You first knew the greatness they were capable of when you met Yuri Boyka in “Undisputed 2”. With “Ninja” and “Undisputed 3”, all of your friends had heard you proclaim how blown away you had been by what they were putting out, and by “Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear”, you were ready to start telling random people on the street that they absolutely had to check out Scott Adkins and Isaac Florentine! Every time they team up to make another movie, anyone into martial arts and action films is instantly sitting on pins and needles and it all began back in 2003 with a low-budget military action flick called “Special Forces”.
U.S. Navy veteran Marshall Teague leads off the cast in the role of Major Don Harding, and is about as good an embodiment of a seasoned U.S. military vet as you can get. The same goes for his second-in-command Jess, played by Tim Abell, an ex-Army Ranger who holds the distinction of fighting Mark Dacascos on-screen not once but twice (in “Instinct to Kill” and “The Base”, respectively). The role of the villains fall to Eli Danker and Vladislavas Jacukevicius in the roles of Bosnian military commander Hasib and his right hand man Zaman, who kidnap American journalist Wendy Teller, played by Daniella Deutscher. Little do they suspect, however, that on top of the American special ops team sent in to rescue her, they’ll also have to contend with the vengeful fury of British SAS operative Talbot, played by the sensational Scott Adkins!
American photo-journalist and humanitarian activist Wendy Teller is captured in the war-torn former Soviet nation of Moldavia by the maniacal Bosnian war criminal Hasib. The U.S. Government subsequently receives a video from Hasib, who demands the release of war criminals for Teller’s release. To rescue the hostage from Hasib’s clutches, the Pentagon summons a six-man Special Forces team led by Major Don Harding, who has a personal grudge against Hasib after their past encounter in the Bosnian War. He’s not the only one with a bone to pick with Hasib, however, which he soon discovers after his unit crosses paths with SAS operative Talbot. Talbot who had previously been sent in by the British government is now on a revenge mission after the public execution of his partner at the hands of Hasib’s right-hand man. With the clock ticking on the impending execution of the hostage, Talbot and the American team unite to bring Hasib’s forces down.
“Special Forces” is best approached as a military action film with an element of martial arts, along the lines of “The Expendables” or “G.I. Joe”. The opening scenes of Hasib’s covert operations and merciless civilian slaughter by firing squad shows the viewer that this is a war movie, first and foremost. The emphasis in the first half is on gunplay and chase sequences, handled and staged with great skill by Florentine. Though primarily known as a martial arts director, his versatility at staging and filming a wide range of different kinds of action sequences is praiseworthy, especially considering the modest budget. Florentine has always shown himself capable to crafting absolutely stunning action films with often limited resources, but seldom, making such extensive use of gunplay or pyrotechnics. It’s certainly safe to say that “Special Forces” is the furthest he’s ever dived into the explosion-filled territory of Michael Bay (at least until the climax of “Ninja II”).
However, even in a more gunplay-oriented film, Florentine still sets the bar for martial arts action coming out of Hollywood and this is, of course, where Scott Adkins is clearly the team captain among the cast. Like Kato in “The Green Hornet”, Talbot is a classic case of a supposedly ‘supporting’ character stealing the film and getting away with it scot-free (coincidental name pun?). If this were a part of the “G.I. Joe” canon, he would have been Snake Eyes. Most of the martial arts action in the film, choreographed by Akihiro Noguchi, involves him taking out several opponents at once relatively quickly, including one quick encounter where he dispatches a few enemies with a Donnie Yen-esque sequence of flying kicks. The featured attraction comes when Talbot finds himself pitted against the one opponent of a comparable skill level in the form of Hasib’s right hand-man, Zaman, who is essentially the same kind of character Scott himself would go on to portray in “The Expendables 2”. Coming at the climax of the film, their duel is intercut with Harding’s confrontation with Hasib. Marshall Teague, who fans of “Road House” will remember for his vicious lakeside brawl with the late Patrick Swayze, is probably the biggest draw to the film for martial arts fans apart from Scott Adkins. It’s a solid battle, to be sure, but Talbot’s war with Zaman easily outshines it. Aside from the films he’s appeared in involving ninjas or Yuri Boyka, this is arguably the best martial arts fight Scott has ever done. His agility is jaw-dropping, and fans of his trademark Guyver Kick won’t go home disappointed, either. Nor, for that matter, will fans of one-liners – the best line of the film, by far, is snagged by none other than the Most Complete Fighter in the World!
In their freshman team-up, Scott Adkins and Isaac Florentine were clearly at the top of their game and a cut above the rest. While definitely more a military action film with a side order of martial arts than the epic battle of warriors seen in the “Undisputed” and “Ninja” films, action fans as a whole as well as fans of both Scott Adkins and Isaac Florentine should definitely give “Special Forces” a look. Seeing the heights that they’ve risen to now will certainly look that much more incredible knowing how good they were starting out.
- “Special Forces” was originally set to be filmed in India, but later moved to Lithuania.
- Scott Adkins was coming straight from fighting against Jackie Chan in “The Medallion” when he joined “Special Forces”.
- Akihiro Noguchi, who served as the film’s fight choreographer, had previously worked alongside Isaac Florentine on the show “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”, and would later serve as fight choreographer for Florentine’s film “Ninja”.