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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Revenge of Godfrey Ho Month - Undefeatable (1993)

By the turn of the 90’s, Godfrey Ho’s directorial career started to slow.  It was in 1993 that he decided to do a film starring a successful star in the martial arts circuit named Cynthia Rothrock.  Already an accomplished competitive martial artist, Cynthia Rothrock was still having trouble breaking out of the home video market.  She appeared in several failed straight-to-video films such as Rage and Honor and the exceptionally dull Fast Getaway starring a washed up, teenage Corey Haim.  She decided to do Undefeated, hoping, I assume, it would help her gain a wider audience stateside.  This, obviously, did not turn out as she had hoped, but that does not mean Cynthia Rothrock is bad.  Quite the opposite, actually.

I cannot blame Rothrock for her film choices, as a vast majority of martial arts themed movies of the late 80’s and early 90’s were severely lacking in the quality department, especially when they were made in the U.S.  However, in spite of most of her movies being pretty bad, she herself is a talented fighter with a surprisingly large influence on popular culture.  To video game fans out there, you may be surprised to know that there would be no Sonya Blade if it weren't for her inspiration, Ms. Rothrock herself.  Rothrock is presently in a sort of revival period in her career, starting to appear in frequent films and is working towards making the A-list in martial arts once again.  I cannot say that Undefeatable really hurt her career as she did appear in a number of action flicks in the 90’s after its release, but I honestly cannot help but think it had some negative effect on her ability to capture a wider audience.

Undefeatable is a movie that began to grow in popularity thanks to, of all things, a YouTube clip.  The final fight scene began to show up on YouTube under the title “Best Fight Scene Ever”, or something along those lines, and became a big hit.  This was around the point that Godfrey Ho’s films started to get a following from cult film enthusiasts such as myself, who wanted to know more about this man’s work.  Before the clip began to circulate, I had seen other scenes from his older films, where he would dress his actors up in comically-bad ninja costumes with headbands that had the word “Ninja” printed prominently across the forehead.  These clips were often mocked for bad dubbing and goofy acting, and the Undefeatable clip took notice thanks to the extremely goofy performance of Don Niam as Stingray and John Miller as Nick.  It was eyebrows vs. mullet in this epic martial arts showdown!

So, what is Undefeatable all about beyond the notorious final fight scene?  The story follows Kristi (Rothrock), who looks out for her sister Karen after their mother’s death, and participates in underground street fights to earn money to support her sibling’s college education.  She is part of a street fighting gang of sorts, though, the gang aspect of the film is more or less pointless.  Karen is concerned for her sister, knowing she may one day be severely hurt or even killed, so she urges her not to fight.  Kristi begins finding it hard to get away with the fights as a homicide detective named Nick seems to exist to interrupt her.

Meanwhile we are also introduced to Stingray, the villain of the movie, who’s bug eyed expression and grandfather of all mullets makes him fodder for some serious riffing.  After an illegal fight, where he kills his opponent, he returns home to his wife Anna whom he abuses and he rapes her.  This is the last straw for Anna, who promptly leaves him.  This enrages Stingray and he begins a deadly killing spree where he constantly calls every woman he sees “Anna”.  He starts targeting couples, killing the male and taking the woman (still calling her Anna) and ultimately killing her, removing her eyes in the process.

After the police start investigating, Nick takes the case and shortly thereafter, Stingray (who has not yet been identified) targets Karen and kills her.  Kristi, vengeful and enraged, begins to hunt down who is responsible by targeting local gang leaders, that is, until Nick stops her, and it is at this point where the investigation starts to lean towards Stingray.  They find out about Stingray through his fight promoter, who winds up dead after he discovers the villain’s killer ways.  Stingray makes a mistake, however, in kidnapping Anna’s shrink, who then uses his own psychosis against him while captive.  After sending Stingray to the store, pretending to be his mother who abandoned him, she uses her cell to contact Kristi, who leads the police to Stingray’s warehouse.

A two-on-one fight breaks out with Kristi and Nick taking on the maniacal Stingray, and ultimately, they manage to rescue his hostage but are unable to subdue Stingray himself.  Instead, they take the psychologist to the hospital, where Stingray, disguised as a doctor, promptly abducts her again, but Nick and Kristi are on the case, and they chase the madman down to the laundry room.  It is in this room where the legendary fight breaks out, and for that, just watch the clip.

With the evil Stingray dispatched, Kristi, at her sister’s grave, finally gives up her fighting side and everyone seemed to have enrolled everyone else into college.  No, I’m serious.  The credits roll right after an ending high five.  In most movies this high five would be a freeze frame, but not in Godfrey Ho Land, oh no!  No, this high five actually has the actors high five, then hold their places for a few seconds before the screen turns black.  This is, for some reason, is so funny to me, that it is just the cherry on top of an already goofy-as-hell sundae.

Untouchable is awesome!  It is so silly, so flat, so bizarre that you kind of have to respect it.  It stands out from many of Ho’s other films as it does not employ the cut-and-paste technique.  Instead, Ho filmed this entire movie from scratch, which for him is commendable.  This has the added benefit of making a fully comprehensible, if not occasionally silly and padded-out, action flick.  

There is nothing here that you haven’t seen before in similar films, but Ho’s direction, the hilarious script and Don Niam and John Miller’s epically terrible performances make this a fun watch.  The movie is derivative, sure, but it is also great fun.  There are a few points where the movie is brought to a complete halt so that an actor can give the audience a martial arts demonstration, and these scenes, while still entertaining are blatant padding.  This is a 90 minute film with about twenty minutes of fat on it.  Still, it’s obvious why it was padded out, otherwise it wouldn't really be feature-length.  

Cynthia Rothrock shows some chops here, thought a lot of that may be due to the comparatively-worse supporting cast.  Still, as is often the case with Godfrey Ho, the choreography is good, and Cynthia Rothrock is a badass here, coming off as significantly faster and more agile than her opponents, which is how you become a martial arts superstar.  I like her in general and in this movie you also get a funny series of “bad laughs” and some of Ho’s best quirks on full display.  Check Undefeatable out.  I must admit, I needed this after sitting through Catman 2, which just... sucked.

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