I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Deadly Art of Survival

tn_deadlyartofsurvivalThis movie came out in 1979, but it opens with the hero doing moves in front of a black void like so many ’80s ninja and karate movies. Instead of having credits written on the screen this guy says them out loud, introducing himself and the name of the movie. And it’s a hell of a name. If a movie called THE DEADLY ART OF SURVIVAL was no good it would still have a leg up on most other movies, because most other movies aren’t called THE DEADLY ART OF SURVIVAL. I don’t know if “good” is the best word to describe what this is, but it’s at least interesting.

mp_deadlyartofsurvivalNew York indie director Charlie Ahearn, a few years before directing the seminal hip hop picture WILD STYLE, ran into a young martial arts instructor named Nathan Ingram who wanted to make a movie. So on Super-8, on weekends, without a script, they paid off his students and other neighborhood characters in pizza and made this raw, sometimes gritty, sometimes funny little time capsule. The sights and conversations are unusually authentic while the fight scenes are charmingly home made.

Ingram plays a character with some similarities to BERRY GORDON’S THE LAST DRAGON’s Bruce Leroy: he lives with his mom in New York, has a poster of Bruce Lee on his wall, his students are very loyal. But most of his problems are less cartoonish than Leroy’s. In the opening scene he’s talking with some dudes who he thinks are his friends, but they’re really luring him to their neighborhood to beat him up, because some drug dealer mistakenly thinks he’s trying to steal his pregnant girlfriend. In a long, documentary-like scene in a taxi cab he’s stuck in a debate between two of his students about whether or not he can justify using illegal means to support his kid. It seems like these were probly real conversations and real issues in Ingram’s life at the time. The title is both his martial art and his just trying to get by in life.

The best scenes are random conversations, like a guy talking about a Bootsy Collins concert he just went to (he says he likes Parliament but not Funkadelic, and is impressed by Bootsy’s amps). There are some cleverly set up static shots, like a talk in front of a chain link fence with somebody riding around on a dirt bike off in the distance. You’re not really sure if that’s there to look interesting or if somebody wandered into their shot. Then in the same shot one character hops the fence, runs and gets on the back of the bike.

Like some of the best independent films Ahearn gets some interesting people on camera and just lets them be themselves. I like the guy we see looking in the mirror for a long time, combing his hair, his mustache, and even his chest hair, not knowing a gun is waiting for him around the corner. I don’t know, the chest hair thing might be a joke, but I don’t think it is. It looks like it’s the guy’s actual grooming routine.

They have some interesting locations, too. Some scenes in a pool hall, and in a church. I mean you see those types of places in movies, but this doesn’t feel like a real movie. It’s obviously a real place and they just brought some cameras in.

Where the movie gets goofy is with his rival, Handsome Harry, proprietor of the Disco Dojo. I’m not sure what’s supposed to be disco about it, but it’s a tiny room with a graffiti mural, and Harry has a desk and a metal folding chair in the same room as his office. (Alot of this stuff is filmed in super-closeup if they didn’t get a good location.) He tells the kids to close their eyes, then blows pot smoke at them. When he gets mad at Ingram he sends two ninjas after him.

The ninjas keep sneaking into shots and stealing things when he’s not looking – his wheels, his hat, his sandwich, even his baby. I didn’t really understand it was his baby though, and it was clearly a doll or just a bundle of blankets. To be honest it’s kind of hard to understand what’s supposed to be going on in this plot. I wonder if on weekend #7 they remember what the hell they were doing the day they started?

The ninjas are funny. They know some moves, but they look like kids playing around, especially when their shirts come up and you can see red or white t-shirts underneath. A couple times they use ninja tricks like finger sparks or smoke bombs and it doesn’t help them at all, it’s just like a little magic trick. They might as well just pull out a couple sparklers and wave them around, or pull a rabbit out of a hat maybe. Or guess which card you picked.

Apparently the fight choreography and alot of the scenes came from skits that Ingram and his students did to teach at–risk-youths. And it does have a skit feel, because you can tell they’re not really hitting each other most of the time. On the other hand it’s pretty impressive how much choreography they manage to have without cutting.

