Shootfighter: Fight to the Death (1993) — Knocking One Out

Matty trades blows with a solid cut of Bolo Yeung-sploitation from producer Alan Amiel and pseudonymously credited helmer Robert Ginty.

Released on British cassette on 23rd June 1993 by Columbia-Tri-Star Home Video in a version pruned of its gruesome impact wounds and clipped of its exotic weapon play, SHOOTFIGHTER: FIGHT TO THE DEATH was something of a passion project for producer Alan Amiel. Then operating with his Vision International shingle, the former Trans World Entertainment lieutenant wanted to craft a martial arts flick in the same mode as Bloodsport (1988) and Kickboxer (1989), a pair of Jean-Claude Van Damme biff-’em-ups that were still doing excellent business on tape. As such, he bagged Bloodsport’s iconic big bad, Bolo Yeung, and built Shootfighter around him. At the time Yeung was at the peak of his popularity with renters and was regularly being recruited to front similar programmers (see: Bloodfight (1989), Ironheart (1992), Tiger Claws (1993)); and as Amiel had previously helped cement Sho Kosugi’s status as a genre star in the U.S. with ninja epics Pray for Death (1985) and Rage of Honor (1987), he offered a hands-on approach during Shootfighter’s production. A trained martial artist, Amiel dictated much of the fight choreography himself and reshaped the film in post when he decided it needed bloodier and showier fight scenes — and, crucially, more emphasis on his golden goose, Yeung. The result is a quality tournament-based bruiser and one of the modest highlights of Yeung’s dalliance with DTV.

In a rare good guy role, Yeung is Shinga: a seasoned shootfighter turned peaceful dojo owner who’s lured back into the murky world of the titular combat sport when his shady arch nemesis, Mr. Lee (Martin Kove), hoodwinks Shinga’s student, Ruben, (Kove’s Karate Kid (1984) protégé William Zabka, funnily enough) and his best mate/brother-in-law, Nick (United States Karate Champion Michael Bernardo), into competing in his latest deadly knock-out contest.

Naturally, the copious scenes of in-ring brawling are Shootfighter’s main selling points. Every lively performed scrap is well assembled by Amiel and credited choreographer Pat E. Johnson — though Exterminator (1980) star Robert Ginty’s meat n’ potatoes direction could have done with a bit of oomph to have really got them popping (incidentally, Ginty took his name off Shootfighter due to Amiel’s tinkering, hence the ‘Pat Alan’ pseudonym). Still, it’s a minor quibble. Efficiency is the order of the day, and the whole thing is so fast paced, exciting, and fat-free that it’s easy not to care. Shootfighter is compulsive entertainment, plain and simple, and said efficiency translates to the performances.

It speaks volumes about the film’s wildly — wildly — variable cast when Yeung’s monosyllabic broken English represents the cream of the acting on show. But, hey: Yeung has never been hired for his Olivier-esque line delivery, and Amiel and Ginty understand that it’s as a purely physical specimen that the brooding mini-hulk is best suited. Yeung is a gloriously charismatic visual presence, and the stoicism, class and complete sense of hard-arsery he exudes commands respect. The pantomime villainy of Kove and lackeys Edward Albert and James Pax is lip-smackingly wicked, and Shootfighter’s non-Yeung heroes keep just the right side of balsa and do what they’re there for. Thrillingly, the film’s script even gives them a few neat and unexpected character licks for them to (try and) sink their teeth into: Ruben is a wholesome all-American who secretly harbours a surprising inner darkness; Nick is a seemingly edgy and dangerous renegade who’s actually buoyed by a strict moral code; and Ruben’s partner/Nick’s sister, Cheryl (former Bond girl Maryam d’Abo), initially comes across as malleable eye-candy but is, in fact, pig-sick of her fella’s increasingly selfish antics and behaviour.  

A quick note on the fighters sprinkled throughout: 

They represent a cross section of martial artists and stunt folk recognisable as the bit players who get pulverised in the likes of A.W.O.L. (aka ‘Lionheart’) (1990), Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), and Bloodmoon (1997). Disgusting human sewage heap Joe Son — a rapist and convicted murderer previously best known as the shoe-flinging henchman Random Task in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) — also appears, and would return in a different, more prominent role as Yeung’s evil brother in Shootfighter 2 (1996)

2nd unit lensed by Gary Graver.

USA ● 1993 ● Action ● 95mins

Bolo Yeung, William Zabka, Michael Bernardo, Martin Kove, and Edward Albert ● Dir. Robert Ginty (as ‘Pat Alan‘) ● Wri. Judd B. Lynn, Larry Feliz Jr. & Pete Shaner

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