The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Balance of Power aka Hidden Tiger (1996)
This one has been on Watch Instantly for a while, and with Billy Blanks, Mako, and James Lew in the cast, it was near the top of my queue. It was just a matter of finding the right spot for it, and this week worked out. Now let's see if it was what I expected. Also, our buddy Ty at Comeuppance Reviews did this one, about a year ago.
Balance of Power has Blanks as a guy in a poor urban neighborhood trying to keep kids off the streets and on the right path with his dojo in town. Problem is, James Lew, who is a fighter for a bad Japanese crime boss that sells the drugs that keeps Blanks's neighborhood in the dumps, expects Blanks to pay protection money to keep the dojo in business, and when Blanks refuses, he shoots and kills one of the neighborhood kids Blanks had been reforming. Enter Mako, Lew's sensei, and now Blanks's sensei, as he trains Blanks to fight in the Japanese crime boss's underground tournament, the idea being he beats Lew in the final fight after the boss bets all his money on Lew, and when he's bankrupt he's out of business. It's a crazy Grinchey idea that might just work.
I think this is the kind of movie people think of when they think of the DTVC. A low-budget 90s actioner, maybe not-so-much a video store find as much as a late night cable find, but tons of fun just the same. It has some solid martial arts, a traditional plot-- though this one has the added layer of Blanks trying to make a difference in the inner city--, and as many funny moments as it does quality ones. I mean, what do you do with James Lew fighting in a diaper? Or James Lew fighting in a diaper and shoving a guy's face in some bubbling Funky Cold Medina, a moat of which is inexplicably surrounding their fighting area? Yet you can't deny the sincerity in Blanks wanting to use the honor, discipline, and humility of martial arts to give kids in the inner city an alternative to the drug gangs as a means to make something of themselves; and you can't deny the sincerity of Blanks's performance and fighting skills. This is a good low-budget actioner for people who love low-budget actioners.
Say what you want about Blanks's acting ability, his genuineness is beyond reproach. I think the biggest impediment in this film to his acting is the fact that he has a lot of social messages he wants to get out there, but he's unable to mitigate fitting into the context of a plot messages that would come off much more naturally if Billy had us one-on-one in conversation. But, do we come to a Billy Blanks action film for acting, or do we come for his relentless approach to fight scenes? The latter of course, and he gives us that. Outside of a couple early on, we get more training montages with Mako than we do fights, but they build up as they go, so that each one in the tournament is better than the next, culminating in a great one with Lew, followed by an even better one with his boss. Also, I couldn't help but notice that Blanks would make a great Sagat in a Street Fighter adaptation, don't you think?
The main baddie's main henchman is played by what looks like a poor man's Nicholas Guest. He even has the English accent. I'd never seen him before, and figured, a poor man's Nicholas Guest, this must be his only credit. Not so fast, the guy's name is Adrian Hough, and he's been in like every syndicated and cable TV show since 1999. Wow, who'd a thunk there was that much call for a poor man's Nicholas Guest-- as I'm sure many of you are saying, "isn't the poor man's Nicholas Guest Nicholas Guest?" Apparently there's more than enough work out there for two of them.
Usually I talk about the film's nostalgia element in the next paragraph, but we saved that for something bigger-- much bigger. Anyway, as I mentioned above, Lew shoves a guy's face in what looks to be Funky Cold Medina. You better believe I looked up that video on YouTube. It may have been close to twenty years since the last time I'd seen it, and maybe ten since I'd last heard it. I was surprised at how well I remembered the lyrics, but I guess a lot of that stuff is like riding a bike, it's always there. Unfortunately, for the guy who had his face shoved in the Funky Cold Medina, he didn't get a lot of chicks, his face was just burned.
And that leaves us with this. It happened. Someone outdid David Bradley and his fanny pack from Cyborg Cop. James Lew, as you can see in that picture above, is wearing a diaper. What is he, one of those guys that fetishizes being a baby? I'd have given you a close up, but I want to keep my all ages status for the blog. I know James Lew didn't get a lot of opportunities for bigger parts like the one he got here, and we at the DTVC love him and love seeing him in stuff, but you needed to put your foot down at the diaper.
Overall, this is plenty of good ol' fashioned 90s bad action fun. If anyone reading this is thinking "you had me at Billy Blanks", then you'll get what you paid for with him, because he delivers. I'd get it while you can on Watch Instantly here in the States, otherwise you're looking for a VHS. Hidden Tiger is the UK DVD title, so anyone in Region 2 should look for it under that, though according to imdb it's Balance of Power in Germany, and might be that in the UK on VHS too.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115618/