ROUND 1, BOUT 2, AMERICAN KICKBOXERS VS. THE WOMEN
“They’re gonna be punchin where you’re at. Don’t be there.”
I wasn’t familiar with Mimi Lesseos until I was trying to find more tournament movies and I discovered this one. Actually, her wrestling name “The Magnificent Mimi” sounds kind of familiar, maybe I heard of her back in the late ’80s when she was a contender for the AWA World Women’s Championship belt (which she never got, except in a 1989 Playboy spread). After appearing as The Magnificent Mimi, chief rival to the heroine of AMERICAN ANGELS: BAPTISM OF BLOOD (1989), Lesseos decided to pull a Tom Laughlin and make her own independent action vehicles. She started by writing, producing and starring in PUSHED TO THE LIMIT (1992).
Once again she’s playing herself, The Magnificent Mimi. It takes place in a world where she is the champion and professional wrestling is real fighting, so her family worries about whether or not she’ll win, and she tells other wrestlers she thinks they can win. Also it’s a world where women’s wrestling is big enough of a sport that average people recognize her (an A.W.A. wrestler, not WWF) from TV, and they even have her match on the radio.
It seems to pay well – she gets $50,000 for her championship win (actually the same amount as the prize for winning the much more dangerous tournament later in the movie). She rides in a limo and owns a ridiculous dress with money printed on the sleeves. So it’s not for the money that she agrees to go to Vegas and fill in for a dancer who broke her leg. She’s an artist.
She’s also very family oriented. Her husband (Michael M. Foley, DESERT KICKBOXER) is with her at her big match at the start of the film, and then she goes home to her mother and extended family who all hug and congratulate her. She’s one of those people who is very touchy – always putting her hand on your shoulder or knee or back or touching your nose or pushing your hat down or whatever. For example:
But during the get-together she sees her brother snorting coke. “Nick,” she says to her husband in the car. “I just caught Johnny in the bathroom doing coke. God, I’m dying inside right now. I hate that crap. It’s poison, that’s what it is.”
Unfortunately Johnny is not just snorting the poison, he’s also pilfering it from a huge smuggling-in-cars operation he’s involved with on behalf of Harry Lee (not Seagal’s Jefferson Parish sheriff mentor, but a local gangster played by Henry Hayashi [TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III]), who he offends with a random racist joke. He knows Lee found out he stole coke, and he not only confesses this to Nick, but actually brings him to the car warehouse where the deal went down in order to tell him about it. whoops. When he gets shot perhaps he’s thinking you know what, this is the worst place I could’ve told him other than Harry Lee’s actual bedroom, maybe I should’ve given this more thought.
Point is, Mimi’s brother is way less magnificent than she is. We can see where all the magnificence went in this generation.
So Mimi comes home from Vegas to find her brother dead and her husband in the hospital. Vowing revenge, she sets out to get close to Harry Lee by entering his underground fighting tournament, The Kumite. Her reluctant guide to this world? Vern.
THE MENTOR: His name is Vern. Yes, this movie is based almost 100% on my life and experiences, and no I will not sue because it’s best that people believe this is all fiction and don’t know about my involvement. Also I feel like these people worked really hard on the movie and deserve whatever money they made on it. Who am I to interfere with their creative expression?
Vern (portrayed by Verrel Lester Reed Jr., whose only other credit is another Lesseos movie called BEYOND FEAR, and who is still a meditation counselor according to his linkedin profile) is introduced after the opening match. Mimi’s husband brings him ringside to introduce him to her, because he’s his sensei. We next see him sitting cross-legged burning incense in the cemetery during Johnny’s funeral. In conversation Mimi finds out that Vern used to fight in the Kumite. Of course he tells her not to get involved, but she says she’s gonna do it with or without him so he gives in and uses his connections to bring her in and watch some fights.
This is where we learn that the champion is Inga (makeup artist Christl Colven), a tall lady with G.L.O.W.-esque makeup that connects to a hair streak, a nose-ring that connects to an earring, a tiger tattoo and an evil look on her face at all times. Also we learn that some guys still wore Zubaz pants at the time of filming.
Vern is a mysterious guy who tells Mimi “Those girls are killers. You’re not ready.” He trains her in fighting and meditation. He makes her imagine being a tree – “Become the tree. Feel the splendor and vitality of the tree” — and he also makes her punch a tree. And this is probly the only movie in the Super-Kumite that includes hide and seek as part of its training montage:
It’s also probly the all time most inappropriate training montage music. It’s not Theme For Driving Guitars and Keyboards, it’s not an “Eye of the Tiger” rip-off, it’s not wah wah funk, it’s very upbeat sounding, slickly produced smooth jazz type saxophone shit. It has to have been a we-have-the-rights-to-this-music-and-we’re-all-out-of-options type scenario, it’s just not possible that it was an intentional artistic choice decided on by humans. But it’s amazing. You will love it. They also use it on the menu and it gets a laugh there too.
(Also note the end credits song, with the lyric “Doo doot doot doot doo doo, I have found a victory.”)
This is largely a training movie, as portrayed in several montages and non-montages. She has to keep improving before he’ll let her try different things. He puts her in a sleeper hold. She fights an indie-wrestler-looking-guy named Dale (Edward Paul Zubia), or as I would call him, Ponytail Dale, and defeats him by flying dropkick. She beats up 4 muggers who attack her in a tunnel and turn out to be set up by Vern. (I — er, I mean he — likes to do shit like that to test people’s mettle.)
