Action films are always driven by the logic of revenge, but the more resourceful films manage to play the conventions with a few variations. In TO THE DEATH, the only audience tease lies in guessing how long it will take the battered hero to figure out he's blaming the wrong man. It's a
sort of negative suspense which makes our identification-figure seem peculiarly thick-witted.
Despite constant challenges by brutish kickboxer Denard (Michel Qissi), and the financial cajoling of promoter Dominique (Robert Whitehead) and his brother Roger (Greg Latter), martial artist Rick Quinn (John Barrett) is resolved to retire. When his wife is blown to bits in a car explosion,
Quinn blames Denard and sinks into an alcoholic stupor.
Easy prey for Dominique (who ordered Quinn's wife's death just to lure him back into the ring), Quinn returns to training and agrees to lucrative boxing matches staged for Dominique's private clientele. Nursing his misplaced rancor for Denard, Quinn lives for the day Dominique will set up a
match with him. However, his inquisitive reporter friend, Willard (Ted Leplat), tells Quinn tales of disappearing kickboxers from Taiwan. Although he survives four bouts in a row, Quinn is shocked to learn that only the victor leaves a Dominique event alive. Foolishly indulging in a fling with
Dominique's troubled wife Angelica (Michele Bestbier), Quinn walks out on the lethal promoter only to be recaptured and tortured, along with Willard. Sparing Quinn's life for sado-mercenary reasons, Dominique sets up a Quinn-Denard bout, which Denard wins. Before the referee can kill the the
prostrate Quinn, Angelica shoots him, enabling Denard and Quinn to escape. Teaming up to rescue Angelica, Denard and Quinn--who now knows who really killed his wife--put Dominique, Roger, and all their bodyguards permanently out of the boxing business.
Even with hackneyed direction and mostly colorless performances, TO THE DEATH will satisfy non-discriminating action buffs. Others will soon tire of that contemporary cinema cliche: the lethal kickboxing or prize-fighting tournament. If one can overlook the tiredness of this plot, TO THE DEATH
offers some expertly staged kickboxing tourneys. What the film does not do is fulfill the requirements of its revenge scenario with any panache or imagination. No element of psychological cat-and-mouse exists in the relationship between the apparently guilty Denard and the hero, and Whitehead's
attention-grabbing acting diminishes the central focus on the betrayal of Quinn. While the subplot about the reporter's investigation builds remedial suspense and the subplot involving the confused Angelica adds an extra dimension to Quinn's rebirth, they cannot camouflage the familiarity of this
avenger story line. Inveterate action buffs won't care about these missing refinements. TO THE DEATH offers them primal excitement unfettered by intelligence or sophistication. (Extensive nudity, extreme profanity, extensive violence.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1993
- Rating: R
- Review: Action films are always driven by the logic of revenge, but the more resourceful films manage to play the conventions with a few variations. In TO THE DEATH, the only audience tease lies in guessing how long it will take the battered hero to figure out he'… (more)