Blood, guts, colourful fighters brandishing more weapons than a metallurgist’s hobby room and Bolo Yeung cast against type as the good guy – “Shootfighter” has it all and more in this tournament film with a difference.
Bolo Yeung is legendary shootfighter Shingo looking to escape his past only for it to return and force him to settle an old score. Martin Kove is Mr Lee, a vicious fighter and owner of the Shootfighting contest in Mexico in which participants fight to the death. Kove is reunited with “Karate Kid” co-star William Zabka as Ruben, Shingo’s student who is lured by Mr Lee to compete as a shootfighter not realising Lee is using him to get to Shingo.
Forms and weapons champion Michael Bernardo is cast alongside Zabka as Ruben’s friend Nick, who follows him to Mexico to participate in shootfighting only to learn of its more nefarious set up.
Friends Nick and Ruben enter a shootfighting competition in Mexico run by Mr Lee hoping the generous payout will save Ruben’s martial arts school from financial ruin. Unbeknownst to the two friends, Lee is using them to lure Ruben’s teacher, Shingo, out of retirement and get revenge for his banishment from shootfighting in Hong Kong. Ruben stays to fight in the bloody and deadly final but Nick leaves to seek Shingo’s help, who now has to face his past if he is to save Ruben.
This is the first American film since “Bloodsport” to showcase more of Bolo Yeung’s Kung-Fu talents. Although he doesn’t feature highly Bolo’s sheer presence and ability provide some memorable fight moments, mainly in the opening match and the inevitable Lee vs Shingo climactic battle. For a powerhouse and herculean figure, Bolo is incredibly fast, flexible and light on his feet. The inclusion of some Tai Chi moves in his fights, as well a scene in which Shingo is practicing amongst a flock of gaggling geese, reveal a seldom seen grace and fluidity. In contrast, Martin Kove features even less and seems underused. It would have been exciting to see Kove use more of his Okinawa-Te Karate skills although the absence of these might have been due to his accident. Still, Kove’s presence is formidable and he does not disappoint with some very powerful looking punches and kicks in both the opening and final fights.
William Zabka’s return to martial arts’ movies after nine years shows he has matured as an actor and a martial artist having maintained the Tang Soo Do training he’d undergone with Pat Johnson for “The Karate Kid”. Zabka is fast and flexible, bringing all the steely determination and aggression to his fights that made him noticeable as Johnny Lawrence. Michael Bernardo brings on equal amounts of speed and versatility getting plenty of opportunities to show off the incredible Bo skills that made him a forms and weapons champion.
Much of the action takes place in the illicit shootfighting matches run by Kove’s dastardly villain Lee. The fighters Lee recruits, with colourful names such as Hawk and Boa, their chosen weapons in hand, slice, dice, break necks and rip out beating organs of their opponents for the promise of a big pay day.
The inclusion of a diverse range of martial arts’ styles such as Tang Soo Do, Taekwondo and Kung-Fu as well as one of the biggest selections of weapons (three sectional-staff, spear, nunchaku, etc) will surely have martial arts enthusiasts salivating. Choreographer Pat Johnson incorporated some shootfighting and those familiar with it will recognise classic takedowns and hip throws that make up this vintage combat sport.
“Shootfighter” is certainly not short of gritty and showy martial arts action and those who like their cage fights bloody will not be disappointed! However, what makes the film memorable is Bolo Yeung cast as a good guy. In contrast to his usual villainous turns, Bolo takes on a role that would have been ideal for an older Bruce Lee had he lived, and conveys his character Shingo’s stoic wisdom and good humour with ease.
- Shootfighting is a combat sport synonymous with MMA. It combines Karate, Muay Thai, Jiu-jitsu and British Catch Wrestling.
- Martin Kove’s cast had to be worked into the film’s storyline after his arm was cut up by a propeller.