Vern does the KARATE KID style healing hands, but not on Mimi during the tournament. He does it on her husband, so that he can heal up enough to show up to the match at the end and hug her (a nice gender reversal). Vern may also have telepathic powers, since he meditates while locked up during the final match and seems to send encouragement to Mimi.
Other important things about Vern: At one point he fights security outside of the ring during a tournament, just like REDBELT. He has African drums in his apartment. He has a portrait of himself on the wall. He sleeps with his headband on.
THE KUMITE: “He even runs a full contact fighting tournament. It’s like cockfights only with people. The loser either dies or winds up like Nick. They call it ‘The Kumite.’ This guy’s in so tight the police can’t even get a whisper on him. You have to understand, they are different than Family. This guy, he loves seein people killed. That’s what he’s all about.”
The fights take place in a secret club with an entrance through a closed storefront accessible by garbage-filled alley. It’s a small venue with a flat ring, no ropes, torches (or small barbecue pits on poles) on each corner. Spectators are on two levels with three barriers, neon lights on the edge so they sort of look like ropes on a ring. (Which is weird because they used lights like that on the barriers where she wrestled, too. You don’t think they used the same designer for both venues, do you?) A translator for the announcer sits on a tall chair like a tennis referee. On further examination it’s just a regular chair placed on top of a tall box. I wonder how he gets up there?
There is constant betting throughout all of the fighting, with a guy going around with a little bin on a long pole like a boom mic and everyone is continuously stuffing cash into it or just throwing cash in the air. I have some serious doubts about how well they keep track of these bets, but it seems everybody is cool with it.
Win is by K.O. or death.
Alot about how the tournament works is unclear. When Vern says “Those girls are killers” you assume that it’s an all-female Kumite, but it’s not. The fights seem to be co-ed, so maybe Vern was just trying not to be sexist. Or maybe he thinks the men are pussies and only worries about her fighting the girls. But later we find out there’s a women’s Kumite championship belt. I don’t get it.
Also, in my opinion the seeding for this tournament is totally unfair. Mimi works her way up to the top and then Lee just randomly sticks her friend Terry in to fight Inga first. Obviously it’s to fuck with Mimi, because he knows Inga is literally going to kill her. But still. There oughta be rules, right?
One thing that’s odd: there is a backstage area where they prepare for the match, and even though they hate each other they just sit on chairs a few feet apart. Too bad they can’t spring for separate rooms.
I guess the idea is that Mimi is trying to bust Harry Lee, not just kill him, that’s why she has to keep fighting in the tournament even after she goes undercover and lets him court her and buy her a necklace and shit. He tells her “You not only have class and brains, but compassion as well.” She tells him she’s entering the Kumite because “It’s a challenge. And… I’m a woman of the ’90s.”
The fights are very stagey and shot pretty straight on, but fun like pro-wrestling. There’s lots of wrestling moves like body slams and flying drop kicks, but combined with some martial arts kicks and stuff. These wrestling women are very acrobatic too. I thought it was funny when Mimi airplane spun a lady that looked much older than her. An innocent victim in her path for revenge.
The end of the movie is great, and I’m about to SPOIL it. Mimi knocks out Inga in the tournament while all hell is breaking loose with Vern fighting security and Harry Lee firing a gun, chasing away the crowd. Mimi dropkicks Lee, knocking him on top of Inga. Vern yells to try to stop Mimi from finishing the job on Lee, but it doesn’t matter because Inga wakes up and, thinking she’s still fighting Mimi, snaps Lee’s neck! Then there’s a nice scene where they sit on the ring and talk about it afterwards. For some reason the cops just leave Lee’s dead body laying there. And nobody blows the torches out. Not very responsible.
This is a much more home-made feeling movie than the other ones in the Super-Kumite so far, but that’s part of its charm. It doesn’t feel like the latest product of a well-oiled b-movie machine, like a BLOODSPORT sequel would. It feels like a wrestler called in favors from everybody she knew and tried to figure out how to make a movie. It seems like that must be her real house and family (although there are only a couple other Lesseos’s in the credits). And it has lots of weird little moments, like late in the movie she’s broken into the villain’s home and escapes and instead of trying to roll that momentum into the finale they have a scene where she goes home and has a glass of wine in the kitchen. And she and Vern are ready to bust open this drug empire… when he picks her up in the morning. He has to go home and get some sleep (and get kidnapped) first.
TOURNAMENT MOVIE STAPLES: older mentor, training montage(s), mentor kidnapped, evil behemoth champion who breaks necks, sinister ringleader, tiger-themed clothing (see right). No special move, though.
FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHER/STUNT COORDINATOR: Frank Trejo. He must’ve been Lesseos’s Kenpo Karate teacher. He trained under Ed Parker (same sensei Elvis had) so he runs a “TCB Karate” tournament in Pasadena that also includes a performance by an Elvis impersonator. According to his biography “he has captured over 400 championships,” plays guitar in various blues bands, “has instructed or been a bodyguard for” Van Halen and Billy Idol, and was the captain and coach of the Budweiser Karate Team.
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.