Above the Law (1988)

(also known as Nico). Assassination plots, CIA covert operations and tough-as-nails action all come together in Steven Seagal’s debut feature film. Nico not only introduces the viewing public to Seagal’s brand of charisma but also to the Japanese martial art of Aikido.



Seagal dominates the proceedings not only with his tall stature but also with his homeboy, streetwise persona which exudes through his hard man character -something which has since become his trademark. Although not often praised for his acting, Seagal seems relaxed throughout. He is equally as comfortable in the more tender scenes (where he is cooing over his new-born son or comforting his distressed mother), as he is dispensing with opponents in gracefully swift displays of Aikido, in between the occasional John Wayne-esque swagger.

Fleeting support is provided by Pam Grier as Nico’s long suffering partner, a then unknown Sharon Stone, and villain Henry Silva uttering every line with a snarl as the CIA’s chief interrogator Dr. Zagon. Whilst much of the film’s cast provide solid support, this is Seagal’s movie from the outset.


When former CIA operative turned Chicago detective Nico Toscani (Seagal) uncovers nefarious activities by his former agency acquaintances, it starts a race against time to stop them carrying out their plot. It is a race that jeopardises not only Nico’s life but that of his colleagues in the force and his family.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Nico is essentially more of an action thriller than a martial arts movie with the intricate character driven story very much at the centre of the film, with shootouts and car chases aplenty. Yet, there are simply not enough scenes in which Seagal demonstrates his tremendous Aikido skills.   However those few scenes in which we do see Seagal the Aikido-Ka in action really do standout. The fight scenes, which Segal choreographed, are far removed from any seen in films as a whole and martial arts films in particular. Seagal has chosen to show martial arts fighting at its most practical and realistic; messy, chaotic and generally over in a few seconds. However, raw as they are, they remain some of the most exciting committed to film.

Although this is not the first time we see Aikido on film it is the closest movie goers come to seeing it executed in as pure a form as possible. In the opening we see Seagal in his dojo demonstrating various techniques on willing Ukes (technique recipients) from Irimi Nage (entering throw) to simple wrist turns (Kotegaeshi) executed with speed and efficiency. This sets up for the later moments where those skills are used to disarm a gunman in a bar or battle trained CIA agents in a convenience store, albeit with the occasional, punch, elbow and kick inserted for good measure. We also get to see Aikido the sword art (without the sword), with Seagal wielding a machete as if it were a Katana against a group of armed street thugs.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Nico is satisfying first vehicle for the charismatic able-bodied martial arts star Seagal. The compelling-enough story and action allow him to stroll through the film with all the charm and intensity of a Clint Eastwood and Toshiro Mifune combined! Despite being left wanting more where Seagal’s martial arts are concerned, the fights shown are pretty gritty and realistic and this is where Aikido and Segal shine.   On their own merit, they are as exciting to watch as Jackie Chan’s acrobatics and form or Van Damme’s power laden agility.


  • As depicted in the film, Seagal moved to Japan and trained with some of Aikido’s top instructors.
  • The scene where Nico fends off armed attackers featured Seagal’s own students.

Film Rating: 7/10

Ramon Youseph

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.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Kung-fu Kingdom