When you think of the art of fighting and the art of dance, they might seem like mutually exclusive concepts, but not in the Afro-Brazilian martial art of Capoeira. Created by slaves in the jungles of Brazil, Capoeira finds its basis in the movements of tribal dances, in order to disguise its combative techniques. What looks to the naked eye like a cartwheel can actually be a takedown with both legs, and what seems to be a simple balletic spin is actually a spinning kick headed straight for the temple of an adversary!
Naturally, the beauty and fluidity of Capoeira makes it tremendously appealing for use in action films across the planet, and practitioners of this undeniably captivating art have been responsible for some of the most astonishing, quick, effortless and dynamically dexterous martial arts action sequences ever to grace the silver screen.
Saying all this, can only mean one thing – it’s time for another countdown. Dare to step into the ‘ginga’ circle and experience a bit of unpredictability with KFK’s (descending order) rundown of the Top 5 Capoeira Movie Fights!
- The Quest (1996) — Brazil vs France
- Only the Strong (1993) — Louis vs Silverio
- Tom Yum Goong 2 (2013) — Kham vs Number 2
- Undisputed 3: Redemption (2010) — Brazil vs Greece
For his directorial debut, Jean-Claude Van Damme basically created a more grandiose rendition of “Bloodsport”, and it definitely has a sense of an epic, adventurous scale that we hadn’t quite seen him partake in before. It also has a virtually non-stop slew of martial arts masters representing a vast range of different disciplines and cultural backgrounds pitting their might against one another in a tournament known as the “Ghang-gheng” (a lost city in Tibet).
As you can see, the Brazilian Capoeira exponent, played by César Carneiro, can barely contain the urge to leap onto that platform and show off his gravity-defying skills, and makes fairly short work of his opponent from France, played by Takis Triggelis.
Unfortunately, as you can see below, his second match up with a Chinese opponent, played by Peter Wong, doesn’t go quite as well for him, but he clearly made his mark on the Ghang-gheng nonetheless. A little on the quick side, to be sure, but nevertheless an undeniably memorable and thoroughly eye-opening utilization of Capoeira on the big screen!
1993’s “Only the Strong” pretty much introduced Capoeira to the English-speaking world, and remains the only Capoeira-centric martial arts film Hollywood has ever really produced. When discharged U.S. soldier Louis Stevens, played by Mark Dacascos, returns to his old high school in Miami, Florida, he’s tasked with whipping the school’s most unruly students into shape by training them in his unique discipline of martial arts.
However, local crime boss Silverio, played by Paco Christian Prieto, doesn’t appreciate the positive influence Louis brings to the student body. Silverio would rather keep them hooked on drugs or employ them in his criminal empire, which leads to the inevitably epic face-off between the two Capoeiristas.
“Only the Strong” is full of all kinds of touchy-feely, even endearing sentimentality that works, including a way livelier commencement ceremony than most of us ever got during our high school graduations. However, it’s undeniably dynamic and mesmerizing in its fight sequences, which, considering that Mark Dacascos was a newcomer at the time to this particular discipline, is no small feat.
Fortunately, Mark trained with renown Capoeira mestre Amen Santo for the film, and captivates the audience with his newfound skills in the art over two and a half decades before absolutely killing it in “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”. Paco Christian Prieto is also a decent enough foil for our hero, and a much burlier one than you might expect for a Capoeira movie. It’s been 26 years since “Only the Strong” debuted in 1993, but it still hasn’t lost its charm.
Talk about two for the price of one. 2013’s “Tom Yum Goong 2” (known as “The Protector 2” in English-speaking territories) marked Tony Jaa’s return to movies after his time as a Buddhist monk. So naturally, expectations were high, but fortunately, Tony’s never gone halfway into anything, and he dove head first into “Tom Yum Goong 2”, which also marked his first team-up with Jeeja Yanin of “Chocolate” fame.
The big legacy of the film, however, was that it marked the breakout of Marrese Crump. Like Tony, Marrese had been apprenticed directly by Thai action master Panna Rittikrai, and holds the distinction of being the first non-Asian to hold such an honor. And Marrese really knew how to steal the show as the most scenery-chewing bad guy Tony had ever faced up to that point.
He also knew how to properly blow viewers away with his stunning abilities in Capoeira, while Tony himself brought in a touch of the little- known fighting style “Jailhouse Rock” for contrast. Marrese, of course, was far too potent an adversary to not be an omnipresent threat through “Tom Yum Goong 2”, but it was really in his first encounter with Tony that audiences knew that the villain was going to walk away with the show here. Be sure to also check out KFK’s interviews with Marrese on his training with Panna Rittikrai, along with his role in getting Chadwick Boseman into fighting shape for the superhero film, “Black Panther”!
Aside from seeing the return of The Most Complete Fighter in the World after his breakout appearance in “Undisputed 2: Last Man Stand Standing”, one of the featured attractions of “Undisputed 3” was definitely seeing Capoeira wunderkind Lateef Crowder join the franchise.
When Boyka manages to heal his bad knee and get back on his feet, both literally and figuratively, he gets a shot at freedom in a tournament of international prison fighters. However, while Boyka is certainly back on his A-game, the competition he faces in the tournament is no joke either, which soon becomes evident when Rodrigo Silva, played by Crowder, pummels his opponent from Greece, played by Radoslav Parvanov.
Lateef is simply astonishing to see in action, cartwheeling in scissor leg takedowns and tumbling into circular and angular anti-grav attacks with zero effort. Of course, Boyka learns from Silva’s initial match in the ring and strategizes accordingly, as you can see below. Lateef’s introductory ring battle in “Undisputed 3” elevates the audience’s interest in cheering for Boyka to rise to this unique challenge. And isn’t it just a damn fine display of Capoeira in all its flashy, twisting and twirling glory! And, before you ask, yes, Lateef will most definitely be making another appearance in the number one spot on this list!
…and in at #1 is…
Tom Yum Goong (2005) — The Temple Fight
Here’s an action sequence that made the world collectively stand up and ask, “Where did this guy come from?” Following his rise to worldwide stardom with “Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior”, Tony Jaa was determined to pull out all the stops for his 2005 follow-up “Tom Yum Goong”. And that meant populating the entire film with opponents from a wide range of martial arts styles to give our hero Kham, played by Jaa, a consistent slew of challenges to overcome.
In his quest to retrieve his beloved stolen elephant, Kham faces off with everyone from Vovinam exponent Johnny Tri Nguyen, Wushu master Jon Foo, to pro-wrestling great Nathan Jones. However, the biggest show-stopper of all came in the form of Lateef Crowder as a Capoeirista who literally dances circles around our hero, whilst both combatants are ankle deep in water.
For Kham, his focus is all about cracking the code on how to counter the attacks from such an alien style of fighting. The audience, however, is simply speechless as Lateef twirls and somersaults into one dazzling spinning kick or sweeping technique after another. It’s still not a situation where we’re rooting for the bad guy, but Tony clearly made it a point that every enemy he would face in “Tom Yum Goong” would be more than capable of stealing the spotlight when the time came to do so.
In Lateef’s case, his appearance in “Tom Yum Goong” is less a case of stealing the spotlight and more a case of outright abducting it for the few minutes he spends on-screen. All things considered and all moves combined, this makes it the all-time greatest Capoeira-driven fight sequence ever seen on the big screen!