plays Baraka,

Funny, he doesn't look like a brutha' to me...

and Matt Mullins, who is currently on the American Kamen Rider TV show and will be playing Vejita in the new live-action Dragonball movie, plays Johnny Cage.

Glad to see they upped the budget for the next Dragonball movie.

To top things off, the fight choreographer of the video is Larnell Stovall, who you will of course remember conducted the fights in Undisputed 3.

And we all know how well that turned out.

From what I can tell, the basic premise that Tancharoen was working from for his “new” Mortal Kombat, is something along the lines of Se7en/8mm/Saw meets Enter the Dragon/Bloodsport.

Okay, this movie needs to be made. NOW.

That is, I believe the idea was to combine the bloody, dark, urban and “ugly,” aesthetic, atmosphere and subject matter of Se7en, and combine it with the underground fighting tournament plot-line of Enter the Dragon.

On paper, I think it’s a great idea.

Though the Mortal Kombat series of games were never really my favorite, (I was a Capcom and SNK kid) one thing I will admit about them, is that they always had a pretty impressive roster of characters.

Sure, the digitized graphics of the older games in the franchise seriously restricted the developers ability to create truly outrageous and memorable designs, and palette swapping was often out of control, but even so; most of the character designs had a lot of charm and personality to them regardless.

Jax: He's a black guy. Yeah, that's all he's got goin' for him.

I have to say, it was truly refreshing to see some of the more gruesome and imaginative character designs in the series I.E. Baraka and Reptile; be integrated into live-action in such a way as to highlight their gruesomeness.

I for one would love to see a character like Kabal, or even Kano, redone in this style.

Previous attempts at doing so in the film series were often cheap looking, and very “PG-13” in their approach, so much so in fact, that most of the costume and makeup designs were often times laughable, especially in that piece of monkey-crap, Annihilation.

Say what you will, their costumes are still better than the ones in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.

Some purists may object to it, but I feel that moving the Mortal Kombat series away from it’s “Outworld” elements is a good move.

I always felt that Mortal Kombat games were at their best when they kept the mysticism and inter-dimensional bullshit on the fringe instead of at the forefront of their presentation.

Goro was fun and memorable because he was the only inhuman character in the first game.

That and he was a broken-ass piece of shit that knocked you across the room anytime you tried to do anything but jump-kick his ass.

Silly Scorpion, 'told you to jump-kick his ass, but NOOOO.....

By the time we got to MK3, and we reached a point where it was becoming hard to distinguish just who the hell wasn’t some crazy fucked-up monster from Outworld, I felt like things started to get gimmicky.

No wait, THIS, is gimmicky...

Mortal Kombat: Rebirth seems like it’s trying to keep things grounded in a twisted and warped, but otherwise fairly believable reality.

No mention is ever made as to Shang Tsung being any kind of sorceror, nor are Reptile and Baraka ever made out to be anything more than malformed and psychotic men.

May I just say, that after all the internet crap about Harlequin fetuses and what not, I always figured it would only be a matter of time before someone tried to use the concept in a movie.

Congrats to Mortal Kombat: Rebirth for being the first movie I know of to actually do so.

Now here's a picture of Harley Quinn, 'cause Harlequin Ichthyosis gives me the heebie-jeebies.

So, we’ve established that, conceptually and artistically speaking, I think Mortal Kombat: Rebirth has something going for it.

But what did I think of the fighting?

In short, the action put on display in this 8-minute video is pretty much on par with some of the better American martial arts movies.

Lateef Crowder is his usual impressive self, with indications of his Capoeira skills being restricted largely to his posture and the occasional hand-plant or spin-kick.

He, along with the choreographer, seemed to play up Baraka’s fierce and brutal nature in such a way as to tone down the sleekness of Crowder’s movements, and put more of an emphasis on throwing his weight around and giving power and intent to his attacks.

His strikes, particularly his punches, were a little bit guarded and slow, a fact that may have been due more in part to the cinematography than Crowder himself.

Even so, I felt some of his punches just didn’t have the right “big-ness” to them that a character as vicious as Baraka should have had.

Crowder’s performance was pretty good for what it was, but sadly I believe he has little hope in his career of ever being cast as anything but “the Capoeira guy with the dreads.”

Hell, they already cast him as Eddy Gordo in the Tekken movie, that must have been just about the easiest casting job ever.

If you type "Eddy Gordo" into Google, Lateef Crowder is the second result. No joke.

Matt Mullins’ Johnny Cage was pretty good as well.

His movements were sharp and impressively quick, however I felt his attacks during some of the longer, and more complex sequences, were a little bit off.

While Crowder’s punches seemed to be overly restrained at times, Mullins’ seemed to come out half-cocked.

There is a 4-5 hit sequence early on wherein Mullins hits all his marks, but I get the sense he’s just putting his hands where they need to be, instead of fleshing out, and “selling” every move.

It’s a minor gripe, especially since Mullins was actually able to carry out the choreography quite well, and indeed left somewhat of an impression, but it’s still something I felt needed pointing out.

One thing worth noting is that probably the most impressive moment in the whole fight, a inside-spinning-kick, was delivered by Mullins and not Crowder.

Mullins’ form in executing this kick, compared to his somewhat wimpy movements during the longer, more contact oriented beats of the choreography lead me to believe that it may just be a lack of comfort that is holding him back.

Flashy acrobatics and kicks seem to be his forte, but not complex hand work and sparring.

The cinematography during the fight was classy and efficient, with very little unnecessary movement or trickery being emplyoed.

The angles were well selected, and some of the panning shots during the more complex sparring were very nice.

Though I can’t say I am familiar with Tancharoen’s directing skills, I have read that he is a dance choreographer and has directed several dance videos and features, which, on paper should make him well-suited to filming any sort of physical action, in particular man-to-man combat.

In all, the fight was well shot and choreographed, and I have no doubt that, given a longer production schedule, all the players involved in the film, both in front of and behind the camera, could produce something pretty impressive.

...Or they could just make this.

On the whole, I found the Mortal Kombat: Rebirth video to be quite impressive.

I feel that, should it get picked up for production, chances are it would do best as a straight-to-video feature.

The straight-to-video market has been rapidly legitimizing as of late, and given the grounded in reality, but otherwise ridiculous subject matter of Tancharoen’s concept thus far, I don’t think it would be taken as seriously in theaters as the director might hope.

Regardless, Tancharoen was fortunate to score a stellar cast for his production, one that I hope he manages to maintain if the movie ever gets picked up.

We all know Michael Jai White can fight, and we all know he can play the lead, so why not let him do both as Jax?

I would watch that, in fact I would look forward to that.

Well, those are my thoughts on Mortal Kombat: Rebirth, chances are the buzz surrounding it has already past, but oh well.

Filed under: Games, Kung Fu, Movies, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Movie Review: Undisputed 3: Redemption

*If all you care to read about is the fighting element of the movie, scroll down to the heading titled “Action“*

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.

Well, that is unless you count THIS as the "first" in the franchise...

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.

Pictured: An overrated film.

More of a B-Grade drama and social commentary film than anything else, the film featured several prison-based boxing sequences nonetheless.

Tonight on UPN: Nekkid Prison Fights.

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.

2006 saw the straight-to-DVD release of Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing.

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.

Wrong "wow" dumbass.

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: A Tale of Love and Understanding.

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.

The signature "Guyver Kick" as it's come to be known.

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.

Since the release of Undisputed 2, Michael Jai White has gone on get shanked by Heath Ledger, and write and star in his first film, Black Dynamite.

Although THIS is the REAL reason people still remember who Michael Jai White is.

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.

Most notable of his appearances have been as a fighter during the swimming pool fight in Jet Li’s Unleashed, a Black Briar agent in The Bourne Ultimatum, and as Weapon XI in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

What? You really thought Ryan Reynolds could move like that?

Plot Summary:

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…).

It's right HERE goddamnit.

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.

No Comment.

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.

The end.

Acting:

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.

Now imagine a whole movie of this.

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.

Motherfuckin' Playmobil! YEEEEEEEEEAHH!!!!!!

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.

Most of these conversations have Adkins playing opposite a very charismatic Mykel Shannon Jenkins’ Turbo, a fellow entrant in the tournament and essentially the Apollo Creed to Adkins’ Rocky Balboa.

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.

That is one happy prisoner.

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.

Kind of like this guy. Only I don't LIKE this guy...

Special note should be made in regards to the acting performance of the film’s villain, Chilean martial artist and actor, Marko Zaror’s Dolor.

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.

DISCO DANCE! DISCO DANCE!

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.

From what I’ve read, Zaror’s Chilean films, Kiltro, Mirageman, and Mandrill are all supposed to be the bee’s knees, and I’ve been meaning to see them.

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.

"Yah' blabbed Quaid, yah' blabbed about Mars!" ~ Famous last words of a very fat man.

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.

Action:

*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.

Sadly, no, there is no Ladder Fu.

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.

OUCH! Right in the Jimmy!

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.

BOOM! HEADSHOT!

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.

Hey, it wouldn't be a prison movie without the requisite prison yard brawl.

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.

I'd lose the suit though...

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.

Pictured: Said moment of awesomeness.

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.

Did I mention he was ugly too?

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.

Slap the fatty!

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.

Well, maybe not all of them...

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.

Not as good as Donnie Yen's in Flash Point, but then again, nothing is.

Following this, Adkins takes on a Brazilian Capoeira fighter played by Lateef Crowder from Tony Jaa’s Tom Yum Goong.

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.

Pictured: Attempted Arm Rape.

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.

I have no idea who you are Mr. Greek, but thanks for getting your ass kicked by the Brazilian!

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.

That would be the "3" of the 1-1-3.

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.

DISCO DANCE! DISCO DANCE!

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.

"GET HIM A BODYBAG! YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!

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.

Filed under: Kung Fu, Movies, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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