Dave takes a quick look at Richard Munchkin’s opening chapter to the beloved PM Entertainment martial arts franchise, as the director himself reminisces over his influences.
Johnny Woo (Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson) is a doctor by day and a waiter by night at his family’s restaurant. It’s here he falls for Julie (a resplendent Maria Ford), unaware of the fact that she’s involved with Chuck (Vince Murdocco), the captain of a rival kickboxing club and the sworn enemy of Johnny’s cousin, Terry. With his highfalutin new career, Johnny had always been reluctant to return to the sport (“I’m a doctor, not a fighter. You beat ‘em up, I patch ‘em up”), but with Julie being used as bait, the pressure is on to hang up his stethoscope in order to settle the increasingly violent conflict…
Forbidden love in the midst of a cross-town rivalry generates ideas of both West Side Story as well as Romeo & Juliet – and that’s exactly the inspiration that writer-director Richard Munchkin turned to for his 1991 bruiser, RING OF FIRE.
“We were working against the clock,” explains the filmmaker. “So I decided that I wasn’t going to reinvent the wheel and sketched out a script with my brother – albeit with kickboxing instead of dancing!”
For the most part it comes together brilliantly. Munchkin had been collaborating with producers Richard Pepin (who also handles cinematography) and Joseph Merhi since 1983, and it’s clear that they had gradually assembled a well-oiled crew. Originally, Ring of Fire was meant to be the first of a three picture deal for Loren Avendon who turned it down in the hope of something bigger (which, ironically, never materialised), so Wilson signed on instead – and The Dragon does an amiable job, switching between romantic lead and kick-ass fighter with relative ease. He is prone to the occasional moment of cringe, though, not least during the masquerade ball where Johnny (dressed as the Phantom of the Opera) gazes longingly across a crowded dancefloor at Julie, before they slow dance to an lethargically bland slice of MOR.
As for Munchkin, a man who’s made a lot of fighting movies, the lighter side of Ring of Fire was something he found great satisfaction in:
“I think it’s the perfect representation of my personality in all honesty! I started out in musical theatre, so the elements of romance and comedy I felt quite comfortable with.”
Both the British VHS and DVD were cut by nineteen seconds to snag an ‘18’ certificate, so we’re missing a little nunchuku action as well as the occasional head-butt – therefore the American release is naturally the one to gravitate towards.
USA ● 1991 ● Action, Drama ● 97mins
Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Maria Ford, Vince Murducco ● Dir. Richard W. Munchkin, Rick Jacobson (additional director) ● Wri. Jake Jacobs, Richard Munchkin, Steve Tymon