Donkey: High school is a confusing time for most of us. Between involuntary erections, gym teachers that are far too enthusiastic about watching you shower, and a social structure that looks like it had a paranoid schizophrenic in the dementia stage of syphilis as an architect, the whole ordeal can be about as fun playing table tennis with a paddle made of gorgonzola cheese. And while I’m sure that most of the trials that I experienced were pretty standard fare, the one source of infinite confusion in my life that few others were forced to deal with was directly related to this week’s film.
As I sat in my law class for an hour each day of the final semester of grade 12, I found myself glancing back at the rear wall of the classroom every so often with a furrowed brow at the spectacle that awaited me. That particular teacher, for reasons I’ll never know, decided to decorate the back wall of his classroom not with educational material or faux-inspirational pictures that made you want to stab the person sitting next to you in the jaw with your pencil, but with movie posters. And while I, of all people, can appreciate a good movie poster, these weren’t posters of movies that either had anything to do with law or were even landmark films in some way. No, these were obscure, low budget affairs like Kickboxer 6: King Of The Taco Bell Drive Thru, that quite frankly I’m shocked even warranted a poster of any kind, let alone the conscious decision to purchase one. But the one that really drew my eye was the poster that you see above, advertising the adventure of unbridled failure known as Best Of The Best. At the time, I had no idea what this movie was about, and that poster really doesn’t help: a small picture of Eric Roberts, slapped over the image of two people giving an epic high five, finished off with a title so obscure that it might as well be called Movie: The Movie. What the fuck is that? I couldn’t imagine what the hell Eric Roberts was supposed to be the best of, but he seemed pretty happy about it. Eventually as high school itself began to fade into the rearview mirror of my distant memories, this movie went with it. But as the assault known as Shitty Movie Night continued on our fragile collective grip on reality, this film was once again dredged to the surface, mocking me with its promise of obscurity and the sheer mantastic aura that is Eric Roberts. A more fitting film for our enjoyment I couldn’t imagine.
Donkey: Much like searching for dignity at a Cosplay convention, the plot of Best Of The Best is as short as it is pointless. Eric Roberts, Chris Penn, and several other actors that have absolutely no business pretending to be sandwich artists let alone martial artists, team up with one token Asian guy that actually has an air of legitimacy, forming the US National Karate Team. Guided by the vast karate knowledge of Darth Vader himself, they must navigate their way through countless hours of non-karate related training montages in order to prepare for the ultimate sort-of-karate related tournament that no one has ever heard of, all the while entirely unprepared for the true prize that awaits them: the power of love.
The Case for Greatness (aka The Lowlights):
Donkey: So here we are, finding ourselves once again treading into familiar territory by wrapping ourselves in the warm, ass-kicking comfort blanket of an 80’s martial arts extravaganza. And we’re not dicking around either; we’ve set our sights on the film that quite literally promises to be the best goddamn movie in existence. Not only the best, but the Best Of The Best, such as it were. So forget your Police Academy XII: Mahoney Vs Dragon Ninja, The Ninja Babysitters Club, Surf Ninjas Get Crabs, or any of those other useless imitators spawned in that decade, and strap in for a guided tour of awesome featuring THE Eric Roberts, star of film, stage, and my pants.
Exhibit A: The Unlikables
The movie starts off with a scene that anyone who was able to stomach their way through the American Ninja Quintilogy with us will recognize as mandatory for all 80’s martial arts movies: a large group of people practicing a painfully basic kata simultaneously with all the speed and grace of a kindergarten class doing their post-nap time stretches. This is our first introduction to the killing machine that is the South Korea karate program. From this exceptionally unimpressive display, they choose five of their best fighters, one of whom wears an eye patch, clearly marking him as the most dangerous man alive due to his obviously being a hybrid pirate-ninja. Once their team is chosen, a blood-chilling chant of “Korea” begins, complying with the government regulated cheer and merriment levels.
