Gary Daniels can still kick with the best of them, and that’s a fact! He proved it in his recent appearances in “Tekken” and “The Expendables”, and proves it again in “Forced to Fight”, his first foray in to the world of MMA. Interestingly enough, it’s as much of a family drama as it is a martial arts flick, and the challenges Daniels’ character must overcome throughout the film are as emotional as they are physical, and his struggles to simply be a decent father to his impressionable son prove nearly as arduous as his efforts to overcome whatever insurmountable brute he finds himself matched up against!
Gary Daniels heads the film as Shane Slavin, a family man with a promising auto-repair business who thinks he’s left his life of underground fighting behind until his rebellious brother’s activities catch up with him and force Shane to re-enter the squared circle. The role of Shane is possibly the most dramatic of Daniels’ career, but he certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the powerful, flashy fist and foot work that he’s known for! Arkie Reece portrays Shane’s younger brother Scotty, whose predilection for getting into trouble lands him in hot water with the wrong people, and ultimately pulls Shane and his family down with him. Peter Weller assumes the role of the villainous fight-promoter Danny G, the type of evildoer who makes the audience wish they could reach through the screen and K.O. themselves! Weller’s role is a far cry from the straight arrow people knew him from the “Robocop” days, the type of villain with a preference for letting his henchmen do the heavy-lifting while he curses like a sailor at his enemies…
Scotty Slavin lives his life on the edge; already involved in drugs, his latest vice comes in the form of illegal, no-holds-barred fights, and just to up the stakes that much more, he not only reneges on his agreement to throw his latest fight, but makes off with thousands of dollars belonging to the fight club’s promoter, Danny G. Scotty’s assumption that he’s gotten away with is later rebutted by Danny, who sends some hired thugs to rough Scotty up. The ordeal leaves Scotty $60,000 in debt to Danny and far too beaten-up to work-off his debt in the ring. Ever the bean-counter, Danny refuses to kiss that amount of money goodbye and blackmail’s Scotty’s older brother Shane, into entering the fight club to pay off Scotty’s debt. Shane had himself fought for Danny several years earlier, but left that life behind after starting a family and opening an auto-repair shop. Despite deeply resenting having to come to his brother’s rescue once again, Shane agrees to fight, after training to get back into fighting shape as well as adapting to the grappling element of the fights.
Initially, Shane experiences great success in the fight club, with each victory sending him that much closer to paying off Scotty’s debt, with Danny even granting Shane a share of the earnings. However, Shane’s vow to only fight long enough to pay off Scotty’s debt when Danny, concerned that Shane’s success in the ring is beginning to affect his bottom line, demands that Shane lose his next few upcoming fights. This only prolongs Scotty’s indebtedness to Danny, and leaves Shane increasingly irritable now that the fights amount to little more than an opportunity for him to be beaten-up by lesser fighters. Shane eventually reaches a breaking point when he chastises his son for “being a cry-baby” and kicks Scotty out of the apartment. After learning from his wife that Scotty has acted as a father figure for their son in his absence, Shane makes amends with his son and sets off to bring his brother home. Scotty, meanwhile, decides he has indeed been an unnecessary burden on his burden, and now fully recovered from his injuries, meets with Danny to volunteer to pay off the remainder of his debt himself. Danny, however, hopes to make Shane’s return to fighting permanent, and shoots Scotty, threatening Shane’s wife and son with the same fate to keep him from going to the police. The enraged Shane, unable to avenge his brother, meets with Danny to learn the details of his next fight, which assures him will settle Scotty’s debt once and for all. However, to ensure Shane will honour their agreement, Danny kidnaps Shane’s wife and son, with both of them to be killed should he lose. Shane’s final fight sees him pitted against three consecutive opponents, but Shane rallies and overcomes each of them. Danny honours his agreement to release Shane’s wife and son and attempts to persuade him to continue fighting, but just then the police arrive, having been tipped off…then what…the rest you can watch and enjoy for yourselves! more.
The combat is reminiscent in some respects of “Blood and Bone”, (starring the prodigious Michael Jai White) and much of the first third of the film sees Daniels on the receiving end of some serious punishment as he trains to adapt himself to MMA. He also absorbs plenty of brutality when he is forced to start throwing fights, but the film doesn’t simply turn him into a glorified punching bag. The film makes great use of his superb kicking ability, especially his use of spinning kicks, and also works in plenty of grappling techniques to give the action a satisfying range of flavours.
The film is Gary Daniels’ show, through and through, and he doesn’t let the viewer down. With a physique more befitting an athlete in his early thirties, Daniels doesn’t seem to have lost an ounce of the speed and agility from the beginning of his career. It’s testimony to his stature as a martial artist that he still displays some of the most crisp, finessed kicking skills of anyone working in action film today. His moves and the choreography are more grounded and traditional than one would associate with Marko Zaror or Tony Jaa, but no less impactful. Indeed, one of Daniels’ calling cards throughout his career has been how finely-tuned his moves are, as if he is able to flawlessly mimic the illustrations one would find in an instructional training manual, and he also takes the opportunity to assure the viewer that he hasn’t lost an inch of his Van Damme-like flexibility!
“Forced to Fight” is more of a family drama than one might expect for the subject matter, but lovers of martial arts action can rest assured that there’s no shortage of it in the film. Gary Daniels gives a solid all-around performance, both acting and action-wise, and Peter Weller makes thoroughly engaging villain of the love-to-hate-him variety. For anyone who has seen the likes of “Bloodmoon” or the underrated “Fist of the North Star” and still isn’t convinced that Gary Daniels is in the upper echelon of cinematic superkickers, “Forced to Fight” is a refreshing reason to think again!
Prior to his work in action films, Gary Daniels had an enormously competitive career himself. After being disqualified three times from competitive Taekwondo in England for his aggressive style, Daniels became a professional kickboxer before leaping (literally) into making martial arts movies, working with the likes of Jackie Chan and many more!
Film Rating: 7/10