NIGHT OF THE WARRIOR (1991)
Directed by: Rafael Zelinski
Written by: Thomas Ian Griffith
Starring: Lorenzo Lamas, Kathleen Kinmont, Anthony Geary, Ken Foree, Jeff Imada, James Lew
Miles Keane (Lamas) rides a motorcycle, can rock the denim, runs a classy club with sexy dancers and is a badass fighter to boot. Determined to pay off a debt to local drug douche Lynch (Geary), Miles competes in illegal underground fights organised by the would be crime boss. The wicked fight that opens the film sees Miles finally clear his debt with Lynch and he rides off to pursue his passion for photography and woo local art student Katherine (Kinmont). All appears swell at first, their romance developing nicely but when another crime boss puts pressure on Lynch to organize a further brawl with his former prize fighter, Lynch then puts the pressure on Miles to knuckle up once more. Non-surprisingly, Miles doesn’t want to fight meaning Lynch resorts to increasingly desperate and violent ways to convince Miles to fight.
Now this sounds like your run of the mill early 90s fight tournament actioner and in many ways it is: a reluctant hero forced to fight, shady crime bosses organising the illegal tournament and some knuckle dusting fights. But Night of the Warrior, penned by former 90s action star Thomas Ian Griffith (Excessive Force), is a little different, often stylish and a whole lot of fight tournament entertainment. Despite the low budget and dated look and fashions, Night of the Warrior is very well shot for an early 90s straight to video fight film, some excellent photography giving the film a great look. With photography being a main theme it gives the director an excuse to fill the film with stylish flourishes (photo montages, slinky dance sequences, groovy slow motion) that help accentuate the film’s noir trappings. In fact, Night of the Warrior could be best described as a noir martial arts film, making it stand out from many of the other straight to video fight films of the 90s: including many of Lamas’s own films. Always a watchable action star that had a fairly lengthy action career, Lamas is on fine form here. Kinmont (an action star herself) doesn't get to fight here but has good chemistry with Lamas and the bad guys are nicely fleshed out with former Dawn of the Dead star Ken Foree on hand as an obnoxious henchman.
For action fans, Night of the Warrior could be a sort of marmite film: you’ll either love it or hate it. The film is as much about style, character and taking its time to get to the big end fight as it is with cheap action thrills. While some of the styling looks dated and may put some off, it still adds an extra element to an otherwise routine story. In addition, there isn’t as much fight action as one may expect either: there being as many dance scenes as there are fights! Much more concerned with the noir crime aspects of the story, Night of the Warrior isn’t packed with fight action but on the other hand it doesn't really need to be. The story is well told, the characters engaging and the several fights that are featured are quality. Lamas gets to strut his stuff in the two big fights that bookend the film showing some impressive skill and even gets to fight genre stalwart James Lew (Red Sun Rising) in the final fight. However, the best fight is the one that opens the film. Sustained, well shot with some fluid camera moves, it is a nicely choreographed fight from a time when action films let fights play out so we could see what was happening. In fact, the first fight is so good the rest of the film has trouble living up to the great opening.
A good fight film and something a little different at the same time, Night of the Warrior is a pleasant discovery and one of Lamas’ best.