In BALANCE OF POWER, Billy Blanks plays Niko, one of those martial arts instructors who teaches disadvantaged kids, in one of those neighborhoods where gangs go door-to-door demanding protection money. He makes the kids pick up litter in the neighborhood and lectures them if they think “the most important thing about karate” is “kicking some butt, man.” Niko is sensitive and truly cares about the kids, but he maintains a tough love exterior, hoping it will keep them in line. He’s especially worried about Billy (Adam Bonneau) because he told him not to ever go to the playground (inhabited by scary gang members) and then the dumbass went there for a girl.
Meanwhile Niko’s in trouble because the mob guys just noticed that they have mistakenly forgotten to ever shake him down for money. Embarrassing blunder there. So some thugs, including long-haired Shinji Takamura (James Lew, MISSION OF JUSTICE), come in, he refuses, they break some glass and give him an ultimatum. When he still doesn’t pay up the main enforcer guy drives a car by the playground and one of his ski masked guys does a drive-by on Billy.
Niko sees the whole thing. He runs over to comfort the boy. Says, “Billy… Billy I’m sorry,” then leaves the body and runs… after the shooters? I don’t know. He stops running in an alley, but then the car comes up behind him and the guys in ski masks beat the shit out of him and Takamura tells him “Arouse a bee, it strikes back like a dragon” before punching him out. (That’s a simile within a metaphor, I believe.)
When Niko comes to in a pile of garbage it’s day time and a precocious girl named Jasmine Matsumoto (cartoon voice actor Lisa Boynton), who has a peculiar way of speaking, says he needs to come to her grandfather to be healed. Grandfather turns out to be the great master Todo Matsumoto (Mako, CONAN THE BARBARIAN), who recently has been forced by an underground fighting circuit to return to recruiting fighters for them. And it just so happens that the top fighter in the circuit is Shinji Takamura, the henchman who shot Billy and said the weird thing about bees. And also it turns out that guy was once Mako’s student but went Darth Vader on him.
Niko says “I want to find the killer.” The movie treats Shinji as the killer, though it was technically a different guy in a ski mask who shot Billy. Since he’s settled on Shinji I don’t know why he can’t just wait for him to come around collecting dues again. Instead he decides he needs to train to enter the competition.
By the way, Blanks finally decided to go completely bald for this one. Good choice in my opinion. (The poster disagrees with me on that.)
As in most movies by workout king Billy Blanks there are multiple training montages. He does the usual log-lifting, log-dragging, swinging-object-dodging and different types of push-ups, but this time some of it is out in the snow. He does the running-up-a-small-mountain routine, but when he gets to the top instead of feeling victorious he looks down and sees the bad guys driving up to kidnap his stop watch girl Jasmine. The master says she’s “ransom” for the match, but I think maybe he means collateral? Insurance? Damage deposit? I don’t know.
At the end of one of the montages Nico holds up his hands in what might be a tai chi pose or something, but which also resembles the Roc a fella records “diamond” hand signal that internet conspiratorialists have labelled a so-called Illuminati symbol. I would like the experts to take a look at this one. Not only does he do the signal, but later he’s involved in a ritual involving a skull in a secret cave.
One premise of Illuminati theory seems to be that a black man like Jay-Z could never become successful through a combination of immense talent, hard work and business sense, it could only ever be because of secret occult rituals and evil magic conspiracies to control the world and aliens or what not as well as satan and goats. If so, surely the Illuminati are responsible for Mr. Blanks’s great success creating the Tae Bo workout and selling lots of videos of it on infomercials. According to the L.A. Times, Blanks’s students once included Paula Abdul, Sinbad and Shaquille O’Neal. All successful people as well. Suspicious.
And consider this: BALANCE OF POWER is only available on VHS. Many people don’t have VCRs anymore. It is one of the most elite formats of physical media available, topped only by laser disc, Betamax and Super Video Disc. So please, study and dissect this one frame by frame. BALANCE OF POWER starring Billy Blanks. Do it for the world. Use my Amazon links to buy it please. thanks Illuminati. Or I mean Illumi-not-i
One thing I enjoy in this type of movie is seeing how the writers choose to awkwardly slip in the backstory. Okay, I wrote down on my treatment that the little girl’s mother died of a drug overdose, but how are people gonna find out? Oh, I know, I’ll use the ol’ photo locket routine! Niko makes small talk with Jasmine after a workout:
“Hey, what’s in that locket?”
“Oh, it’s a picture of my mother.”
“You miss her, don’t you?”
“Yeah. I loved her.”
“I bet she loved you too.”
“Then why couldn’t she stay off the drugs? I mean, if you really love somebody you should be able to do anything for them, right?”
He helps the little girl, and the old man helps him. The lesson he needs to learn is about not getting worked up emotionally during a fight. He has his final showdown with Shinji in a ring surrounded by flames (but in a showman type way, not ritualistic, because you can see that it’s mechanical rigs attached, not just torches). The climactic moment when he realizes how to win the fight is pretty cool, because black and white flashbacks of Billy getting shot are intercut with Nico standing doing intense tai chi type moves. So he’s keeping his emotions at bay and just staying very focused. When the guy comes at him he stands almost motionless, only moving his hands to block each blow.
In keeping with the yin yang theme, maybe, the end of the fight is a balance of Bruce Lee and Popeye. He gives the guy a cartoonish budda-da-budda-da-buddah-da type volley of gut punches before doing that famous ENTER THE DRAGON move where he jumps up in the air and the camera is looking up at him as he tenses his neck and screams, indicating that his feet are somehow breaking and killing the person he’s standing on. (Twist: he turns out not to have his feet on him. He’s merciful, I believe.)
Check this shit out, though. At the end, when Niko comes back to the school, Billy is there with a sling! Niko is excited and hugs him, as if he had no idea he was still alive. So what we can piece together here is that after Niko left Billy for dead and abandoned his life to track down the “killer” it turns out Billy was okay. Maybe Niko should’ve checked in at some point during training and somebody would’ve told him. Oh well. Remember, this is before texting and Facebook.
BALANCE OF POWER is the only feature directorial work by Rick Bennett, who was the voice of Juggernaut in X-Men cartoons and video games. To date, Blanks has not had another starring role. Since then he’s appeared in KISS THE GIRLS (as “Kickboxing Instructor”), as part of a big cast in SHADOW WARRIORS 2, as himself in JACK AND JILL and as a sheriff in a werewolf movie called DARK MOON RISING. But BALANCE OF POWER is the last true Billy Blanks movie.
p.s. I gotta recommend this on VHS just for the amazing trailers. First there’s a cheesy PSA about how video stores are better than watching TV. A couple goes to a generic Hollywood type video store and choose T2 and DIRTY DANCING. There’s a shot that shows a whole shelf full of T2 on VHS! Then there’s an ad for the Artisan Urban Collection and you can get a free BELLY t-shirt if you buy that and THE SUBSTITUTE and some other things. And there’s also an ad for ONE MAN’S JUSTICE and ARMY OF ONE new on DVD. The narrator even boasts that they have interactive menus.
This tape is a full night of entertainment, is what I’m telling you. Or at least that’s what the all seeing eye of the elites wants you to think.
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.