EXTREME CHALLENGE (2001) is a movie that didn’t come up in any of my extensive internet searches for fighting tournament movies, but I happened to come across it in the Hong Kong section of the video store. Another victory for human browsing. This is a Hong Kong production, a Golden Harvest presentation even, but it’s in English (non sync). Director Tung Wei was usually more of a stuntman and choreographer. He did action direction for HERO and appeared onscreen in HARD BOILED (which character is “Foxy”?)
The competition in this movie is the extreme opposite of the underground fighting tournament. This is a big time corporate media event called The Extreme Challenge Powernet Show, “The first show in history to be simulcast via the internet across the world,” according to the woman at the huge press conference that announces the thing. “Its purpose is to pit various forms of martial arts from around the world to challenge one another,” she explains. “By using modern technology we will be renewing tradition, glorifying the martial arts and trying to popularize martial arts to encourage physical health and the athletic spirit among our young people.”
The winner will win $5 million and a sponsorship from Champ sporting goods (I feel like the $5 million would be enough, but I guess you can’t dismiss the value of free socks and stuff.)
At the press conference they play techno music and bring out the fighters. Most of them are arrogant wrestling-heel types, coming out yelling and flexing and busting apart the podiums and stuff. To my surprise, one of them is this young man:
Yep, it’s Scott Adkins in a mesh tank top. (His voice is dubbed.)
It is a fighting tournament, but it starts out with a little bit of AMERICAN GLADIATORS type shit. Round one has alot of competitors:
and as you can see it kinda looks like Power Rangers or a MORTAL KOMBAT TV show or something. The first challenge is a battle royale/race on an obstacle course. There are 16 swords and you gotta grab one to advance in day 2. Day 2 incorporates trampolines, platforms and ziplines. But then they get to the matches, one-on-one on raised platforms of various shapes. They get different weapons – staffs and nunchakas and stuff – and they get to wear protective padding. The winner is the one that knocks their opponent off the platform into the water that surrounds it.
The action style is very 2001 in a bad way, with poor uses of freeze frames and skipped frames. They’re supposed to look flashy but mostly seem intrusive.
In between the matches of course we meet the various fighters. They stay in sort of an Olympic Village type place, and drink alot of off brand cola:
They have long, slow, dubbed dialogue scenes about why they’re here. The main protagonist is Kin Kuang (Ken Chang from KILL ZONE), who is really whiny and bitter about his master saying he wasn’t ready and choosing Jin Fang (Jun Ngai Yeung) to represent the school.
I mean it’s true, Jin Fang is a total dick, to the point that he criticizes him for changing his ways after a traumatic childhood incident where he ruined a kid’s eye to win a match. After Kin Kuang demonstrates true honor by choosing to lose a match rather than let a young opponent fall and get impaled on his broken staff, fuckin Jin Fang has the nerve to come lecture him about he “lacks the will to win.” Fuck this guy. But it’s still unappealing how much of a baby Kin Kuang is about Jin Fang being more successful than him even though he thinks he’s better. He’s like a Seattle rapper always complaining about the popularity of Macklemore. Yeah, you’re right, but let it go, bud.
Kin Kuang’s best friend is Ning Tang (Patricia Ja Lee, a Pink Ranger on Power Rangers Turbo and Power Rangers in Space, also lead voice in the English versions of the Resident Evil games), at least after she keeps hounding him to be her friend. She got into the Extreme Challenge by showing up at the press conference and asking to enter in front of everybody. Nice girl. She’s a positive influence on Kin Kuang in my opinion.
The lady from the press conference is the heartless media mogul in charge of the whole thing (played by Jacquline Li I believe?). It doesn’t seem like they put alot of thought into how a thing like this would work. She’ll be walking around and suddenly yell things like “And don’t forget to put the camera on the girl!” or “I don’t like that camera angle! Change it!” She seems like a standard villain, but like most of the characters here isn’t entirely evil and corrupt.
Random note: I noticed the name “Lisa Ling” in the credits, but it’s not on the IMDb entry, so I don’t know if it’s the journalist.
It’s an undeniably cheesy movie, but it somewhat won me over with its earnestness and by not always going for the obvious. Kin starts out seeming like kind of a loser, but I started to sympathize with him more as I learned about his guilt over the kid’s-eye incident, and seeing him get criticized for doing the right thing during the tournament.
There’s all kinds of philosophy-spouting, mostly by Tang Ning, the daughter of a famous master, so it makes sense that she’d say wise shit all the time. She’s very open to different ways. She says stuff like “I disagree with your point of view. I still respect your opinion.” Kin Kuang also keeps talking about having a different “point of view” from Jin Fang. She talks about entering the competition without thinking she can win, and it blows his mind. It’s not just empty talk, Kin actually learns a lesson over the course of the movie. He comes to respect her ROCKY-like goal of surviving 10 minutes with an opponent she knows she can’t beat, and his ultimate victory is not in winning a match either.
Also I really liked this other fighter, Ian Maxfield (Paul Rapouski, fight coordinator for CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK). Look at him:
This looks like the cheesy gwailo villain who shows up for a couple fights against Jackie Chan, right? I mean he’s got a stripe shaved in his beard and a braid so long he ties it around his neck like a dog collar during fights. And he’s real tall but doesn’t have a great physique. It’s a type of look that only a white martial artist living in Hong Kong could ever achieve. And he’s introduced at the press conference raising a wrestling belt and punching the air.
But then we see him talking to his wife and son on a TV monitor. He introduces Kin and Ning as “my new friends,” and he actually is nice to them, later trying to encourage Kin to fight and saying he looks forward to meeting him in the ring. In a respectful way, not an intimidating one. He’s no saint though, he does something we might not respect. How often do we see a gwailo in a Hong Kong martial arts movie this complex? It caught me completely off guard.
I mean, this is not a great fight movie by any stretch of the imagination, but its heart is in the right place. I like hearts that are in the right place.
action choreographer: Jack Wong (HERO, KILL ZONE)
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.