Most critics who reviewed Isaac Florentine’s “Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing” will never know just how lucky they were to be reviewing the film during its initial release. The reviews they penned were written when the world first met Yuri Boyka, the Most Complete Fighter in the World. As such, they could truly convey what an unforgettable first impression Boyka left – his tattoo-laden musculature, his unparalleled fighting skill, his single-minded determination to prove himself the perfect fighter. His origins were a mystery, but there was no denying that he was everyone’s favourite character in “Undisputed 2”. Even if we were supposed to be rooting for his downfall, no one who saw him in action can honestly say that they didn’t feel like joining the chorus of inmates chanting “Boyka! Boyka! Boyka!” whenever he stepped into the ring!
Michael Jai White leads the film in the role of former Heavyweight Champion Boxer, George “The Iceman” Chambers, previously portrayed by Ving Rhames in the original “Undisputed”. Up until his appearance in the film, White had largely avoided displaying his martial arts skills onscreen and the role of a boxer who is introduced to MMA would see him dial back his skills considerably to convincingly portray a beginner. The aggressive personality White imbues his character with also makes Chambers a thoroughly dislikeable character for the first two-thirds of the film, leaving the show to be stolen by his co-star Scott Adkins in the role of Russian prison fighter Yuri Boyka. Between the mind-blowing fighting style Adkins forges in his character and Chambers’ chilly, antagonistic personality, Boyka may be one of the most tentative movie villains in history. Sure, he’s let his winning streak in the ring go to his head, and he’s quite comfortable with brutalizing his training partners as well as taking life, but it’s clear that he’s operating on a firm code of honour rather than merely that of a bloodthirsty sociopath! Boyka’s duplicitous associate within the Russian mafia, Gaga, is portrayed by Mark Ivanir, and provides a slimey source of comic relief, while Eli Danker portrays Crot, a crippled inmate who takes Chambers under his wing after Boyka proves a stronger opponent than Chambers had realized…
Disgraced former Boxer George “The Iceman” Chambers has been reduced to appearing in Russian vodka commercials to get back on his feet after going broke. Unfortunately, his arrival in Russia sees him thrown in prison after he is framed for drug possession. The man responsible for Chambers predicament is Russian mafioso Gaga, who has orchestrated the plot in order to pit Chambers against the reigning champion of prison MMA fighters, Yuri Boyka. Chambers, of course, has no interest in the competition, but his efforts at appealing his conviction are blocked at every turn. Boyka also sees a victory over Chambers, the former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, as the final victory to cement his reputation as the “Most Complete Fighter in the World”, and both men develop a strong enmity towards one another. After enduring the brutality of the prison, Chambers agrees to face Boyka when his release is promised him on the condition of his victory. However, Chambers soon discovers that he is far from ready for the fight ahead, after experiencing Boyka’s power and versatility firsthand.
The action in “Undisputed 2”, as impressive as it is, becomes even more so when one looks at it within the context of other contemporary martial arts films. Tony Jaa had just a few years prior set a new and seemingly impossibly high standard for martial arts filmmaking with “Ong Bak” and “Tom Yum Goong”, and there’d really only been a handful of films in the genre to have risen to the same standard in his wake – specifically “Unleashed” and “Fearless”, both starring Jet Li, along with Donnie Yen’s “Sha Po Lang”, (Killzone). With all of these factors at play, just who was going to give the time of day to a straight-to-DVD sequel to a relatively unnoticed prison boxing film being helmed by a former “Power Rangers” director? And yet, when the film made its way to DVD shelves in January 2007, jaws dropped by the hundreds as martial arts fans and casual viewers alike watched Yuri Boyka effortlessly mop the floor with every mega-budget action blockbuster that saw a theatrical release that year.
The fight choreography is handled by accomplished stuntman J.J. “Loco” Perry, and he crafts some of the most breathtaking combat ever seen in a Hollywood film up to that point. Although having an extensive martial arts background, Michael Jai White is in essentially in the same predicament that Darren Shahlavi would later take on as “The Twister” in “Ip Man 2”, in that his boxing role calls upon him to restrict his immense skills to his fists alone. The difference is that George Chambers’ character arch would see him absorb just enough new skills to hold his own in an MMA fight, and it sees White doing something seldom seen in martial arts films – while his boxing skills are stellar, he is forced to tone down his kicking and grappling skills to that of a mere novice. That’s certainly not the case with his opponent in the film – Boyka can be called many things, but “novice” is most assuredly not one of them. With an eclectic blend of varying styles, Scott Adkins not only blows the viewer away with his almost physics-defying skills, but he also crafts and unleashes in his Boyka a dynamic fighting style that looks and feels truly all his own. The opening match up between him and Silvio Simac belongs in the dictionary next to the word “Amazing”, and the action and training sequences only get better from there. As previously mentioned, viewers seeing the film for the first time are likely to be stunned at just how much they find themselves rooting for Boyka – just the sight of him beating the stuffing out of a heavy bag is impressive enough by itself, but they’ll be making liberal use of the rewind button once Adkins’ pulls out his trademark “Guyver Kick” in his initial match-up with Chambers. Or at least joining in on the chorus chanting Boyka’s name!
“Undisputed 2” is the very definition of a film that defies expectations. Anyone who walked past this film when it first arrived in stores without giving it a second thought might as well have walked past a pot of gold. Looking back on it now, it’s hardly surprising that Adkins, Florentine, and White have become some of the biggest names in martial arts movies, or that Boyka is now one of the most beloved characters in the genre. He may have been the villain, but “Undisputed 2” is one film where viewers are proud to root for the bad guy. Even being outright robbed of a theatrical release, martial arts fans the world over could readily agree that “Undisputed 2” is the undisputed champion or straight-to-DVD martial arts flicks that should have gone to theaters (at least, until “Undisputed 3” came along!)
- During the first fight between Boyka and Chambers, Scott Adkins really struck Michael Jai White in the face with his Guyver Kick!
- In order to look like an intimidating opponent for the massive Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins had to pack on a significant amount of muscle, and the added weight made it somewhat more difficult for him to perform flips, somersaults, and flying kicks.
- The character of George “The Iceman” Chambers was modeled in the original “Undisputed” after Mike Tyson, whom Michael Jai White had previously portrayed in the HBO film “Tyson”.
Film Rating: 9/10
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