25 November 2015 | The_Phantom_Projectionist
"Just stop this macho bull(crap)!"
Richard Norton, possibly the best gwailo actor to have worked in Hong Kong, never got the one really good solo vehicle that he deserved. When he wasn't supporting other stars, he found himself in these cheap action romps that were rarely filmed in America. DEATH FIGHT is an example of a karate flick that's just not as good as it's supposed to be: despite the presence of a good fighting cast and a surprisingly hardworking plot, the limited talents and/or budget of the filmmakers stifle the product until it's almost overlookable. The fast-forward button will be your best friend if you give this one a purchase.
The story: A successful businessman raised in Thailand (Norton) sees his life fall apart when he's falsely accused of murdering his mistress (Tetchie Agbayani). When released on bail, he seeks to find the true murderer and discover the link to his jealous stepbrother (Franco Guerrero).
Most viewers don't watch cheap martial arts movies to see good story lines or acting, but in the case of DEATH FIGHT, the drama and the writing are the strongest factors. The character nuances here won't spellbind regular Hollywood fans, but the complexity of some of the character relationships is remarkably sophisticated by direct-to-video standards. Norton gives a minor case study of the imperfect hero who has to deal with the consequences of his infidelity, but other performers outdo him dramatically. Joe Mari Avellana, easily the best actor of the Filipino b-movie scene, does well for his limited number of scenes as Norton's adoptive father. Soap opera star Karen Moncrieff, in the role of Norton's betrayed wife and lawyer, plays the part believably. Franco Guerrero presents more of a hammy villain than a three-dimensional character, but he's still fun to watch.
With that said, I think the movie is, for the most part, pretty boring. The diligent viewer may disagree with me, but I found myself disengaged by the poor production values. Frequent dark lighting, jerky camera-work, and questionable sound quality - not to mention a generally muddy video quality - hindered my desire to watch and listen with rapt attention. The best-told story in the world would have difficulty penetrating the coat of crud that is the unfortunate production trademark of too many cheap Southeast Asian productions, and this one struggles from the very start. That leaves us with only the fight scenes to root for, but here too enthusiasm is limited. There are nine full-length matches here, and most are disappointments. At worst, their pace is slow and their choreography is uninspired, resulting in way too many sluggish and one-sided brawls. Luckily, Norton supplies us with two exceptions: his decent karate fight with Ron Vreeken and his above-average duel against Chuck Jeffreys, the former of which delivers an abridged encyclopedia of holds and reversals while the latter highlights some cool weapon-handling.
I really think that the director tried hard to make a good action-drama, but was limited by the norms of low budget filmmaking. On a good day, this one could qualify for three stars, but when viewed objectively, it just doesn't make the grade. For die-hard Richard Norton fans only.