Shootfighter 2 (1996) Close for Comfort

Matty takes a look at a passable sequel overshadowed by the grim criminal history of one of its actors.

There’s a lot of things to enjoy in SHOOTFIGHTER 2.

Joe Son is not one of them.

As mentioned in my review of the first film, Son was best known as the shoe-flinging henchman Random Task in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) — or, if you’re an MMA fan, for his comically awful run in UFC and PRIDE in the mid ‘90s and early ‘00s which saw him retire with a dismal 0 – 4 win/loss record. That was, at least, until he was arrested in 2008 and a court mandated DNA sample linked him to a gang rape from 1990. Owing to the rape charge’s statute of limitations, Son was ultimately convicted of one felony count of torture and sentenced to seven years to life. While incarcerated he murdered his cellmate.

Son is a piece of shit, well and truly — and in this instance it’s hard to separate the art from the artist when the kind of violence Son is guilty of in real life is so chillingly echoed in the character he plays on screen. Son had only briefly appeared in the original Shootfighter (1993); thus his involvement was easier to overlook. But here — and, for that matter, in Lorenzo Lamas vehicle Bad Blood (1994) which was also produced by the Shootfighter saga’s lodestar, Alan Amiel — Son is the primary antagonist, and sadism is such an integral component of each villain’s persona that it’s impossible not to dwell on the eerie similarities between the man and the supposedly fictional monsters. It’s like the work of Victor Salva and Eric Red. I honestly think that Jeepers Creepers (2001) and The Hitcher (1986) are both brilliant movies, but Salva and Red’s crimes are metaphorically slathered across the screen to such a nauseating extent that I can’t get past them. 

Still, if you can switch off or compartmentalise, Shootfighter 2 is a decent biff-’em-up and an enjoyable enough follow-up. Adding a new wrinkle to its predecessor’s tournament framework, Shootfighter 2 is as much a crime thriller as it is a basic, round-by-round martial arts caper. The plot finds Detective Lew Rawlins (the silver-haired Chase Randolph) recruiting Shootfighter’s Shingo, Ruben, and Nick (a returning Bolo Yeung, William Zabka, and Michael Bernardo) to help him infiltrate Son’s illegal shootfighting operation in Miami. Incidentally, in a troubling throwback to the days of ‘Yellow peril’, Son is cast as Yeung’s hitherto unmentioned evil brother — despite them  looking nothing alike and being completely different nationalities (Son is Korean-American, Yeung is Chinese). 

By and large, performances are generally better in this second outing — though even as an actor Son is a talentless mood-hoover who sucks the wind out of every scene he’s in. The mighty Yeung, of course, is Yeung. Again, his granite-forged Shingo is a totem of nobility and toughness, and the centre of everyone else’s orbit. Zabka and Bernardo have clearly taken an acting class or two in the interim and come across very well. Their interplay with fresh addition Shark (former Andy Sidaris favourite Brett Baxter Clark) fosters a welcome and infectious matey-ness. Randolph is bland and not helped by the fact that Rawlins exists solely to drive the narrative forward, but Jorge Gil’s shifty fixer, Eddy, makes for a fabulously weaselly foil.

Bankrolled by Mark Damon’s MDP Worldwide — with whom he paired on the hugely successful erotic thriller Inner Sanctum (1991) and its sequel, among others — producer Amiel bags the coveted “a film by” opening credit. It’s a curious point of note, particularly as it’s the kind of auteur branding that negates the robust input of Shootfighter 2’s actual helmer, Paul Ziller. While Amiel had a monumental amount of creative sway in the project (as with Shootfighter, Amiel choreographed the film’s fight scenes), Ziller appears to be an equally formidable pair of hands. Editorially, he’s a little choppy but the B-movie journeyman’s showy and energetic direction is lightyears ahead of Robert Ginty’s flaccid point-and-shoot technique in Shootfighter 1.0. Paying closer attention to depth, texture and kineticism, Ziller conjures a grander sense of ceremony in the build ups to the brawling (most of the fighters partake in various gimmicky entrances) before getting down n’ dirty with a gritty, handheld style when the action explodes in the ring.

Featuring a cameo by legendary women’s wrestler Debrah ‘Madusa’ Miceli, Shootfighter 2 was released on U.S. video by MDP Home Video in conjunction with Columbia-TriStar in April 1997. It landed on U.K. cassette via Film 2000 in spring ‘98.

USA ● 1996 ● Action ● 87mins

Bolo Yeung, William Zabka, Michael Bernardo, Chase Randolph ● Dir. Paul ZillerWri. Greg Mellott and Peter Shaner

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