While our evil (re: not white) combatants gather on one end of the Earth, we’re slowly introduced to the heroes on the other, beginning with the two main characters of the film:
Eric Roberts: Working an automotive assembly line by day and teaching his son to ride a bike by night while crying like a school girl and wearing a V neck sweater so goddamn inappropriately low cut that you’d think he was applying for the head waitress job at Hooters, Eric Roberts is an aging contender whose bum shoulder is the only thing standing between us and the destruction that his flowing mane would unleash upon the world. After receiving a letter inviting him to try out for the US National Karate Team, the fires of competition deep within his loins begin to rage anew, surpassing the existing fires of Chlamydia. Ready to spray his burning passion all over his opponents’ faces, he gives his mother a heartfelt speech about his need to compete before getting a little tender and turning to the real man of the house. Pouring on sentiment, Eric asks his son for his official permission to try out for the team after warming him up by reading him a bedtime story titled Faded Glory: Your Father’s Only Three Steps Away From A Serious Alcohol Problem.
Tommy Lee: Fresh from hitting the skins for Motley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood video, our next hero also decides that it’s time to return to the passion of competition, challenging Vince Neil to see who can contract Hepatitis C after plowing through a gaggle of shady groupies the fastest (hint: As Pamela Anderson can tell you, Tommy ends up winning). Oh, wait…wrong Tommy Lee. In this film, he’s a random Asian dude who’s teaching valuable life lessons to a class of very small children in his dojo of smiles and sunshine when he’s delivered the same message asking him to try out for the US National Karate Team. It’s right about at this point, with all this warm and fuzzy bullshit that we really began to reminisce for the days of invitations being delivered in near-fatal shuriken form.
With those initial introductions finished, the movie wastes no time in getting down to business and taking us to the Qualifying Tournament of Fate and Pop Tarts, where we’re introduced to what will become the rest of the US team:
Chris Penn: Not seen since his quite literally mind-expanding role in Fist Of The North Star, the late Chris Penn makes his triumphant return to Shitty Movie Night playing the role of the unlikely martial artist and fifth degree douche bag. Strolling into the tournament sporting a cowboy hat, a blaring Boombox, and a shit-eating grin, Chris not only looks like the absolute last guy that would take up the discipline of martial arts – or anything that required discipline of any kind, really – but he proudly flaunts a personality that would get him kicked out of any respectable karate club faster than David Duke at the Apollo Theater. In this tournament alone his conduct ranges from blatantly disrespectful to bordering on psychotic, as his most brazen acts include getting in the face of a ref and verbally molesting him after losing a match, then kicking another opponent in the face while he’s bowing to him. Obviously they’re building him up to be the bad-ass rogue fighter, but this is fucking ridiculous. He’d be kicked out of any respectable tournament so fast that he might as well go for the gusto and end every fight by dropping a steaming pile of victory in the middle of the ring before drop kicking a baby.
The Others: The final two characters rounding out the American team are Sonny and Virgil, an Italian and a Buddhist, respectively. They’re such under-developed characters that those single word descriptions quite literally carry them throughout the duration of the film. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t make either character even slightest bit less interesting if they had been substituted with goddamn houseplants.
The tournament itself, as one would expect, consists of one glorious montage, treating us to the spectacle of our five main characters awkwardly slapping at faceless opponents in a manner that’s supposed to be impressive, provided that your experience witnessing a fight scene of any kind has been limited to watching your kid brother smacking his He-Man dolls into one another for 30 minutes before shitting his pants and breaking down into tears, all set to the greatest 80’s power ballads that K-Tel has to offer. Once the whole thing comes to a disappointing end, the coach of the US Karate Team, played by James Earl Jones, makes his final picks. That’s right: the coach of the national karate team is Darth Vader. While I can appreciate the gravitas that an actor of that caliber brings to your movie, who the fuck honestly thinks that he could be a karate coach? I love the man, but who the hell is he going to teach to fight when his mouth appears to be losing an epic battle to a box of doughnuts at least twice a week? Regardless, he’s visited by an old white man named Jenner, the financial backer of the team to whom he reveals his picks. But when Jenner voices doubts, Darth Cookie Dough assures him that while Jenner’s expertise is business, his is in choosing and training champions. Looking at our main characters, however, I’ve got to call bullshit. Picking Eric Roberts with his gimp shoulder is one thing, but who the fuck would pick Chris Penn for any task more complicated than human speed bump? Jim-E-J describes Chris as being a complete asshole that just happens to be undeniably powerful, which means that sure, he’s your man if you happen to be fighting in a back alley. But in a tournament that’s point-based, where you earn points just from one clean hit regardless of the damage it causes, raw power doesn’t really account for fuck all. So until these assholes are about to take part in Bloodsport, his ability to eat large quantities of soup has about as much relevance.
