Road House (1989)

This modern day western might seem an unusual choice to feature amongst the review pages of Kung-fu Kingdom given that it is not a martial arts film per se. Yet at the heart of this kick-ass guilty pleasure from the bygone era of the 80’s are scenes that feature some highly effective martial arts action.

Trailer

CAST

Patrick Swayze is Dalton a bouncer who specialises in diffusing hostile situations, hired by ‘Double Deuce’ bar owner Frank Tilghman played by Kevin Tighe. Sam Elliott is Wade Garrett a seasoned bouncer who is also Dalton’s mentor and friend. Kelly Lynch provides the love interest as Elizabeth “Doc” Clay.

Ben Gazzara plays crooked business magnate Brad Wesley, who rules Jasper, Missouri with an iron fist. Marshall Teague is cast as Jimmy Reno, Wesley’s murderous enforcer.

PLOT

Professional ‘cooler’ Dalton is hired by Frank Tilghman to take over security at his club/bar, the Double Deuce, in Jasper, Missouri. Tilghman plans to invest substantial money into the club to enhance its image as a dive bar, and needs Dalton to deal with the troublemakers to help maintain stability. However Dalton’s efforts catch the attention of corrupt businessman Brad Wesley who fears Dalton’s actions could hamper his interests which he viciously protects. Soon a power struggle ensues leading to a deadly confrontation.

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ACTION

Although the martial arts fighting cannot compare on the same level to the likes of Chuck Norris or Jackie Chan, in its own right “Road House” was a fair attempt to bring the excitement of cinematic Kung-Fu fighting to Hollywood 80’s action film without martial arts stars. “Die Hard” stunt co-ordinator Charles Picerni, and uncredited fight trainer/co-ordinator Benny “The Jet” Urquidez worked with and trained the actors resulting in some pretty decent down and dirty fighting with much of the action mainly consisting of messy and destructive bar fights.

The fighting was not intended to look slick, elegant or even athletic as in most contemporary martial arts films. It’s clear to see that sometimes the kicks are not perfectly straight, the punches do not swing out quite as far as you might expect with one or two actors at times losing their balance hence the lack of grace. However, for what it lacks in finesse-fu, it compensates with grittiness and realism and some close quarter fighting that really does pack a wallop.

For example where Dalton is battling henchman O’Connor, after a combination of hits and blocks Swayze throws a left hook to actor Michael Rider who looked so convincingly stunned by the blow that one expected to see a carousel of stars appear above him!

There are plenty of well executed stylish looking martial arts moves such as Dalton’s Hapkido move sending an armed barfly head first into a table and Jimmy Reno battling the Double Deuce bouncers using a pool cue as a Bo staff. Even Sam Elliott gets to show off some impressive skills taking out a seven foot tall bad guy with a bone crunching kick to the knee and hurting bomb punches that look a little too real even!

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All the performers do their best, move fast and hit hard making them fun and exciting to watch.  Yet of all the fight scenes the one that stands out is the anticipated matchup between Dalton and Jimmy Reno. Reportedly Marshall Teague and Patrick Swayze pulled no punches so the pained look on the actors’ faces ramped up the realism factor. The choreography is a mix of various martial art styles evident in the variety of locks, throws, kicks and punches as used in Kickboxing, Hapkido and Jujitsu, with a particularly impressive flying kick from Swayze himself. The gruelling work put in by the actors is visible in their strained expressions adding that no-holds-barred street fight feel to a fight scene packed with some excellent technical manoeuvres.

SUMMARY

Essentially “Road House” is a man’s film in which everyone talks tough and resolves their differences one way. Even Dalton’s stoic Zen bouncer succumbs to the saddle-up lock and load approach to problem solving.

Yet its simplicity is the film’s charm and “Out for Justice” writer David Lee Henry packs the script with plenty of amusing testosterone laden dialogue that will have you laughing and cringing at the same time, and director Rowdy Herrington keeps it all ticking along at just the right pace.

The action is the film’s strong point even though it does not compare to “martial arts films” per se; it’s yet a slugfest of hard hitting, entertainment with plenty of skill on display.

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TRIVIA

  • The character of Dalton loosely resembles real life veteran bouncer Steve Sexton, an 8th Degree Hapkido practitioner.
  • As a youngster Patrick Swayze studied various martial arts including Aikido and Taekwondo to help manage his temper problem.
  • To train the actors, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez would assign animal traits to help shape fighting styles suitable to both actor and character. Patrick Swayze was likened to a cat, Marshall Teague a mongoose, and Sam Elliott a bear.
  • Actor Sam Elliott had no martial arts training. Given his age and limited flexibility Urquidez taught the actor some basic power moves such as driving punches, elbows and lower kicks.
  • Urquidez would play Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” every day to help Swayze master the rhythmic techniques of kickboxing.
  • By the time training was over Patrick Swayze was able to repeatedly knock cigarettes out of his teacher’s mouth.
  • Various martial arts styles were used in the film including Kickboxing, Karate, Tai Chi, and Hapkido.
  • The fight between Dalton and Jimmy Reno took five nights to complete. Both actors fought full contact and suffered an assortment of injuries including broken ribs for Swayze and a cracked eye socket for Teague.
  • In the scene where Jimmy breaks the log across Dalton’s back Teague believed it was a prop log and hit Swayze hard. Winded and in pain Swayze continued with the fight.
  • Urquidez went on to train actors Cuba Gooding Jr and James Marshall for the boxing movie “Gladiator” (1992) also directed by Rowdy Herrington.
  • Patrick Swayze was one of Hollywood’s biggest film and television stars with a lot of notable work. He is known for playing a variety of roles that include romantic leads and tough action roles, as both hero and villain. He passed away on 14th September 2009 after a long battle with cancer. “Road House” co-star Marshall Teague stated in an interview; “I made one of the best friends a man could ask for, and I miss him everyday.”
  • Reports state that UFC champion Ronda Rousey has been approached to star in a remake of “Road House” in the role played by Patrick Swayze. Rousey is said to have the blessing of his widow Lisa Neimi, with MGM aiming to begin production in 2016.

Film Rating: 7/10

Ever since he first saw the great Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon on the big screen whilst living in Iran, Ramon has been fascinated with martial arts, and at age 6 attended classes in Kan Zen Ryu Karate under Sensei Reza Pirasteh. When he moved to the UK, martial arts came calling in his early teens in the shape of the mysterious art of Ki Aikido which he studied for five years. Since then he has practiced Feng Shou Kung Fu, Lee Style Tai Chi, Taekwondo, Kickboxing before returning to Aikido, studying under Sensei Michael Narey. As well as Bruce Lee, Ramon is a big fan of martial arts actors Jackie Chan, Cynthia Rothrock, Jeff Wincott, Richard Norton and Tadashi Yamashita to name a few. Ramon is an aspiring writer and when he is not honing his craft he likes to go out running, hiking and is still trying to count to ten in Japanese.

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