Steven Seagal’s impact on martial arts action is hard to ignore. At a time when the likes of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme, with their god-like physiques and seemingly superhuman abilities dominated action cinema, Seagal came along and reset the bar. Oozing with charisma that combined steely eyed Clint Eastwood with the warrior-like appearance of Toshiro Mifune, the tall, lean 6’3” Seagal conveyed a no-nonsense hard as nails hero but with the combat skills to match. His debut film “Nico” (aka “Above the Law”) introduced his own brand of on-screen fights with bone-crunching displays of technical Aikido, Karate, and close quarter combat seen in films like “Taken”.
Over the past year Kung-Fu Kingdom has cast an eye over his earlier prominent films that catapulted him to success, as well as more recent releases, and so it’s only fitting that we take a look at some of the best moments that defined his cinematic career.
10. Out for a Kill – Barber Shop Fight
Framed for drug running, a university professor seeks to clear his name and avenge the murder of his wife. This might seem like an unusual addition to the list but it marks a rather large departure from Seagal’s more recognisable gritty fighting style. Battling a fighter employing monkey style Kung-Fu this entertaining scene features some interesting, elaborate Hong Kong-style wire work that has our baddie leaping around like one of the X-Men and the big man countering with some swift and brutal looking Wing Chun moves.
9. Fire Down Below – Hardware Store Fight
Posing as a humble church helper who carries out odd jobs for the Appalachian locals, EPA agent Jack Taggart is looking to uncover illegal dumping of toxic waste. His presence causes a stir amongst the local thugs working for conglomerate head and no friend of the environment Orin Hanner (Kris Kristofferson) and so whilst he is shopping for some essential supplies the heavies attempt to deliver a “Yankee Go Home” message with some painful consequences. Cool as a cucumber and putting a staff to good use Seagal shows some excellent Aiki-Jo skills while delivering some witty quips at the same time.
8. Under Siege 2 – “Nobody Beats Me In The Kitchen”
This might have been far less successful than the more superior box office smash but it’s not without some kick-ass moments. Everett McGill as psycho-mercenary for hire Penn, a man so hard he uses pepper spray to clear his senses, is a formidable villain to Seagal’s NAVY seal cook with a killer recipe. The two seem evenly matched and this scene features some formidable hand to hand combat with McGill holding his own against Seagal’s skill although it is more fondly remembered for delivering that perfect one liner.
7. On Deadly Ground – Bar Fight Scene
Seagal’s directorial debut fell into the ocean quicker than the Aegis 1 oil platform but at least this film had something worthwhile about it; the eco-message with some explosive action made this an above average action adventure. Although it needed more of Seagal’s no nonsense fisticuffs and showy Aikido moves, one or two moments do provide just that and none more so than this quintessential barroom brawl. Bone breaking, rollicking good fun it is notable for Seagal as firefighter Forrest Taft taking on a barfly bully Mike Starr in his version of the hand slap game with comic results.
6. Marked for Death – Shopping Mall Scene
This is the third film from Seagal back in his heyday on the meteoric rise to stardom as former DEA agent John Hatcher taking on Jamaican drug gangs. After chasing down a few Jamaican hitmen into a shopping centre, Hatcher shows just why he should be feared more than their voodoo boss with some vicious bone breaking and technically rich Aikido techniques.
5. The Glimmer Man – Restaurant Scene
Let’s face it there isn’t a single bar or restaurant in the big man’s films that has survived his onslaught, and the Italian bistro Linto’s is no exception. This moment made the list mostly for entertainment purposes as nothing is more joyous than watching Seagal teach a painful lesson to some arrogant body guards.
4. Under Siege – Final Fight
No film throughout Seagal’s career has come close to matching this “Die Hard” on a boat adventure shoot ‘em up. It excels with a seamless blend of humour, hi-octane action, and in Tommy Lee Jones (as deranged CIA assassin Strannix) one of action cinema’s most vivid and interesting villains. The finale, a knife fight featuring the insatiable Strannix versus warrior cook Casey Ryback (Seagal) is thrilling to watch.
3. Hard to Kill – Liquor Store Fight
Before falling into his seven year snooze, hard as nails cop Mason Storm shows just how much of a stand-up guy he is by taking on the liquor store robbers after they just shot its owner. Some familiar Aikido wrist and entering techniques come thick and fast, before going down onto his knees to make it a fairer fight for the remaining knife wielding baddie.
2. Nico – Opening Titles / Dojo
The film that launched a colourful action movie career, “Nico” (aka “Above The Law”) not only introduced a charismatic and impressively skilled action star in Seagal but also to the graceful yet hard hitting Japanese art of Aikido. What better way to introduce both than in the confines of a Dojo; no guns, no smashed-up a furniture just Sensei Seagal demonstrating the beauty of Aikido to a class of eager Aikido-kas.
1. Out For Justice “Anybody Seen Ritchie?”
Ultra-violent, bloody and bone smashingly fun to watch this scene brings the best of Seagal’s hard man persona together as he swans around interrogating in the hopes that one of them will give up the whereabouts of mafia hitman Ritchie. He then puts his money where his mouth is taking on a bevy of barroom baddies, breaking bones and knocking out teeth. The best moment however has to be the Escrima battle with the legend that is Dan Inosanto.