There is something primal about watching a fight. While this attraction is predominately associated to those of us with a Y chromosome the fairer sex has been know to like the Friday night fights. As with most aspects of life this one has also been translated to the screen may times. Box has been used as the central plot point for as long as people have been going to the movies. Some of the great sports flicks ever have been in this genre; case in point ‘Rocky’. Now our culture demands more and more thrills and chills from every branch of entertainment. This is particularly true in the fight oriented fields. The word ‘extreme’ is pre-pended to everything around. We have extreme skiing, extremely snow boarding and I have even heard of extreme ironing online. This led to the exceptionally popular sport now known as Mixed Marital Arts or MMA by its fan base. On the surface it may seem like extreme kick boxing and in many ways it is. This is one of the most brutal endeavors possible for a human being to willing inflict upon himself. Hands move at lighten speed as the feet come up snake like to strike blows that would send most of us to the hospital. The men in this sport move in such a way that they often appear to defy gravity. Even if you are not into fighting sports there is a beauty and elegance here that is amazing to witness. This will be the driving force behind this genre for years to come. Getting in on this new trend is the film ‘Scorpion’ by Julien Seri. Old as this may seem it is a French production about Thai variations of mixed martial arts. The film is packed with action and has more than the usual modicum of plot that will engage the die hard fan of the genre. While this movie will never be compared to any of the greats it does provide most of what is required for a high octane action flick.
Julien Seri has a couple of previous films that he both wrote and directed. They were action flicks so he does have some experience in this field. As far as the story goes this one is pretty much by the numbers and borrows liberally from what has come before in the genre. Angelo (Clovis Cornillac) was one of the great street fighters in his area. His only focus in life is mastering the intricate techniques of Thai boxing. When he is unfairly excluded from a major tournament he winds up accidentally killing his opponent in a street fight. Angelo is sentenced to prison and serves out six long years there. When he gets out he falls in love and that leads him to engaging in the highly dangerous and illegal Free Fights that have become an underground fad. He has to train hard and become a fighting machine known as the Scorpion. Okay, this must have reminded you of several dozen other flicks at least. Aside from the action there is a semblance of plot lines contained here. First we have the untrained street tough that is ruled by the darkest of emotions and rage. After his stint in jail he comes out wanting to change but being forced into the same situations once again. Next there has to be some romantic entanglement to offer a break from the action and permit the actor to show that the character has a softer side. This is required to add some depth to the character. While this is a reasonably good early film for Seri it is going to remain in the shadow of all those Jean-Claude Van Damme movies that define this particular sub genre. Van Damme set the bar extremely high for all that followed and this film is not quite there.
As a director Seri fairs very well in this movie. The pacing is such that there is plenty of time for the exposition without breaking up too many of the fight scenes. Speaking of the fights they are not as involved as the Asia variant of the genre. This is a two edged sword that Seri had to contend with though. There is nothing like Hong Kong wire work stunts to wow the audience. The combatants simply fly around the set as if gravity had no affect on them. In this movie the fights are more realistic. While it does remove a lot of what fans have come to demand it does add to the tension. The fight sequences look more like what would be seen in a MMA competition. If you are tired of the over choreographed action flicks that are pouring out of Asia and the States it might be time to give a French movie a chance. This brings in a scene that it is real enough that someone could actually be badly hurt. This is a refreshing return to realism that helps sustain the movie. Some may complain that the scenes of fighting and training are less than we have come to expect but it is replaced by something we haven’t seen in a while, a plot.
The film begins with Cornillac running through the streets with his sweatshirt hood pulled over his head. The first thing you notice is this is not some Hollywood pretty boy given a few months of training. He looks like someone you would want to avoid unless he was on your side in a fight. In a voice over he explains that the only thing that matters to him is Thai boxing and he is determined to be the best. He knows he has the strength but is impeded by his uncontrollable rage. The cinematography is excellent. The color palette is muted, pushed slightly to the blue. There is almost a feel of a French art film at work here. He also explains that the origins of his rage were the constant beatings he received from his father. He wants revenge and will take it out on anyone in the ring opposite him. This does go to help set up the character as a damaged human being who only knows resolution through violence. Seri’s use of lighting is remarkable. In an early scene in the training gym the fighters look hyper real. Their bodies are lit to show of muscles pounding. Seri uses the light as an active component to the movie bringing the audience into the world he created here. Instead of the more typical brightly lit gym or dank training area the lighting comes from above casting an eerie feel to the set. The story moves along nicely with the initial fight serving to set the movie in motion. There is a lot of dialogue here; more than the actual fighting but overall the film will hold your attention.
The film comes from Anchor Bay and they have been gaining a reputation for finding smaller films especially from the independent arena or, as in this case, overseas. You can opt for the original French or an English dubbed track. There is also a sub title track for those out there you want to experience the cadence of the film in its original language. This may be a foreign flick but even those normally turned off by them will enjoy this one.