21st Sep2017

‘Death Fighter’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Matt Mullins, Joe Lewis, Chiranan Manochaem, Jawed El Berni, Gigi Velicitat, Yuhkoh Matsuguchi, Prasit Suanphaka, Wirat Kemklad | Written by Lawrence Riggins | Directed by Toby Russell

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Originally filmed as White Tiger back in 2012, Russell’s film apparently sat in legal limbo until Vision Films, thankfully, picked the film up for release as the newly monikered Death Fighter.

The final film to feature the late Joe Lewis (Jaguar Lives, Force Five) who was – FYI – one of only 5 men to ever defeat Chuck Norris in combat, Death Fighter is headlined by Matt Mullins (Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight, Mortal Kombat: Legacy) as a young American cop who witnesses his mentor’s murder in a trade deal gone wrong and finds himself on the wrong side of the law in Thailand. With a bounty on his head, he teams up with a mercenary (Wilson), out to settle a score of his own, to avenge his slain mentor’s death. His mission turns dangerous when he finds himself battling in a head-to-head showdown with one of the most notorious and ruthless criminals in the country deep in the heart of the Thai jungle…

The first thing you’ll be asking yourself a few minutes into Death Fighter is whether this is 2017 or the 90s? No. Seriously. Featuring not only Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock, two heavy-hitters of the DTV action era, in front of the camera; the film comes from director Toby Russell, he of Eastern Heroes fame and assistant director on the underrated Death Cage, aka Bloodfist 2 here in the UK. Russell is probably best known for directing Cinema of Vengeance and Top Fighter - two martial arts documentaries that have been perennial VHS/DVD favourites since the mid-90s when the first debuted (tell me you don’t own at least one “Martial Arts” DVD compilation, from the now-defunct label Prism, that features either or both docs – I know I do).

But I digress. back to Death Fighter.

How best to describe the film? How about PM Entertainment meets Cannon Films? Because that’s certainly the feel here. You have the kinds of stars, fights and stuntwork seen in PM’s oeuvre and the gritty, sweaty, foreign-set locales that Cannon used to love slapping Chuck Norris in! It also suffers the ame problems that some of PM’s output did: the budget doesn’t stretch far enough to make this film entirely successful, and you can see the occassional lack of resources on the screen. But Russell does make the best of what he has and thankfully the locale more than makes up for (and also helps hide) the low budget.

Speaking of location and actors, Death Fighter was filmed in the jungles of Thailand and not only features some fantastic American talent, but some superb local talent too: Thai TV star Chiranan Manochaem gives a fantastic performance as Yui; whilst Prasit Suanphaka, as Otto – the sidekick of Wilson’s mercenary – almost steal the film with his, frankly amazing, martial arts skills. His stunning move set blew me away and reminded me very much of the surprise I felt upon seeing Ong Bak for the first time!

Thankfully, unlike some of his more recent efforts, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson gets plenty of screen time alongside headlining star Matt Mullins. Whilst Cynthia Rothrock gets to stretch her villainous muscles in the film, playing a badass, arse-kicking assistant to the films bad guy Draco. And for all its flaws and foibles, you can’t help but love Death Fighter for at least one thing…

Having a fight between Rothrock and Wilson.

Yes, you read that right, two of the genres most beloved stars get to go head-to-head in on screen scrap in Russell’s film! It’s like a genre fans dream come true – I’ve seen Rothrock and Wilson act together before in the likes of Sci-Fighters, but never go head-to-head. Good on Rothrock for playing against type and kudos to Russell for letting the pair have a decent amount of screen time, and being given visual freedom (sans too many cutaways, edits etc), for their final showdown.

If you’re a fan of Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson and/or Cynthia Rothrock’s work then you’re guaranteed to love Death Fighter. The film is our now on DVD and VOD, in the US, now.

**** 4/5
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With thanks to Vision Films.

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