7 March 2018 | The_Phantom_Projectionist
"I'm not gonna take another bet! No!"
Some time ago, Robert King wrote a fairly standard screenplay about a martial artist who travels to a distant land seeking his brother's killer. This became BLOODFIST, the first starring vehicle of Don Wilson. A while later, Jerry Trimble made his solo debut in FULL CONTACT, a film that shared the same storyline. The same year saw the release of DRAGON FIRE, the sole vehicle of Dominic LaBanca, and wouldn't you know it, it features the exact story as the other two and is credited to the same writer. The template is conducive to a lot of action and very little acting, and I can only guess that filming it three times was easier than writing two new screenplays. Whatever the case, this most recent incarnation's a decent adventure best suited to viewers well-versed in the low-budget martial arts genre.
The story: In 2050, Laker Powers (LaBanca) arrives on a dystopian Earth from an off-world colony in search of his brother, only to find him murdered following a high-stakes street fight. Aided by the shady trainer Slick (Kisu), Laker enters the underground circuit to uncover the killer's identity.
Not unlike its predecessors, DRAGON FIRE sets much store by the athletic abilities of its performers. The cast boasts many real martial artists, several of them former world champions. I can't say this was made the most of, but overall, the fights are decent. The editing is a little bothersome - way too much slow motion and cutting - but the choreography's good enough to be noticed. LaBanca makes for a decent Van Damme stand-in, but the varied fighting styles of the other onscreen competitors are where the real excitement's at. Michael Blanks shows off some cool jump kicks, and Dennis Keiffer has a pretty decent opening brawl. Karate master Val Mijailovic and kung fu exponent Harold Hazeldine do a particularly good job of representing their real-life styles. None of this is going to blow you away, but thanks to their sheer quantity, at least a few of the 16 fights (!) ought to please every viewer.
Those who've seen the film's predecessors can have some fun comparing the three. Though some of the roles are played differently, others are almost direct copies. Kisu as the trainer was previously played by Joe Mari Avellana and Marcus Aurelius; Pamela Pond replaces Marilyn Bautista and Denise Buick as Laker's love interest; Harold Hazeldine rips off Michael Shaner and Gerry Blanck as Laker's goofball buddy; and even Charles Philip-Moore replaces Michael Jai White as the charismatic fight official. Their characters even have the same name! It's a trip, hearing Kisu quoting Avellana quoting Aurelius quoting Sun Tzu. If nothing else, you could get some enjoyment out of buying all three movies and contrasting them beat-by-beat like you could with few others.
While the production values are a little lazy, it's the acting that's really hard to redeem. Viewers will inevitably hit the fast-forward button more than once, jumping ahead to the fight scenes. Despite this, the movie still makes for a relatively fun time and is a nice flashback to a different era of martial arts filmmaking. By no means essential, it's still worth the low price for people who know what they're getting into.