BEYOND THE RING is an amateurish underground fighting drama allegedly based on a true story and starring the Brazilian Taekwondo Grandmaster Andre Lima as himself. Depending on what parts of it are true it’s a deeply personal story and/or a weird vanity project.
In the movie Andre is a Taekwondo instructor (at one of his actual L.A. area schools it looks like), a widower and single father of teenage son Joseph (Joseph Nerlinger) and pre-teen daughter Jessica (Aycka Lima). He stopped competitive fighting after his wife’s death and gets real stubborn when his brother-in-law Patrick (Martin the bad guy in KARATE KID Kove) comes around trying to make sure he’s taking care of the family well and what not.
The hook is that one day Andre finds out his daughter has a brain tumor, and his insurance doesn’t cover her surgery, so he ends up taking an underground fight against a guy called Zulu (Justice Smith, BLOOD AND BONE, THOR) to try to raise the money. My assumption was that real life Lima really had a sick daughter and maybe did some kind of tournament fighting to pay for the surgery, not an illegal thing like this, but I’ve found some biographies of him online and none of them mention his family life at all. I guess this is one of those unverifiable martial arts tall tales, like how BLOODSPORT is supposed to be based on a real guy called Frank Dux who claims to have taken part in a real Kumite. But if the guy’s daughter (who I believe is playing herself in the movie?) didn’t really get sick that would be an unethical truth-stretching in my opinion.
Lima, who played Brakus’s sparring partner in BEST OF THE BEST 2, is passable as a stiff, inarticulate tough guy with a heart of gold, but there is some humorously z-grade acting and dialogue when he has to get emotional. The poor guy has to do tearful monologues, a scene where he has trouble accepting the doctor’s news about his daughter, another where he cries while reading his daughter’s diary. Even worse is his son, who I assumed had to be his real son until I checked the credits. His lowest moment is discovering his sister laying on the floor and monotonously shouting “Dad help. Dad please help.”
Kove walks with a crutch, and we find out that he was once a street fighter but was crippled, and this is why he worries about Andre taking this fight. Man, that Kove guy is a worker. I looked him up on IMDb and at the moment he has 17 movies listed either as completed, post-production or pre-production. His recent movies are stuff like 2 LAVA 2 LANTULA! and THE DOG WHO SAVED SUMMER, but it doesn’t seem to stop him from making an effort. This is one of those performances I can’t help but respect because he’s clearly going for it, whether or not he thinks he’s in a shitty movie. For example there’s a scene where he has somewhat of a confrontation with Andre and then he leaves, but before going out the door he turns and looks around at the room and makes a face like he’s thinking of something, and then he turns and goes.
Seriously though, you appreciate something like that in a movie full of non-actors who are not naturals.
But as much as I like Kove in the movie, the M.V.P. is still Gary Busey as Tony DeLuca, who is some kind of agent or something for Andre. He calls Andre into his office to tell him that Combat Kicking (a real book) has just been published, and he’s on the cover of two magazines (these seem to have all happened today without Andre expecting it). During the meeting Tony calls his secretary or assistant to bring him water specifically in three minutes. She delivers the water wearing lingerie. When she leaves Tony says to Andre, “You know what she is? She’s nice, exciting, and tight.”
Later, when Andre comes to him sobbing and begging for help paying for his daughter’s tumor surgery Tony says he can’t help and that what he needs to do is have faith in God and pray. Later it turns out Tony is a sleazeball who recruits Andre for what he refers to as “underground fighting” or “mixed martial arts fighting,” intentionally has him trained poorly and bets against him (even though the odds are against him so wouldn’t he make more money by betting for him and not setting him up?)
The one thing that seems like they hired professionals and didn’t just do it at their house is the soundtrack. There are four songs: “Stand Tall,” “Beyond the Ring,” “Storm Breaking” and “Safe,” and although this was made in 2008 I swear to you they sound like they could be on the soundtrack for ROCKY IV or NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER. Three are performed by someone named Ken Stacey, except for “Safe” by Kathryn Bostic, who wrote all the songs. (Music Production & Guitars: NILS). Stacey is a singer who was in Michael Jackson’s This Is It band, and was a vocal coach on American Idol. According to his websight, “Major labels, world class producers and industry icons such as The Voice, X-Factor, American Idol, Randy Jackson, Nickelodeon and Disney have all reached out to Ken to help them find, vet and prepare exceptional talent!” Bostic composed the score for this movie and a bunch of others, most notably DEAR WHITE PEOPLE.
If you were wondering “Is this one of those movies where the hero goes to pray alone in an empty church and then another character walks in and says ‘I knew I’d find you here’?” the answer is “I don’t think I have to answer that, you already know.” There is one weird joke where he goes to check on his son, and he goes into the bedroom and it kinda seems like he’s gonna walk in on him jerking off but instead he catches him breakdancing. He backs up out of there and it’s never mentioned again.