It then comes time to make those selections official, as it cuts back to a ceremony where they announce the names of the five competitors who made the illustrious US National Karate Team, or as I like to call it, Team Rusty Trombone. To no one’s surprise, the five main characters introduced so far are the ones chosen, but what does catch us off guard is the fact that, for reasons I can’t possibly imagine, the ceremony consists of all the competitors sitting in the dark, facing away from the stage. Unless everyone that didn’t make the team is going to be given the consolation prize of a bullet to the back of the head or the celebration following the ceremony is going to involve a lot of KY lube, this seems exceptionally unnecessary. Of course, they attempt to build tension by leaving the announcement of Eric Roberts’ name until the end, and again, I’m not really sure why. As hilariously satisfying as I think it would have been to have followed the trials and tribulations of Eric Roberts thus far just to have him come up short and not end up being picked, only to finish the rest of the movie without him, I don’t’ think anyone would have the balls to attempt that kind of comedy.
After the selections are made, the five champions of might and magic head back to a locker room where after many a high five they get an introductory lecture from the Master of the Dark Side himself, who lays down what I believe are the traditional rules of the Sith: never be late and always function as a team. That only makes sense, as even more than his dual Lightsaber and striking facial tattoos, Darth Maul was famous for his punctuality. James Earl continues his lecture by concluding that “the only objective is to win”. That statement would probably mean a lot more to all of us if he specified winning…what exactly? This isn’t an Olympic team, so it’s entirely unclear as to what exactly they’re competing for, except for perhaps lunch money. But before they sign over their lives to the iron fist of his rule, he tells them that his assistant will be taking them out to a local bar for their last night of fun, encouraging them all to get laid and immediately turning the forecast from stern over to bizarre with a 70 percent chance of creepy. But after leaving his men to undoubtedly lose themselves in another flood of high fives, Jimmy Earl learns of one last addition to his team when he’s met by Old Man Jenner in the hallway. OMJ declares that he’s met someone that he wants the J-Dog to hire onto his team as extra help, describing this person as “a real sensei”. In turn, J.E. Jo’ exclaims that they don’t need any damned sensei, leading me to believe that no one in this movie actually knows what a sensei is. Seriously, this film is portraying a goddamn hot dog eating contest as accurately as any martial art. After all, if the coach of a goddamn karate team isn’t a sensei himself, what exactly does he think he is? A towel boy? A concerned well-wisher?
After further cementing his reputation of being a douche bag by spitting an uncalled for and spectacularly racist impression of an Asian man at Tommy Lee, Chris Penn and the rest of Team Rusty Trombone pair off and check into their assigned dorm rooms to get ready for their night of awkward attempts at debauchery. It begins with Eric Roberts and Tommy Lee as they share a touching conversation about Eric’s kid and totally dead wife before moving on to Sonny and the assistant regaling each other with their respective obsessions, which in the assistant’s case consists of a collection results of every major tournament in the last 5 years as well as statistics on every major fighter in the world, all conveniently stored on about a dozen floppy disks. Wow. With that kind of storage space, I’m going to go ahead and guess that his data on the world’s fighters consists solely of their name and the title of whatever Abba song that they remind him the most of. This grade school slumber party bullshit finally ends with Chris Penn, decked out in his finest ball-clenching cowboy gear, seducing Virgil to give up his meditation and join them at the bar with the promise of sweet poon. Once Virgil agrees, they finally all go out for the evening, ready to paint the town gay. Of course, when you put a gaggle of 80′s martial artists in a room with a bunch of drunken yahoos, particularly when one of them is as big of a taint stain as Chris Penn is in this movie, I don’t think it’s any surprise as to what happens. While the assistant sits at a table, playing on a computer that looks like a TRS-80 without using a monitor of any kind and Eric Roberts makes a call home to talk to his son, Chris Penn starts to dance with a drunken hillbilly’s girlfriend, pawing at her ass like it’s hiding the antidote. Just as Lord Vader himself walks in to witness the scene, the hillbilly defends his honor and throws a punch at Chris, which is easily dodged just in time for it to impact his own girlfriend square in the face. At that point, a full on bar fight naturally ensues, creating a convenient excuse for our heroes to wade through a mass of simpletons, beating them to death with wild abandon while Jimmy Earl watches with a grin. The best part of this scene comes about halfway through when Eric Roberts finally notices the fight and gets off the phone to join in on the badly choreographed action, walking out into the brawl and just nailing the first dude that he comes across right in the face without any kind of provocation or the slightest indication that this guy even wanted to fight in the first place. For all he knew, this poor guy just wanted to get the hell out of there, and now he’s got a shattered jaw to show for it. But once they finally kill or at least mildly inconvenience almost the entire bar, the pudgy Sith Master declares the battle to be over and tells his boys that it’s time to go.
