Director John Hyams has raised the bar when it comes to low-budget, direct-to-video movies. His two recent sequels to the seemingly dead "Universal Soldier" franchise were astoninshingly enjoyable and refreshing, and in my opinion, both were better than the original. When I read that he'd be giving MMA champion Cung Le ("True Legend") his first starring role I was pretty excited. I'd read a lot of mixed reviews about this film before I finally purchased it. Reviews that mostly griped about the plot and its confusing presentation. I would agree that some complaints in that department are not without validity but that's hardly what makes or breaks an action film for me. I look for the action itself, which has been given both praise and criticism by other reviewers. More on that in paragraph 3.
Cung Le plays the silent Hong, a former convict who moves into the gang-infested neighborhood of St. Jude (a New Orleans borough, according to the DVD box) with intentions of cleaning up the streets. St. Jude is ran by two gangs: the hispanic 6th Street Kings and the all-black Eastsiders. Both gangs and the police are run by Mr. V (Peter Weller, "Naked Lunch"). After kicking the crap out of a couple of thugs, Kong slowly earns the respect of the gangs and Mr. V, who eventually hires him to oversee both factions. Kong allows the gangs to continue operating, albeit with some restrictions on how they treat the locals and who they sell their drugs to. Life becomes good for both the citizens and the gangsters until Mr. V's large stash of cash comes up missing. V then hires the Devil Dogs, a group of brutal Russians, whose prior agreement with V was the only thing previously keeping them from taking over St. Jude.
Those reviewers critical of the action have made minor mention of the overuse of slow motion and, perhaps, for many of them, it wasn't that big of a deal. To me, it completely sinks the film. I don't recall one fight that wasn't completely saturated with it. Why does this keep happening with filmmakers who ought to know better? Please stop it! Stop and think about all the great martial arts scenes on film that have ever excited you and I'll bet that if any of them involved slow motion at all, it was used sparingly. Unless your favorite fights involved the '90s output of Don "The Dragon" Wilson. I'll even give American examples of good ones: "Undisputed 2 & 3", "The Girl From The Naked Eye", "Never Back Down 2", "Blood & Bone". Those are movies with great fight scenes! All since 2006. I'll admit that it's convenient to see a kick coming, knowing that I have time to get up, refill a beverage and come back before it's completed, but, ya know what? I have a pause button on my DVD remote for just such an occasion.
Along with Hyams' most recent film, "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning" (also with WAY too much slow motion, thought it works a little better), Jean Claude Van Damme's name is listed at the top of the DVD, clearly indicating a starring role, despite maybe 10 minutes of actual screen time. Now for me that's not much of a deterrent as I'm not a particular fan of Van Damme. Oh, there's a handful of his flicks that I enjoy, but deliberate deceipt concerning his involvement is still a risky move considering how many fans the Muscles from Brussels has out there.
The DVD from Warner Bros has good picture quality with English as the only spoken language and subtitles available in English, French and Spanish. This DVD has NO special features, either. Again, the slow motion may not bother others nearly as much as it bothered me but I cannot recommend it primarily for that reason. Otherwise the acting's decent and there are quite a few unique touches for a low-budget kick-flick. Cung Le does a good job and I look forward to seeing him in more flicks. The leader of the Devil Dogs is played by MMA fighter Trevor Prangley and his film presence needs to be taken advantage of ASAP. Hyams is still in my cool book but he's on probabtion. 2.5/5