WEST SIDE STORY meets the martial arts genre in RING OF FIRE, a substandard chopsocky flick.
Instead of the Sharks and the Jets, the opposing factions are the white surfers who hang out at Venice Beach in Southern California, and the Asians from nearby Chinatown. The one thing the gangs have in common is a series of underground kickboxing matches in which members of the rival gangs
battle it out in no-holds-barred contests. The trouble begins when a young woman named Julie (Maria Ford) is stood up by her surfer boyfriend Chuck (Vince Murdocco) at a Chinese restaurant. While she's waiting, Johnny (Don "The Dragon" Wilson), whose family owns the eatery, notices her and
approaches her in the guise of a waiter; while they talk, he sees that she's carrying a flyer for a masquerade dance the next night. What he doesn't know at first is that not only her boyfriend but her brother Brad (Dale Jacoby) as well are fighters in the kickboxing ring, where Johnny's cousin
Terry (Steven Vincent Leigh) is also a frequent contestant.
In fact, Johnny's work as an intern at the local hospital frequently leads him to encounter friends who need to be patched up after their bouts; the job also puts him in confrontation with local detective Lopez (Michael Delano), who wants to stop the fighting. One of Terry's friends, Kwong (Eric
Lee) is beaten up by some surfers when he visits the beach, and further white-Asian antagonism ensues when Johnny goes to the dance and Chuck catches Julie dancing with him. A fight breaks out, but Johnny has become entranced with Julie and attempts to find her at the clothing store where she
works. He misses her there, but she tracks him down at the hospital, and they begin to see each other, unbeknownst at first to Chuck. At first, Julie tells Johnny truthfully that she's engaged to Chuck, but the more they see each other, the less she is convinced that she wants to keep the
Still seeking revenge for the attack on Kwong, Terry beats up Bud (Gary Daniels), one of Chuck's friends. Chuck, Brad, and the rest of their gang head for Chinatown for a confrontation, leading to a massive martial arts fight in the streets. The brawl is eventually broken up by the police, but
not before Brad challenges Terry to a one-on-one fight to settle the matter once and for all. While the two train for the coming contest, Johnny and Julie's relationship continues to deepen, even after it comes out that Brad has a special distaste for Asians, since his and Julie's father was
killed in Vietnam. Julie ends up breaking her engagement with Chuck, who has found out about her and Johnny and is none too happy about it; at the same time, Terry questions Johnny as to the wisdom of pursuing the affair. But neither of the lovers can be swayed, and they make love for the first
time on the night of Brad and Terry's fight.
Johnny has told Terry to insist that the fight be done Thai style (with broken glass on the fists), certain that this will cause Brad to back down; the ploy fails, however, and the match goes on, with Terry mortally wounded. Julie, followed by an antagonistic Chuck and Brad, shows up at the
funeral but meets with disdain from the otherwise Asian mourners. Confronting Johnny, unable to deal with the emotional oppression, she tells him she no longer loves him and that she's going back to Brad. Stunned, Johnny at first convinces himself he doesn't love her any more either, but neither
can deny their true feelings for long. However, just as they are declaring their true love for each other, Chuck shows up and challenges Johnny to a fight in the kickboxing ring.
When the match goes on, Johnny at first makes short work of Chuck, but then Brad steps in, and the two-on-one match nearly defeats Johnny. When he rallies and appears to be getting the best of both opponents, however, Brad takes up a fighting sword and charges at Johnny with it; running to stop
him, Julie gets slashed instead. The match suddenly stops, with Chuck and Brad running to call an ambulance as Johnny gently carries carries her out of the ring. The fighting is over for now....
Placing world champion kickboxer Don "The Dragon" Wilson in a martial arts thriller, and then not letting his character use his fighting skills until the final scenes, seems a rather self-defeating ploy, but then that's only one of the ways that RING OF FIRE is misguided. The mixture of a
traditional action-revenge story with an interracial romance just doesn't work, particularly since the love story is so mawkishly cliched and the two actors involved don't have the depth to elevate the material. Wilson, though he's got some screen presence and is certainly convincing when he
finally gets down to the business of kicking people in the head, is just not enough of an actor to make lines like "You can find hate everywhere; the important thing is finding love" convincing.
The story is padded with two types of montages beloved by unimaginative filmmakers: the romantic, lovey-dovey montage and the intense, fight-training montage. Also, the device of having Julie reject Johnny late in the story seems to flow less from the characters than a desire to stretch out the
movie for a few more scenes. Aside from the fact that this is one of the few recent kung-fu fests in which the viewer's sympathy is allied with the Asian characters and against the whites, there's nothing that hasn't been seen before.
Solid martial artistry might have helped, but given Wilson's skill in this area, you'd think director Richard W. Munchkin wouldn't have to depend so much on fast cuts and repeated shots to make his fight scenes work. As in so many other recent kickboxing flicks, all the quick close-ups and
rapid-fire editing distracts from the craft of the martial arts on display; the emphasis becomes more on the violence of the individual kicks and chops and less on the skill of the fighters involved. Considering the martial arts backgrounds of this film's performers (several of the actors have
their credentials listed in the end credits), it would have been much more fun if the movie had let them show their stuff without editorial intrusion, but the presentation is as formula-bound as everything else about RING OF FIRE. (Violence, profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: WEST SIDE STORY meets the martial arts genre in RING OF FIRE, a substandard chopsocky flick. Instead of the Sharks and the Jets, the opposing factions are the white surfers who hang out at Venice Beach in Southern California, and the Asians from nearby C… (more)