Exhibit B: They Key To Perfecting The Deadly Art Of Karate Lies Somewhere Between Running Laps And Jazz Hands
The last character of our dream team is finally introduced back at the training gym the next day when Wade shows up and turns out to be Katherine Wade, one of those funny people that sports a vagina, much to everyone’s horror. After J.E. Jo’ explains that he’s quite reluctant to accept her help, she gives her extensive karate and Eastern philosophy focused background before declaring that without her help, “all his fancy high tech equipment won’t mean shit.” Of course, that sounds like a great argument until you actually watch the rest of the movie and realize that this team uses about as much high tech equipment as the Amish. Sure, they’ve got one punching bag that has a sensor detecting the speed of the appendage impacting it, but that’s about it. The Professor on Gilligan’s Island had more elaborate equipment than these cock swizzles. But of course, Darth Chocoholic relents and bows to her expertise, waiting until the team finishes their first training routines – running laps and doing punching sit ups – to introduce her as the new trainer on the team.
Right about now, it’s time for a set of dueling montages. So while the Americans refine their deadly track running skills, we turn back to the land of evil back rubs to find the Koreans ball-deep in a training routine of their own. They begin on the grounds of an ancient temple, doing such incredible things as switching between basic stances and knuckle push-ups while getting hacked at with a bamboo katana, before kicking it up a notch and running out aimlessly through snow before stopping to karate chop trees with their bare hands while standing shirtless in a blizzard. Not to be outdone, we cut back to the Americans as they practice punches with the refined technique of a drunken frat boy, then jump some rope, and finally top is all off with some yoga. Goddamn it, this is getting to be too much.
But just as it all comes to a head, the Americans decide it’s time to do some good old fashioned brick breaking, after it’s explained that their upcoming tournament with the Koreans will involve Eastern rules, wherein a tie is settled with a competition of strength and focus, or punching a stack of bricks to be more specific. And as Wade gets up to demonstrate how even a middle aged blonde woman who’s energy is already being sapped by a losing battle with menopause can successfully smash a stack of Styrofoam bricks like a true champion, all I can do is think about what bullshit this is. Only a goddamn American film could suggest that traditional Eastern tournaments are going to involve breaking competitions as an afterthought. That’s so American that they might as well suggest that ancient tradition calls for a tie to be broken by seeing who can chug a dozen Bud Lights before rubbing one out to a Victoria’s Secret catalog the fastest.
To serve as a brief reprieve from the extensive aerobic fat-burning plan that involves just about everything BUT practice their actual fighting techniques, we are forced to sit through another completely unmotivated and entirely useless scene where Chris Penn attacks Tommy Lee’s ethnicity over a shared team meal. So that means we’re about two thirds of the way through the movie now and Chris Penn has still proven to be nothing but an asshole. Why would I be cheering for this guy in the tournament exactly? And from there, we move to a classroom where the gang sits and watches footage of the Korean team in action. As they profile each of the five fighters on the opposing team, they announce which American will be matched against them, imploring them to study their nemesis and prepare to face them. The punch line to this nonsense comes in the fact that Tommy Lee is assigned the task of taking on Dae Han, the leader of the Korean squad and international eye patch model. From his wincing reaction, it’s clear that this news has either affected Tommy deeply, or possibly that he spent the morning slamming fistfuls of expired mayonnaise down his throat, but we’re not exactly sure why. The answer comes later that night as Tommy’s dreams transport him back into the past, returning him to the death of his older brother whom, you guessed it, was fighting Dae Han in a tournament just like he wil soon being doing himself. And while we’re supposed to be digesting the dramatic implications of this obvious plot twist, I can’t help but notice that in his flashback, Tommy’s brother is wearing enough padding while fighting that he could have easily paused from the action and played the back catcher position for the 1975 New York Mets, so it’s actually kind of an amazing feat that he managed to find a way to drop dead in spite of that.