Otherwise the story is so generic and the dialogue is so on the nose that it seems pretty much guaranteed that Busey came up with the weird shit for his character. In one great scene he’s by his swimming pool surrounded by bikini women, one of whom he sends to answer the door when his crime associate Vincent (David Michie, additional voices, GARFIELD’S PET FORCE) shows up. When Vincent comes in and shakes his hand he points him to the bikini lady and says “Please shake hands with her. She’s a member of the family.” At the end of the scene he asks “Nikky, Nikky, could you get Vincent a drink before he goes? Tell him a story about, uh, your childhood.”
The goofiest and most forced dramatic moment is when Andre reveals to his son that he was actually adopted after a homeless man found him in a dumpster. Okay, that’s an acceptable backstory, but the way they get to it is that the son asks “Why do you freeze up whenever you get near the garbage can?” and “Hey Dad, can you tell me tonight what it is about the trash that freaks you out?”
Warning: it leans heavier on the awkward family drama than the BLOODSPORT shit. It does have training montages where he has to run while towing a yellow Humvee, but also one of them has a really long shot of him looking sadly at a photo. It seems inappropriate for the triumphant music and too long of a shot for a montage. But maybe it’s some kind of Haneke thing. I don’t know.
The fight director is J.J. “Loco” Perry (HAYWIRE, WARRIOR, UNDISPUTED II) so they’re pretty good exaggerated Jiu-jitsu plus high kicks, though not shot in a very dynamic fashion, and mostly just on a big gym mat with the audience suspiciously not in the shot. But his opponent, Zulu, is pretty impressive:
They do a good Ivan Drago type thing of making him so much bigger he can just manhandle Andre. My favorite move is when he’s got Andre down and then he just picks him up by the ankle and tosses him like he’s throwing his shirt into a pile of dirty laundry.
Ha ha, I didn’t see until I paused it what an obvious stunt double that is.
There’s also a special appearance by Rigan Machado as himself, helping Andre with training. It turns out Lima played “bar fighter” in Machado’s even cruder low budget movie, BRAZILIAN BRAWL. In fact, director Gerson Sanginitto also appeared in BRAZILIAN BRAWL before he was a director, and the Machado brothers made that one as their version of an EL MARIACHI type no budget movie, so that must’ve inspired this one too. Sanginitto’s directorial debut was MAXIMUM CAGE FIGHTING, about a former Taekwondo champion forced to fight a match to save his daughter from kidnappers.
I gotta SPOILER the ending. Tony had his trainer purposely training Andre “with the wrong strategy” so that he couldn’t win. He never finds this out, seems to basically use the strategy, and seems to win anyway, but then he has his back turned when Zulu gets back up and punches him.
So he loses the fight, doesn’t get enough money, has to sell his house and everything in it. Just as he’s packing up the last few kitchen items Uncle Patrick comes in and tosses down a folder, which he says he just got faxed from his lawyer. “You fight your way, I fight mine.”
Andre stares at it for a long time, can’t believe it, hugs and thanks him. The operation is paid for! But they never explain how. So the whole question of the movie was “Oh no, how is he gonna pay for this operation?” and the answer is “It’s up to the viewer to decide!”
Then there’s another pretty good what-in-the-shit moment when Andre is waiting at the hospital and ANOTHER SPOILER a doctor comes out and tells him “I’m sorry,” and then he’s visiting the graves of his wife and daughter. I thought what, all that to get the money and then someone else gets the money for him and then she dies anyway? What a horribly tragic story!
But then he wakes up and a he’s still in the waiting room and a different doctor comes out and all but says “Don’t worry, your daughter isn’t dead like your wife, the operation was a total success!”
Look man, I know in underground fighting there are no rules, but in movies there’s a rule that you don’t do a cheap fake out like that for no reason. Then again I guess it’s the unpredictable nature that makes a movie like this worth my time. Maybe not yours, but mine.
p.s. This movie was made before Obama’s Affordable Care Act passed. The ACA (inspired by this movie?) has helped to get millions of people health insurance and lowered the cost in many cases. We still need to do better, judging by how much I’m paying and my recent experience of having to spend over $6,000 for an MRI that didn’t even figure out what was wrong with me. I should’ve just not gone to the doctor and I’d be in the same place but with my savings account intact. I know the right wing of this country’s idea is to actually take away my insurance so that I would’ve had to pay twice as much, but I hope the reasonable people will continue building off of the act to make it work better.
If not I’m gonna have to enter one of these fighting circuits and to be honest I do not feel qualified you guys