Pit Fighter

tn_pitfighterI’m starting to think the underground fighting movie is to modern DTV what the western was to b-movies in the ’50s. They just never stop coming and yet somehow they’re not all terrible, in fact a few of them are great. You got BLOOD AND BONE of course, you got UNDISPUTED II-III (unless you consider prison fighting a separate genre), DAMAGE with Stone Cold Steve Austin was surprisingly good, and there’s even a good theatrically released one, FIGHTING. I’d recommend all of those above PIT FIGHTER, but I’ll be damned, here’s another pretty enjoyable and distinctively different take on this same type of storyline.

mp_pitfighterDominiquie Vandenberg, fight coordinator for GANGS OF NEW YORK and BEOWULF, “stunt ninja” for MORTAL KOMBAT, plays Jack Severino, a dude who turns up in a small town somewhere in South America, bloody and with a little chunk of his brain shot off, so he doesn’t remember much except the girl he lost. That would suck if he didn’t because her name is tattooed really noticeably across his chest. He goes shirtless in alot of the movie and your eye goes right to it, so I’m surprised nobody ever calls him “Marianne.” I guess they know better.

A sleazy doctor saves Jack’s life and says he’s now in debt to one of the local druglords for the medical expenses. So it’s actually very similar to the health care we have here. Scarface’s best friend Steven Bauer takes Jack under his wing and tries to get him some shit job in the drug smuggling industry, but then he finds out he can fight. I mean, he can really really fight, this is not exactly a Rocky story. He doesn’t have to struggle that much.

But the fights are not glamorous. They take place in a dirty little back room. Not even a ring but a roped off square. It’s the same spot where they have the dog fights, and there’s a picture of a fighting rooster painted in the center of the floor. If you’re one of these guys you wouldn’t bring your parents to see you fight, is what I’m saying. Unless your dad is Michael Vick.

Despite the small audience Jack (who becomes known as El Gringo) has an interesting philosophy about how to put on a good fight. He purposely lets his opponent beat and bloody the shit out of him, then he lets loose and knocks them out. This way the crowd gets a good fight and he shows the other guy respect by not humiliating him. It’s great because it takes the standard method of making a fight dramatic (good guy seems to be losing, but perseveres and then pulls a victory out of thin air) and turns it into a deliberate fight strategy. And it creates an explanation for why this guy is the baddest motherfucker around but can’t just plow through everybody instantly. Well, he could, but he doesn’t believe in it.

Vandenberg doesn’t strike me as a screen legend in the making. He doesn’t have a huge amount of charisma and as a fighter seems capable, not memorable. But he works pretty good for this role. He has some kind of authenticity about him, he doesn’t look like a Hollywood guy.

Overall this is a pretty generic drug gangs/fighter-who-doesn’t-want-to-take-a-fall type of story, but like alot of my favorite DTVs it has a few strange touches that make it memorable.

1. He has visions of the Virgin Mary, as in an actress is actually playing her, standing there in his room. I don’t think I’ve seen that in a fight movie before. They don’t do anything real crazy with it though, it’s not like BAD LIEUTENANT where Harvey Keitel sees Jesus standing there and calls him a “rat fuck.”

2. It has a really weird use for Scott Adkins. He shows up as a (Australian?) guy from Jack’s past who he doesn’t remember. He does a monologue full of flowery language:

“I know your face. I know it well. ‘Cause when the fists were flying, or even the bullets, I’ve stood back-to-back with you. I’ve been soaked to the skin with rain, sweat and blood. I’ve smelled death on a spring afternoon. I’ve defeated the hands of an enemy that doesn’t know Christ. Yours is a face with only one side. So help me, Jack… that I might be struck down where I stand if I lie, but I would die for you my brother. Your place isn’t with this panhandling gutter trash. Whatever misfortunes overcome you, call me, all right? I’m at the Ambassador Hotel for the next two days.”

So at the end Jack’s gonna go get him at the hotel and they’re gonna fight back-to-back and kick some ass together, right? Wrong! You never see Adkins again in the movie.

Looking at it with distance it’s kind of clever, I think they wanted to give Adkins a chance to just act, and to show that Jack has become his own man, taking care of problems on his own instead of getting other people involved. But in the context of the movie and the expectations it sets up it’s almost a crime. You don’t imply to the audience that the eminent scene stealer of DTV martial arts is gonna help out the hero during the climax and then the surprise twist is ha ha, Scott Adkins doesn’t fight in this one. That’s not the kind of surprise that makes a movie better.

3. On the other hand what does happen without Scott Adkins is memorably crazy. I don’t really get it. It’s such a drastic change in tone that I kind of thought it was gonna turn out to be a dream, and then whatever does happen at the very end is a little ambiguous.

Jack turns out to have been an infamous enforcer who gunned down entire families of gangsters. So to get out of his troubles he takes them all on with guns and a sword. It almost plays like a Rambo parody with him running around screaming like a maniac, firing off hundreds of bullets, at first seeming like nobody can hit him for some reason, but pretty soon that changes.

You wanna know the weirdo reason why I watched this? I was so impressed by “Fight Professor” Stephen Quadros in his commentary on Pride FC 1-5 that I looked him up on IMDB and found out he did fight choreography and second unit for this one. Well, the fights are a little rawer and more reality based than in most movies, but I didn’t think they were all that notable. The more significant voice in this thing is writer/director Jesse V. Johnson, prolific stuntman and sometimes director. This is his third movie as a director and I’ve also seen his ninth, THE BUTCHER starring Eric Roberts. These two movies have a similar tone to them, feeling real heartfelt about the melodrama, the love story, the torment, the trying to turn your life around. Both have heroes with slowly revealed secrets in their past, bad histories they want to live down, very loyal old friends who want to help them, and weirdly one-sided (but outnumbered) shootouts. THE BUTCHER had a much more charismatic central performance, but it could’ve used a little more of this:


This entry was posted on Friday, September 17th, 2010 at 12:49 pm and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “Pit Fighter”

  1. So wait, does he actually fight in a pit? Or just a backroom?

  2. Vern, I’m not sure this review made me want to see “Pit Fighter”, but it sure as heck made me want to see “Bad Lieutenant”. Harvey Keitel and Jesus? How can it get better than that (at least without throwing Chloe Sevigny into the mix…)

  3. From April 6, 2010: **I was thinking the other day: I wonder if super hero movies are the westerns of our time? A genre that’ll dominate for a while and then after a generation or two of being done to death it’s put off into storage, except for special occasions, like the fancy silverware. If so then I think we’re a little early with all these super hero deconstructions, these different versions of “what would really happen if somebody tried to be a super hero?” **

    From today: **I’m starting to think the underground fighting movie is to modern DTV what the western was to b-movies in the ’50s. They just never stop coming and yet somehow they’re not all terrible, in fact a few of them are great. **

    You’ve given us so much to ponder, and you’ve helped raise the bar for hopeful low-budget, or actually any-budget, underground fighting moviemakers. Meanwhile, I haven’t seen Pit Fighter yet, but I watched Kiltro today. You promised to review it one day in the MirageMan post. Twas a strange, strange film, that Kiltro. The “Making of the Fight Scenes” 5-minute featurette on the DVD was outstanding. I may never stop laughing at the sight of those 2 guys being decapitated, their foam head substitutes flying into oblivion as their bulging v-necks descend to the floor at Marko Zaror’s feet.

    Finally, off the topic, I’ve discovered that Vampire’s Kiss is streaming on good ole Netflix. Today is a good day.

  4. Not an adaptation of the video game PIT-FIGHTER I take it?

  5. Stu – funnily enough that was my first thought as well. I used to waste hours on the Sega Megadrive with Ty and Buzz. (There was no reason to ever use Kato, ever. He was terrible.)

  6. “A sleazy doctor saves Jack’s life and says he’s now in debt to one of the local druglords for the medical expenses. So it’s actually very similar to the health care we have here.”

    I laughed out loud. Sorry, America.

  7. The US Army has excellent health care available at no extra charge to soldiers and their families. It’s included in your contract. See your local recruiter today!

  8. what? the military has universal healthcare? how has it that our military has it become communists and socialists?!

  9. I dunno, comrade.

  10. @ Mouth

    Joss Whedon said the same thing the other day in regards to him directing Avengers. He said he feels like comic films skipped almost straight to their deconstructionist period, missing the entire construction of the genre. I guess that’s what happens when you just get started adapting 20-70 year old stories though.

  11. I’d also argue that modern superhero films face an audience much more savvy to postmodern deconstruction than b-movie Western audiences were. The inherent absurdity, combined with comic books’ perception as juvenile, makes treating them in a straightforward, self-serious way a tricky poposition and makes the having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too pulpy deconstructionism of, say WATCHMEN, much more attractive to filmmakers. Also adapting a genre which has already undergone a deconstructive period in its original medium (which produced some of its most important work) probably has something to do with it, too.

  12. Vern, speaking of badass pit fighters, you really need to review, or at least just watch VALHALLA RISING. Mute one-eyed viking badass as protagonist, it should perk some interest from you.

  13. I feel like I should give VALHALLA RISING another shot. I was really excited for it but then I watched it and I was bored. I couldn’t really detect much of a plot or story to hook me in to all the coolness. I mean there was a lot of brutal and visceral fights/battles in the thing and it was shot in a way I can get into and reminded me of AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD which is one of my favorite movies but somehow I walked away cold. This disconcerts me.

  14. VALHALLA RISING does have a kind of AGUIRRE feel to it, but with micro-acting instead of mega-acting. Something I don’t usually notice unless it’s done especially badly, but the sound on it is great. Also, if you’re watching it for the fighting, there’s not that much actual fighting in it.

  15. Regarding Valhalla Rising. I scrubbed through it a few times and all I got was shots of ugly dudes sitting around not talking. I scrubbed around for like another 60 seconds and that was all I got … every time. No action whatsoever. It’s a damn good looking film, but does anything happen? I just can’t bring myself to watch it. Is it really worth it? Anyone?

    On a side Florentinest note: Has anyone seen his earlier works like US Navy Special Force Marines II? I’m interested, but on the fence; The Shepherd was a mess, Ninja was pretty bad (as Florentine himself admits – well, he says the plot and acting was terrible), but I absolutely adore his Undisputed films … bloody minor masterpieces. If only the Bloodsport I.P. wasn’t so convoluted, he’d be the perfect fit for that material.

  16. The 1st half of Valhalla is masterful. I totally loved it. Amazing cinematography, awesome fight scenes and brutal kills, great acting from Mikkelsen, and a simple but engaging story.

    Unfortunately the 2nd half, after the boat trip, is only so-so. No action anymore. The cinematography becomes a lot more ordinary. And the story just ceases to exist.

    The film pretty much lost me when it decided to do a 10-minute montage in which the characters were crawling around in mud, piling up stones and making growling sounds, for no apparent reason whatsoever. Also the ending is pretty lame and illogical.

    But the awesomeness of the 1st half makes it worth seeing.

  17. Man, that ending for PIT FIGHTER is just ridiculous fun. Jack just mowing down dozens of Cartel guys.

  18. Just watched this last night on Tubi. I’ve been on a JVJ/Scott Adkins kick (Avengement, Debt Collector), thought I’d give this a shot, can’t be as bad as the IMDb rating. I liked it! It’s very earnest, and ambitious in its storytelling, narratively and visually, and good brutal low budget fights by real fighters. Obviously made very low budget but compare this to your usual Seagal piece of shit (sorry Vern). I found it very endearing.

    Image-wise I was surprised how good it looked. Shot on film? Interesting that the aspect ratio is 4:3 – I assume because of the DTV market in 2004?

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