25th May2013

‘Submission’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Ernie Reyes Jr., Ving Rhames, George Takei, John Savage, Maria Conchita Alonso, Matthias Hues, Sara Downing | Written by Adam Boster, Kenneth Chamitoff | Directed by Kenneth Chamitoff

the-red-canvas

I’m a huge fan of martial arts flicks, be they traditional wuxia titles or modern MMA-inspired b-movies, my DVD shelves are pretty much weighed down by fight flick after fight flick. Despite the lack of shelf space that is currently upon me, the chance to check out and add a new kick-ass film to my collection can never be passed up. So when I spotted Submission on the shelves of my local ASDA I knew I had to have it. It also didn’t hurt that the film is littered with a cast of familiar names and faces, including Ernie Reyes Jr., who starred in a couple of my childhood favourites: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 and Surf Ninjas.

Also known as The Red Canvas and The Art of Submission, this MMA-themed action drama finally hits UK shores some 4 years after it was filmed, in a retitled and re-edited version. Reportedly one of the first feature films to be shot on the RED 4k camera, Submission tells the story of Johnny Sanchez, a hot-headed wannabe fighter whose eagerness to make something of himself, to gain respect, leads to a stint in prison after he breaks a guys knees trying to collect a debt in a desperate attempt to earn some cash. Prison doesn’t make Johnny re-evaluate his life either – instead the guards let him beat down on all comers to earn cash whilst locked up, furthering his arrogance and only feeding his bad temper. Being released from jail doesn’t help Johnny either, his piss-poor attitude causes his brother-in-law to get shot and puts his dad in a coma! With his father’s garage facing foreclosure, the only way to save it is to fight in the Red Canvas tournament. Amidst preparing for an opponent who can’t be defeated, Johnny must deal with the turmoil of his family and answer for mistakes of the past.

Let me get this out of the way first – Submission is an odd film. Filled with real-life fighters and featuring some fantastic MMA action, the film could have been a superb martial arts underdog tale. Instead there’s a strange attempt to turn the film into something more by adding drama – the likes of which you typically see billed as “TV movie of the week”. There’s also a bizarre subplot regarding an evil Vietnamese soldier turned fight promoter (played by George Takei) who drugs his fighters in order for them to win and whom kidnapped Johnny’s probation officer/trainer during the Vietnam war and used him as a guinea pig for the “steroid” he now gives his fighters! It’s not until 75 minutes into the film that the movie even attempts to get on to a Karate Kid-esque path, with John Savage’s trainer teaching Johnny humility and his fathers elderly garage assistant teaching him fighting skills; and even then the movie tries hard not to fit into any typical Hollywood mold.

In no way your standard “underdog” fight film, Submission has a lot more to say about family, respect, and the interesting dichotomy between traditional martial arts and MMA. From what I understand the film suffered somewhat in production and the recent re-edit was an attempt to add more story to Johnny’s story (debt collecting, going to prison etc.) but instead it just makes the film feel disjointed – much to its detriment.

Whilst Submission features some superb MMA action, the film’s story leaves a lot to be desired. Yes, the film tries to do something different with a much-maligned tale but its flaws often hold the film back from what it could have been, and as such it’s hard to recommend this to anyone other than die-hard fight flick fans.

Submission is out now on DVD from 4 Digital Media.

*** 3/5

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