J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Death Fighter: Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Joe Lewis, and Cynthia Rothrock in Thailand

It is a prosaic title, but it does not misrepresent the film. So, it’s about death and fighting? Yes, indeed. A rogue FBI agent is out to avenge his mentor and take down a human trafficking warlord, with the help of a grizzled mercenary. As martial arts plots go, it is certainly serviceable, but the real attraction is watching a number of legendary veterans mix it up with young talent in Toby Russell’s Death Fighter (trailer here) releases today on DVD.

Michael Turner’s partner Conrad has been tracking the evil Draco so long, he willingly joins him in an off-the-books operation in Thailand. Conrad’s intel was valid, but “Valerie,” Draco’s chief enforcer-bodyguard was a little too lethal. All the corrupt cops want Turner out of the country, but the only half-way honest one puts him in touch with Bobby Pau, a half-American-half-Thai mercenary who also holds a grudge against Draco (was there ever a character named “Draco” who wasn’t a villain?).

To find Draco, they will have to head into the jungle, which holds a lot of dangers for a city slicker like Turner. However, that is also where they will find Yui, the director of a rural medical clinical, who also happens to have mad martial arts skills. Together with Pau’s quiet right-hand man Otto, they are a force of four, which should be more than sufficient to deal with Draco, Valerie, Peter (the senior henchperson in Draco’s doghouse), and a hundred or so Burmese mercs.

Death Fighter is like old school Cannon films all the way, but it has an apostolic connection to Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris in the late, great Joe Lewis (star of Kill ‘Em All and The Jaguar Lives!), whom the former praised and the latter went 3-and-1 against in official tournament matches. Sadly, as the hard-charging Conrad, Lewis makes a quick exit, but his presence is definitely felt.

But wait there’s more, including Don “The Dragon” Wilson as Pau, the butt-kicking lead, (rather than the cameos or Miyagi-like roles he turned up in recently). He can still throw down, as can Cynthia Rothrock (playing Valerie), whom he frequently faces off against. Stuntman and emerging action star Matt Mullins can’t match the charisma of his seniors yet, but his chops are impressive. The same is true of Thai TV star Chiranan Manochaem, who definitely impresses as Yui. However, it is almost shocking Death Fighter is the only imdb credit for Prasit Suanphaka, because he shows off some spectacular moves as trusty Otto.

Russell (son of provocative director Ken Russell) frames the action well, allowing fans to really appreciate the fight choreography and stunt work. His approach is pretty straightforward—fight, regroup, fight some more, regroup again, and then have it out for good—but that works for us. For martial arts fans, it is straight-over-the-plate good stuff. Highly recommended for patrons of action cinema, Death Fighter is now available on DVD.

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