Fight To Win (1987)

Fight To Win (1987)- * * *

Directed by: Leo Fong

Starring: George Chung, Hidy Ochiai, Bill "Superfoot" Wallace, Chuck Jeffreys, Juan Chaoa, Richard Norton, Cynthia Rothrock, and Ronnie Lott

Ryan Kim (Chung) is an enthusiastic young Martial Artist that loves nothing more than training with his Sensei (Ochiai). One day after a tournament, the mysterious Armstrong (Norton) approaches them and offers Ryan the opportunity to fight Tankson (Superfoot). The reason for this is that Sensei has three ancient statues and the wealthy Armstrong wants them for his collection. When Tankson defeats Ryan, Sensei offers a “double or nothing” rematch, which the overconfident Armstrong can’t refuse. When Sensei is hospitalized after a heart attack, a new trainer is brought in – a woman named Lauren (Rothrock). At first, the immature and perhaps sexist Ryan doesn’t want to be trained by her. But after experiencing her brilliant skill, not only does he fall in line, he also falls in love. The stage is set for the ultimate showdown…and there’s even a raid on Armstrong’s compound that features Ryan’s buddies Michael (Jeffreys), Jerry (Chapa), and Randy (“All-pro football star Ronnie Lott”). It’s time for Ryan and the gang to FIGHT TO WIN!

From George Chung (not to be confused with one of the producers here, the prolific George Cheung), the mastermind behind Hawkeye (1988) and Kindergarten “Ninja” (1994), and director/fan favorite Leo Fong, comes Fight to Win, another wacky, screwball blend of Martial Arts, comedy, and an indefinable element that can only be found in the magical productions of the 80’s. If you’ve seen either of the aforementioned Chung outings, here you get more of the same (thankfully) – a low budget, but plenty of energy and upbeat attitude, silly dialogue and situations, and highly-skilled Martial Arts. The dialogue isn’t recorded very well so undoubtedly some of Chuck Jeffreys’s bon mots are missing in the mix, but the sense of fun is infectious, and the whole movie is imbued with a – dare we say – feeling of childlike wonder and whimsy.

It’s really impossible to dislike Fight to Win, and we feel sorry for anyone that does, as they probably have no heart or soul. The cast is killer: We have the aforementioned auteur George Chung, who gives his all here, Chuck Jeffreys, the Eddie Murphy of low-budget DTV Martial Arts movies, doing his usual stellar job, Troy Donahue in a blink-or-you’ll-miss-him cameo, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace as Armstrong’s tough-guy fighter, David Heavener lookalike Juan Chapa, Martial Arts legends Hidy Ochiai and Master Hee Il Cho, All-pro football star Ronnie Lott, and of course the teaming of Comeuppance hall of fame all-stars Cynthia Rothrock and Richard Norton, who do interact and have some fight scenes together. With Leo Fong as director, this cocktail can’t possibly fail, and it doesn’t. Rothrock is as charming as ever and Norton plays the baddie with aplomb. It’s a joy to watch everyone’s Martial Arts skill on display.

While there’s plenty of extensive training which the presence of Rothrock as the trainer helps to make more enjoyable, and some casually-racist Middle-Aged Punks (classic MAP’s), truly the showstopper is when the movie essentially stops so George Chung can have a one-man music video where he combines Martial Arts with razzle-dazzle dance moves. With this heady combination of Bruce Lee, Tae-Bo, Footloose, Flashdance, and Zumba, Chung – and thus the movie as a whole – truly shines. This dance element (which was foreshadowed earlier on during one of the tournament scenes) sets the movie apart and makes it stand out even more – and it was already a fairly odd duck to begin with. And we mean that in the best possible way, of course. Fight to Win is a delight from start to finish. Criminally, it never received a U.S. VHS release (and as of this writing has yet to receive a U.S. DVD or Blu-Ray release). The fact that just about everyone in America did NOT see this back in the day is painful to contemplate. Interestingly, it was released on video in Greece under the title “China O’Brian [sic] 3”, even though it came out three years before the other two sequels! At least they got to see it, however.

Well, there you have it. George Chung turns in another winner. They truly don’t make movies like this anymore, and in the self-serious modern era, Fight to Win just stands out that much more.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Hell's Heroes (1987)

Hell's Heroes (1987)- * *

Directed by: Stelvio Massi

Starring: Fred Williamson, Miles O'Keefe, Scott Green, Gabriele Gori, and Chuck Connors

Set in the jungles of ‘Nam during the war, Hell’s Heroes tells the tale of Sgt. Darkin (O’Keeffe), a badass soldier whose badassery is constantly hampered by bureaucratic red tape. Naturally, this causes Darkin to become disillusioned with the war. When Senator Morris (Connors) comes to visit the troops on some sort of a press junket, Darkin expresses his dissatisfaction with life and the TV cameras and radio microphones eagerly pick it up. When Senator Morris and the soldiers he’s with are ambushed by some sneaky Viet Cong bad guys, Darkin is made the scapegoat even though he had nothing to do with it and was merely expressing his opinion. During his period of punishment, he meets up with other rebellious soldiers such as Feather (Fred), Trash (Green), and Bronx (Gori). Now a team with nothing to lose, will the men fight their way out of Vietnam when there are traps and gunfire everywhere? You just may find out…

Hell’s Heroes is yet another mediocre jungle slog that even Miles O’Keeffe, Fred Williamson, and Chuck Connors could not enliven. That should tell you how dreary it can be. Granted, fan favorites Fred and Connors don’t get a lot of time to shine here. That’s one of the problems. The major issues are, as we’ve seen time and time again, a lack of lighting, and the fact that there’s no one central villain. You’d think those would be no-brainer inclusions to an exploding-hutter like this, but no. The lights are off for about 60 percent of this movie’s running time and truly no one is home.

Just some mindless machine gun shooting, helicopters flying around (none explode), and huts exploding – not to mention O’Keeffe doing his Clint Eastwood impression again – is not really enough to get this plodding mush off the ground. Having more Chuck Connors would have been an improvement, but it must be said that his exit is grand, as is befitting the great man. It is highly appropriate that O’Keeffe’s character is named Darkin – we’re certainly in the dark for the majority of the film. It’s almost like they were thumbing their noses at us, the loyal audience. If that’s the case, that’s not cool, man. When a movie is so dark that the only light sources are muzzle flashes or explosions, that’s not good. It all adds up to an Italian-made jungle slog that we really wanted to like, but the lack of lighting and  too-brief appearances of the fan favorites made that difficult…actually, impossible.

This same year, 1987, director Stelvio Massi again teamed up with Fred Williamson for the more entertaining Black Cobra. Perhaps he wanted to make amends for Hell’s Heroes and use Fred in a more workable context. The naming of the incidental characters Bronx and Trash will immediately remind genre fans of Mark Gregory and 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) and Escape from the Bronx (1983), where he, of course, played Trash. Is this something we were supposed to pick up on? Because if so, then the character name of Darkin does indeed seem more like a nod to the fact that only the most minimal lights were used and nothing is seeable during the night scenes – and they knew it. Stelvio Massi is also known for his spate of Poliziotteschi movies in the 70’s, so he knows how to make fast-paced action. Something must have gone awry in the jungle this time…a bungle, to paraphrase Jethro Tull.

In the end, Hell’s Heroes is dull and not indicative of the talents of those involved. There’s a reason it was included with the 4-movie set “Inglorious Bastards 2 Hell Heroes 4 Inglorious Film Collection”, the title of which we’ve chastised before for being almost incomprehensible, and not released as a standalone disc. It’s not worth that treatment, and only die-hard fans of this type of movie are encouraged to seek it out.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty