One of many underground fighting movies I took a look at in my action movies of summer ’89 retrospective was CAGE, a cheapie starring Lou Ferrigno and Reb Brown as Billy and Scott, two Vietnam buddies forced into a cage fighting circuit. It was enjoyable for its cast, its warm-hearted tribute to friendship, and even its naive-feeling sincerity about the uncomfortable premise that Billy acts like a child because of a brain injury. And I got even more entertainment reading about director Lang Elliott’s later business ventures, including taking over a smoothie chain in a failed attempt to produce a Dorf feature film and build a theme park.
In 1994 Elliott returned with a sequel, so far his final directorial work. CAGE II (subtitled THE ARENA OF DEATH on the VHS packaging) reintroduces Billy and Scott while they’re out grocery shopping. Their negotiations about whether or not Billy is allowed to buy a blue soft drink are intercut with ominous shots of a gang of long haired bad guys in sunglasses and black trenchcoats walking toward the store. And it lays it on thick how much innocence this evil is about to collide with. Billy and Scott smile at a little boy. Two women invite Scott to a party. Before that, while they’re giving him the eye, two smiling children skip by, holding hands!
I was sure this was following in the footsteps of COBRA, STONE COLD and whatever other movies have the hero stop the armed robbery of a grocery store to show how tough they are. Instead, the bad guys just fuckin machine gun everybody (I’m afraid the party is gonna have to be cancelled)… and shoot Billy with a dart. We next see him cage fighting again, because he’s been tricked into believing that Scott was killed in the shooting, and that fighting is the only way to have someone take care of him.
That someone is part 1 villain Tin Lum Yin (James Shigeta, DIE HARD). At the end of the other one Scott couldn’t stop Billy from bear hugging Yin to death. Or so it seemed, until a horror movie style conclusion where OH SHIT HE’S MOVING, HE’S STILL ALIVE! Now we see him watching the fight from his box seats or whatever and then when he talks to Billy backstage he’s hidden in the shadows at first as if it’s a big reveal. I guess what they’re trying to unveil slowly is that he now wears a body brace because of his injuries. (It should be a mech suit.)
So through this grocery store attack Yin was able to get a muscleman (Ferrigno looks way bigger in this one) to be his star fighter. In my opinion it’s a reckless plan. They murdered a bunch of innocent civilians, but left Scott alive, figuring “oh well, he’ll never find out about us.” And then they started a cable network just to show the fights on
I don’t really understand how Scott didn’t know Yin was still alive. Shouldn’t police officer Tiger Joe (who’s sadly not in this one) have said “Oh by the way, Yin came through, so Billy will only be on the run from assault charges, not murder”? Or “Hey, just so you know, Yin’s body somehow disappeared from the crime scene, but I’m sure it’s just some kind of misunderstanding”?
Scott actually doesn’t find out that Yin’s alive and has a hugely popular not-so-underground fighting circuit until some Interpol agents (Leo Fong [RAPID FIRE] and Grandmaster Masaharu Sakimukai, who also did some of the choreography) see Scott snooping around Chinatown and decide to train him to go undercover as a fighter. So it has some of that stuff I love where an enigmatic master has to convince a hot shot that he ain’t shit and then show him how it’s really done. I’m sorry to say that Brown looks slow and stiff in the fight scenes both before and after his re-education. But he does some kicks and stuff, which is an improvement over the more wrestling based fights of the first movie.
The back of the box claims “Cage fights are blood-splattering exhibitions the whole world watches. But the spectators don’t realize that competing inside the cage means a fight to the death. And neither do the competitors.” Wait – how could the fighters not know? And what’s the point of even doing it if you hide it from the people watching? That also doesn’t seem to me like an accurate description of what goes on here, unless it’s supposed to refer to the subplot about Billy having chest pains. “Billy Thomas seems to be under greater stress than I perceived,” explains the semi-fiendish Dr. Wo (Gerald Okamura, SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO, SAMURAI COP), who’s charged with injecting him with various medicines. “His heart could burst at any time.” This never amounts to anything, though.
The cast also includes Steven Ito (BLOODSPORT III), James Lew (BEST OF THE BEST, NIGHT OF THE WARRIOR, MISSION OF JUSTICE, AMERICAN NINJA 5, BALANCE OF POWER), Tadashi Yamashita (GYMKATA, AMERICAN NINJA), Craig Ng (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) and Gary Kasper (RING OF STEEL), but the most notable casting is “introducing Shannon Lee.” Her brother Brandon died in March of ’93, so I’m guessing this must’ve been filmed a little before then, when he was helping her try to get into acting. Unfortunately her character Mi Lo is the type of stereotypical role her father fought to get past. She has to speak semi-broken, accented English as a Chinese immigrant who was forced into prostitution. But she does courageously help Billy and become the love interest. In keeping with her background as a singer, she performs the end credits ballad (but it’s not as corny-good as part 1’s).
One really funny part of the movie – and it might be intentional, but I lean toward it not being – is Scott’s disguise. Since Yin knows him he goes to fight wearing a leather jacket, an unconvincing long hair wig, a fake mustache and a soul patch. When he’s in the ring with black tights and no shirt it looks like he’s going as Anthony Kiedis for Halloween. He works his way up until he gets a match with Billy, who still believes he’s dead, and then during the fight he pulls off the wig to reveal himself. They hug and the crowd boos.
During the climax there’s a fire that’s set to create a distraction, so that must just be something screenwriter Hugh Kelley is into. Or he feels like it’s an important part of any CAGE movie, like having Riggs do something really crazy in a LETHAL WEAPON. Billy is supposedly killed, and Scott is weirdly blase about it.
“Did you find Billy?”
“Yin killed him.”
But just like Yin in the first one, he didn’t check for a pulse, and then just left the body there while others are being taken away in an ambulance. And it ends with Billy moving, still alive, just like Yin at the end of part 1. It’s played for horror. I don’t get it. Anyway, Scott isn’t too broken up to smile and say “Get that sonofabitch!” after Yin’s helicopter is blown up by a bazooka.
I think Ferrigno’s acting is improved in this one – his emotional outbursts are less cartoonish, which might make it less fun for some people. The cage fights are shot more clearly and there seem to be more of them, though they’re still not particularly thrilling. The outcome is rarely in question or important to the story, and we’ve all seen hundreds of the same type of thing done much better anyway.
I definitely found the first one more entertaining, but going back over it for this review I realize that this one had its moments too. So yes, I recommend CAGE II for all CAGE completists who need to see all two chapters of this saga.
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.