Wise men say there are only about seven or eight basic plot concepts that underly all fiction. Now cut that figure in half. And again. You now have all the basic plot concepts available in kung fu movies, of which the direct-to-video release TRAINED TO FIGHT is a strenuous but workaday
It's KARATE KID PART 4 time as husky blond James Couffield shows up new in town to start college (he must have flunked several grades, because lead actor Ken McLeod looks amazingly mature for a freshman). James is a regional martial arts champ, and he finds his new roomate Mark (Mark Williams) not
only holds numerous chopsocky trophies but also runs a self-defense school for inner-city kids. Mark plans to enter an upcoming tournament and win the $25 thousand prize to keep his dojo going--and beat rival Craig Tanner (Matthew Ray Cohen), racist psycho leader of a street gang called the White
Tigers, who harass our heroes with their own blend of martial arts and bad acting.
James gets a job as a waiter at a Chinese restaurant, and during a White Tiger ambush he's saved by the cook Wing Chan (Tang Tak Wing), who turns out to be an invincible kung fu fighter. James begs Wing Chan to be his sifu, a revered instructor in martial arts tactics and thought. Finally Chan
agrees, and viewers are subjected to the cliched setpiece of the main character going through all kinds of exotic training exercises which seem absurdly impossible at first, but which Chan can do with ease. They train barefoot on an ice rink; in holes on the beach; in an empty park at night. They
train and train. This is one action pic that lives up to its title.
More so than many kung fu tales with this selfsame plot, TRAINED TO FIGHT emphasizes that the martial arts aren't all about bashing in somebody's head, but concern discipline, virtue and "being true to one's self." Like his Pat Morita counterpart in the KARATE KID series, Wing Chan is a engaging
character to watch and seemingly sincere in his respect for the sport, exemplified by a transcendent moment when he practices alone in the woods, his ballet-like movements ultimately tracing a perfect Yin-Yang mandala in the dirt. But there's a dichotomy 99.9 percent of these karate kitsch pics
never escape: no matter how eloquently the celluloid masters speak of harmony, balance, Tao, Te, Zen or whatever, the storyline's agenda is to kick ass. Period.
After all, this one wasn't called TRAINED TO BE TRUE TO ONE'S SELF, and James passes on combat techniques he learns to Mark in anticipation of the big grudge match with Craig Tanner. Before the tournament, however, the pals get into a street brawl with the White Tigers that leaves both Mark and
Tanner injured. Against Wing Chan's wishes James enters the contest in Mark's place and defeats the White Tiger entrant, winning the prize money. The school is saved, and Chan judges that his disciple did the right thing.
It also says something about the simple mindset of these movies that arena opponents always have to be hateful monsters instead of honest competitors. James claims to have undergone a spiritual evolution under Wing Chan's tutelage, but all we see is that he successfully seduces sexy coed Kimberly
(Kendra Tucker) via acupuncture-derived oriental massage. She's not exactly a prizewinner either, starting out as a strident environmentalist fanatic who eventually sheds her innate pacifism and attends the tournament to see the White Tigers whipped. "I hope they get their heads bashed in!"
declares the reformed peacenik.
Conscious viewers will note that top-billed actor Ken McLeod has in the end credits undergone a miraculous name change, listed there as "Ken Rendall Johnson" instead. As Wing Chan says, "With kung fu nothing is impossible." (Violence, nudity, sexual situations.)
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