Thursday, 12 June 2008
Only The Strong
ONY THE STRONG (1993)
Directed by: Sheldon Lettich
Screenplay: Sheldon Lettich & Luis Esteban
Starring: Mark Dacascos, Paco Christian Prieto & Geoffrey Lewis
The ever underappreciated Mark Dacascos stars in one of his best vehicles, the feel good, street actioner Only the Strong. Dacascos plays former Green Beret Louis Stevens who returns to his old high school to help teach and sort out a group of unruly teenagers. He brings with him a new form of martial arts he learnt on his tour. Capoiera combines Brazilian dance with martial arts moves to form a graceful but powerful fighting style. Stevens hopes to teach the students this form of defence to one, defend themselves in their rough neighbourhoods and second, to teach them the discipline they so desperately need. However, one of the students is related to a local drug kingpin and when he discovers what Stevens is up to on his own turf, the group soon find themselves putting their new skills to use in real life fights.
Buoyed by Dacascos' strong performance, with solid back up form Geoffrey Lewis, Paco Preito and Stacy Travis, Only the Strong is a classy slice of martial arts action. Never over schmaltzy but always uplifting it could be easily described as The Karate Kid for grown ups. The action, dialogue and setting is a little tougher and grittier (despite the outdated fashions) and the message never over preachy. Sheldon Lettich (of Double Impact and AWOL fame) directs probably his best picture with an assured hand, giving plenty of time to the new forming friendships and Stevens interacting with the students. The young cast are enthusiastic, engaging and never resort to annoying teen stereotypes. Preito makes for a fine slimy villain and the scenes of Capoiera, both in the training and fights scenes, are breathtaking. The fluid and powerful moves give the fights scenes a distinctive edge and the film is book ended with scenes of Capoiera performers doing their thing to some toe tapping music.
The action and fights are of a high standard and mark Only the Strong as one of the best martial arts film to come out of America. It's also one of the few films to primarily use Capoiera as its main source of action, all of it shot and edited well. As always, Dacascos shines, giving a fine performance and showing his Capoiera skills are just as good as his traditional martial arts skills. How this, Crying Freeman, Drive and Brotherhood of the Wolf never made him a huge star is anyone's guess. But to have this film to your name, along with the others mentioned, is a fine achievement in itself. Only the Strong is a must have for any action fans collection.