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ULTIMATE FIGHTS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jackie Chan, Wesley Snipes, Jet Li, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, et al
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Flix Mix
Features:  See Review
Length:  54 Minutes
Release Date:  April 16, 2002

“I’m here to chew some bubble gum and to kick some ass.  And I’m all out of bubble gum.”from They Live

Film **

For those fans who think there’s too much time wasted with dialogue and plot in action films comes Ultimate Fights, a near hour long compilation of just the good parts.  Forget romance, drama, humor, or anything else that doesn’t ooze testosterone.  Hard hitting, bone crunching, blood spewing wall-to-wall violence is all that’s on the menu here.  

Which is not something I criticize in and of itself, mind you, but watching Ultimate Fights, I couldn’t help ask…what is it for?  If it played like a tribute to the best in action films and their stars, I think I could have gotten into it a little more.  But here is a presentation that, save for one film out of 16, doesn’t even bother to show the fight scenes in their correct aspect ratio!  Apart from that, it takes one of action’s most legendary fight scenes and cuts it down to its bare sound bite minimum!

That fight is from Drunken Master II, aka The Legend of Drunken Master, starring Jackie Chan, whose climactic 20 minute fight scene has become the stuff of legends on every continent, as well as a staple scene by which most other movie fights get compared.  Here, we get only three minutes of it, and don’t come anywhere close to the end of the fight!  Granted, maybe lifting a whole twenty minutes from one movie into a compilation is too much to ask for, but again, the question is begged…what is it for?  True Asian action film fans like myself aren’t going to appreciate the truncated version.  Those who would think that three minutes was sufficient…well, I have no advice for them.

Even worse is that scene, along with many other films in scope ratio, are presented here in pan & scan.  From the opening licks of Rumble in the Bronx, the shattered compositions are disastrous.  Few fight choreographers made as brilliant use of widescreen as Jackie Chan, but here, his efforts are wasted.  We don’t even see who he’s punching and kicking half the time…we might as well be watching with one eye closed!

Only Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon merited a widescreen presentation.  Not even the film that beat it for Best Picture, Gladiator, earned such prestige in this collection!  Other widescreen fights that suffer here include Blade and Scarface.

The next question one has to ask is, what does this compilation represent?  The best of the best?  Hardly, though it IS arguably a good cross section.  I was pleased to find a couple of Jackie Chan’s best show pieces mixed in with under-appreciated but brilliant fight scenes like in Blade or Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.  But others left me scratching my head…does Snatch deserve mention alongside The Killer?  Does the campy girl fight scene in The Players Club or the ridiculous street brawl in They Live (which may have set a film record for most knees in the groin) even belong in a compilation called Ultimate Fights?

But like most collections of this sort, there are bound to be some sore spots amongst fans as to what wasn’t included as opposed to what was.  For my money, no fight scene compilation could be complete without Jackie Chan’s legendary bout with American kickboxing champion Benny “The Jet” Urquidez in Wheels on Meals, or Jet Li’s acrobatics atop swaying ladders in Once Upon a Time in China.  This video names Bruce Lee the top martial artist, but where are his films?  Surely the mirror sequence in Enter the Dragon merits mention?

Still, when the existing choices are lined up and presented one right after another, it’s hard not to appreciate the eyes behind the selections.  I’m grateful at least that some action fans might get a taste of Asian glory with this collection, including great scenes from Fist of Legend, Black Mask, and The Killer.  Scenes of grace and style play against scenes of hardcore bloodshed…it’s all in a day’s work for action stars.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into it all.  Ultimate Fights is easily enjoyed on the most base level by delivering action, action and more action while trimming all fat and excess.  It’s not the best of action by any means, but still serves as an interesting selection, and one that’s bound to get fans excited about seeking out a few of these films and watching them in their entirety.

Video **

The widescreen problem really eats at me here and prevents me from giving a higher rating to an otherwise fine video presentation, which maintains a sense of quality from start to finish despite the included films’ various ages and backgrounds.  If you don’t follow Asian films as closely, you might not be distracted by the pan & scan as much, but for me, I found myself missing every object or fighter that was cropped out of the viewing area.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 soundtrack is quite explosive, as you might expect…the more modern the movie clip, the better the use of sound.  Fists, blades and bullets slash every which way, keeping you right in the middle of the action.  The scenes are intercut with some good techno music clips as well.  There is not much dynamic range here, however…the film plays at one level:  LOUD.

Features ****

For a film that clocks in at under an hour, Flix Mix certainly delivered an impressive features package here.  The best for me was the commentary track by legendary director Tsui Hark, who talks about each scene specifically as it plays.  A second commentary features different fight masters explaining how certain effects were achieved.

Also included is a 10 minute featurette on staging fight scenes, a music-only track that scores a techno beat to the fight scenes, a name-that-frame trivia game, profiles of some of the featured stars, trailers for some of the included movies, a programming feature that lets you play your top five clips, stats for each fight, some DVD ROM extras, and a cool subtitle feature called Flix Facts.  When activated, you get some extra trivia and notes about each fight sequence as it plays.

Summary:

Ultimate Fights is not a bad way to kill an hour, making this an ideal title for rental.  Action fans who feel the need for a straight fix of fist pumping, high kicking, blood oozing jolt of testosterone need look no further than this compilation that hits first and asks questions afterwards.