The next day we get back to the action and are forced to sit through, yep, more goddamn training. After showing the Koreans jogging in slow motion, we’re treated to the film’s title track practically belched out by a faceless 80′s hair band while another American training montage kicks into high gear, this time focusing on weight lifting. Yep, weight lifting. Eventually I think they’re just going to run out of ideas and we’ll see a montage where Chris Penn makes a sandwich. But then for just a brief moment, the movie actually shows something remotely relevant as we find Tommy sparring with Chris Penn, and of course, beating him pretty badly. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to make you hate him even more, Chris Penn graciously accepts defeat by screaming that Tommy’s a chickenshit for not finishing him off. I’m not really sure what kind of a finish he expected when you’re practicing with your own teammates, but I guess that’s proof that even he would rather die than continue on with this monotonous Body Break with Hal Johnson and Joanna McCloud. After being asked what’s wrong by Darth Deepfry, Tommy sulks off and hits a punching bag to the point of exhaustion until we leave this moment of clarity and return to the dense fog of more goddamn training. This time the montage alternates between the Americans taking on the most fearsome opponents they can handle in the form of punching bags while the Koreans shadow box, and then moves on to the boys once again meditating in a field before showing the Koreans praying while standing topless underneath a giant waterfall. And just when I think we can’t possibly take anymore, it ends with a long shot of the Americans jogging down a beach together. In slow motion. FUCK.
Exhibit C: Oh Right, I Guess We Need A Plot, Huh?
To finally bring some manner of actual story back into the glorified cardio workout video that we’ve been watching for the last 30 minutes, the movie decides that now’s the time to inject some pointless and shallow drama. It all begins when Eric Roberts gets a phone call that every grown man dreads. No, not the one telling him that he’s HIV positive. And no, not the one telling him that his girlfriend has missed her period. I’m talking about a call informing his that his son has had a terrible accident. Horribly shaken, he approaches Coach Vader to explain that his son has been hit by a car and been hurt quite badly. Pleading to be allowed to go back to stay by his son’s side, he’s resolutely denied by Jimmy Earl, who declares that if Eric leaves, he will never be allowed to return. But as hilariously and unrealistically strict as this seems, Eric naturally ignores him and goes home anyways, saying that he doesn’t have a choice. He ends up staying in the hospital with his son that night, until the kid finally comes out of his coma the next morning. After a weeping bedside scene, Eric Roberts leaves his son in the hands of the professionals and sulks back to Team Rusty Trombone where he begs to be taken back, having been gone for what appears to be a whole day. But showing all the flexibility and compassion of Strom Thurman in a meat locker, JEJ stands his ground, apparently deciding that missing what was probably morning of jumping jacks is unacceptable and reaffirming that Eric is still kicked off the team. But no sooner has he stormed out in anger and disappointment than Eric’s melodrama is immediately upstaged by an even more innocuous conflict. After staring down the business end of a Dark Sith spaz attack for pulling his punches, Tommy responds by letting loose a full power kick which not only destroys their impact detecting pad, but also briefly knocks Virgil, the poor bastard holding it at the time, out cold for a short time. So like Bruce Banner after reverting back to find himself clad only in torn but oddly in tact pants, Tommy flees in the face of his hidden explosive power, leaving them all behind with mouths agape.
