View from the Bottom Shelf – Six Unheralded Straight to Video Martial...

View from the Bottom Shelf – Six Unheralded Straight to Video Martial Arts Masterpieces

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Reading Chris Holt’s recent excellent feature on the death of the local video store, (as well as this week’s release of Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2) I got to thinking about my own experiences of traipsing along to my local video store in search of something obscure but exciting. During my mid to late teens it was all about straight to video martial arts films – my Dad had introduced me to Bruce Lee by way of The Big Boss and I had worked my way through a whole load of Jackie Chan, Seagal and JCVD, before resorting to just picking up a video that looked like it contained a lot of fighting and seeing what it offered.

Needless to say, a lot of what I stumbled on was deeply, abidingly terrible. Lone Wolf McQuaid was pretty good, but Code of Silence was abysmal. Delta Force II and III were both excellent fun, My Lucky Stars and Black Eagle not so much. Just as one has to sift through a lot of dirt to find a sparkling diamond, so I had to wade through the effluent of my local video store in order to stumble upon the following, which to varying degrees have remained memorable and enjoyable, even as my film tastes have refined in general and mostly moved on from martial arts, although I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed The Raid and Ong Bak in recent years – they took me right back.

The word “masterpiece” in the title of this post might feel absurd – we are not talking about Enter the Dragon, Project A or Once Upon A Time in China here – but we are talking about thrilling, memorable, under-the-radar entertainment and that has its place too. For each of this half dozen unheralded punch-fests I’ve included a clip and a link for you to pick up a copy if you are so inclined. I can’t guarantee that you won’t experience buyer’s remorse, but my hope is that you will have a bit of fun.

The Perfect Weapon 570x350 View from the Bottom Shelf   Six Unheralded Straight to Video Martial Arts Masterpieces

1. The Perfect Weapon

“Jeff Speakman is…..The Perfect Weapon”. This was pretty much what you got from any of these sorts of films back then. Steven Seagal is……..Marked For Death, and so forth. Said Jeff Speakman was (and as far as I am aware, still is) a masterful exponent of Kenpo Karate and was therefore slotted into a cookie-cutter story of seeking revenge on the local organised crime syndicate who kill his mentor. What elevates this (or at least made it memorable) is Speakman’s unquestionable ability. What he lacks in acting charisma (or ability – an all-too predictable hazard with these performers) he more than makes up for with fight-scene presence.

Adept with sticks or bare hands, Speakman has an appealing everyman quality, playing his scenes fairly straight, neither po-faced nor over-blown. One excellent fight scene (see below) begins with the almost Shakespearean dialogue exchange of, “why don’t you go home before you get hurt?”, “I wonder if I could kick your ass?”. Beautiful. The whole film is on YouTube, so feel free to check the whole thing out here, or just enjoy the scrap embedded below.

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2PsQUQgb7k']

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  • Christopher John Holt

    Yes sir, you absolutely nailed it with this list!
    Jeff Wincott was a presence I really enjoyed on the shelves at my local Ritz Video for all too brief a time along with Olivier Gruner. It’s amazing to me that back then studios used to take a martial artist with little or no acting experience and push him to be a big star. I believe in the states The Perfect Weapon with Jeff Speakman was a cinema release greenlit in the wake of Steven Seagal’s success.
    Drive is an excellent movie, I never caught it on release but on channel 5 in 99 and it was astoundingly unexpected and well made. Mark Dacascos is one of those actors who could and should have been a big star but somehow all of his vehicles went over peoples heads (Only the Strong, Crying Freeman, even Brotherhood of the Wolf to an extent). I remember seeing Rapid Fire and being so impressed with Brandon Lee and then he died literally a month later, before or since I have never taken a celebrity loss that hard. I still think Brandon Lee would have had Keanu Reeves action career had he lived. How cool would Lee have been as Neo in The Matrix?