The best is the last fight, which takes place under the Brooklyn Bridge and has some bird’s eye view photography. The cool part is there’s a really long fight sequence done in one shot that ends with him kicking Harry over a ledge into some water. The movie’s not as good as DEADBEAT AT DAWN, but it kind of reminded me of that type of deal. It seems like it’s some guy you could know so you’re impressed by the stunt he pulled off, even if it’s just the deadly art of kicking Handsome Harry into some water.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 at 1:15 am and is filed under Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

13 Responses to “The Deadly Art of Survival”

  1. Cool find Vern, also glad you finally saw City Of God

  2. I feel a little bad for this poor, neglected review, so I’m going to post this here instead of the hard-to-find and epically long Potpourri thread.

    Have you guys seen the amazing and awesome and also awesome and amazing EXPENDABLES poster? http://flixchatter.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/theexpendablesposter.jpg

    You know, I’ve never been tempted to get a tattoo before, but…

    And to Sorry512: Nice avatar. Keep burninating all the peoples in their thatched roof cottages.

  3. how does one get a avatar anyway? I registered, but still couldn’t figure it out

    sorry to be off topic

  4. One of the few downsides of this sight is that Vern often reviews stuff that readers like me from Europe are highly unlikely to get access too, even though they sound interesting. Other than that, I will say that I think the poster for this film looks like the cover of a bootleg Hardcore Wrestling Video (BEsT OF New JACK 15!). The guy even looks like he’s carrying a gold belt over each shoulder.

    Majestyk: Awesome poster indeed. Reminds me, Vern are you going to review The Losers?

  5. Griff: Google “gravatar” and that’ll show you how it’s done.

  6. Stu – I’ll review THE LOSERS when I see it, but that might not be until the dvd comes out (which I guess shouldn’t be too long).

  7. Thanks, Vern.

  8. I liked LOSERS, your basic men on a mission group betrayed, left for dead and they go for revenge junk.

  9. Nothing special, nothing terrible. Pretty fun, nothing to write home about. Chris Evans was the one guy who really came out on top. The guy’s a movie star and it’s going to be amazing when he gets his big movie. BOOM!

  10. Evans already got his big movie. We just waiting to see it.

  11. Just in case, it ain’t no art. . .

    Survival, Evasion, and Recovery (Army/Multiservice procedures for Survival, Evasion, and Recovery)
    QUICK REFERENCE GUIDE
    Decide To Survive

    S – Size up the situation, surroundings, physical condition, equipment
    U – Use all your senses
    R – Remember where you are
    V – Vanquish fear and panic
    I – Improvise and improve
    V – Value living
    A – Act like the natives
    L – Live by your wits

    1. Immediate Actions

    a. Assess immediate situations. THINK BEFORE YOU ACT!
    b. Take action to protect yourself from nuclear, biological or chemical hazards.
    c. Seek a concealed site.
    d. Assess medical condition; treat as necessary.
    e. Sanitize uniform of potentially compromising information.
    f. Sanitize area; hide equipment you are leaving.
    g. Apply personal camouflage.
    h. Move away from concealed site, zigzag pattern recommended.
    i. Use terrain to advantage, communication, and concealment.
    j. Find a hole-up site.

    2. Hole-up Site

    a. Reassess situation; treat injuries, then inventory equipment.
    b. Review plan of action; establish priorities.
    c. Determine current location.
    d. Improve camouflage.
    e. Focus thoughts on task(s) at hand.
    f. Execute plan of action. Stay flexible!

    3. Concealment

    a. Select a place of concealment providing–
    (1) Adequate concealment, ground and air.
    (2) Safe distance from enemy positions and lines of communications.
    (3) Listening and observing points.
    (4) Multiple avenues of escape.
    (5) Protection from the environment.
    (6) Possible communications/signaling opportunities
    b. Stay alert, maintain security.
    c. Drink water.

    4. Movement

    a. Travel slowly and deliberately.
    b. DO NOT leave evidence of travel; use noise and light discipline.
    c. Stay away from lines of communication.
    d. Stop, look, listen, and smell; take the appropriate action(s).
    e. Move from one concealed area to another.
    f. Use evasion movement techniques.

    5. Communications and Signaling

    a. Communicate as directed in applicable plans/orders.
    b. Be prepared to use communications and signaling devices on short notice.
    c. Use of communications and signaling devices may compromise position.

    6. Recovery

    a. Select site(s) IAW criteria in Theater Recovery Plans.
    b. Ensure site is free of hazards; secure personal gear.
    c. Select best area for communications and signaling devices.
    d. Observe site for proximity to enemy activity and lines of communication.
    e. Follow recovery force instructions.

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