As the scene moves outside, Eric catches up with Tommy for some reason, just as he’s getting on his bike, ready to quit Team Rusty Trombone forever. When Eric asks what the hell he’s doing, Tommy cries out that he can’t fight Dae Han, finally sharing pain of the fate that his older brother suffered while doing the exact same thing that he is now faced with. But after incredibly standard advice about not bottling up his issues and living for himself rather than his dead brother, which is so incredibly generic that Eric might as well have just rolled out a TV with Dr. Phil on it and let it do the talking for him, Tommy remains resolute and takes off on his motorcycle. And as he drives off into the distance to do some heavy thinking, everyone who suffered through Cool As Ice with us knows what’s coming: a long montage of random bike riding on a highway to nowhere. While all this is going on, Wade finds convenient plot-moving information and confronts Coach Vader on it, demanding to know how he could send Tommy to fight Dae Han knowing that his brother was killed in the exact same circumstance. In response, Darth Potpie explodes into a lecture about giving your all, saying that Tommy Lee’s brother didn’t take the situation seriously enough and died as a result of it. As he was the coach at the time, Jimmy Earl takes personal responsibility for that failing and declares that he’ll never let it happen again. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t really answer why he chose Tommy Lee to fight Dae Han specifically, as there are four other men who could have done so just as easily. So yeah, I guess the answer to that question is hhhunnggghhh (POOP)!
With their two greatest fighters gone, leaving only the sociopath and the random fodder to carry the team’s load, the remaining three members of Team Rusty Trombone approach Coach Vader, asking if he would please change his mind about Alex, because they clearly need both him and Tommy Lee to win. Well, technically they need those two to even qualify to compete, but why nitpick? Conceding the point and somehow taking that very basic logic as a sign that his men have come together as a team, J.E. Jo’ tracks down Eric back at the dorm. Apparently he agrees to come back onboard, as the movie then skips to the next day where the team is at the airport, ready to depart when Alex walks in to much ovation and half mast Johnsons. Conveniently right around that time, Tommy Lee also has an epiphany at a gas station while taking a break from what is turning out to be a ridiculously long bike trip. He watches an older brother give his ice cream cone to his younger sibling who dropped his own and is so touched by that moment that he races back just in time to catch the team at the airport. Of course, knowing what brothers are like, if he had stuck around for another 30 seconds he probably would have witnessed the older brother changing his mind, punching the younger one in the face, and taking back the ice cream, so we’ll just be thankful that he left when he did. Finally reunited and ready to experience an colossal failure, the great Team Rusty Trombone shares hugs and reach-arounds before getting on the plane and flying to meet their destiny.
Exhibit D: Failure Has Never Tasted So Arbitrary
As the movie arrives in Korea, we travel directly to the tournament, where the boys suit up in a locker room while a black announcer sets the stage by narrating the introduction to the tournament, expounding on how Tae Kwan Do is as important to the Koreans as baseball is to Americans before going on even further to explain that this is a tournament that involves a combination of Karate, Kickboxing, Judo, and Tae Kwan Do. What?! This is supposed to be a fucking karate tournament. It doesn’t take a goddamn PhD to realize that those are all completely different martial arts, and as we’ve been told multiple times up to this point, they are the US National Karate team, not the US Every Martial Art You Can Think Of team. Shit, these fuckbuckets can barely learn one martial art, let alone four. But after one final inspirational speech that ends with Darth Tub of Ice Cream telling his men that if they give everything they have in their heart, they can be the best of the best (fuck, I love it when they state the name of the movie in the actual movie itself), the competitors come filing into the arena to face one another in the long, long, long awaited battle.
The tournament officially begins with Sonny, the greasy Italian, facing his chosen opponent. As you’d imagine, he fights with all the grace of a one-legged dog coughing out its death rattle and ends up losing, giving the Korean team an 11 to 7 lead in points after the first match. Next up is Virgil the Buddhist, and he doesn’t fare much better, eventually crawling out of the ring after handing Korean a 20 to 9 lead. And of course, the last of our less than important competitors is Chris Penn, who after all the goddamn training that we had to sit through still fights like he’s quarreling with cousin Jed over the last bar stool. But despite this, he actually manages to become the most successful American to this point, battling his opponent to a tie. And so we move to the previously mentioned brick smashing tie breaker. Mustering all of his racism-fueled might, Chris breaks around 8 Styrofoam bricks, while the much smaller and theoretically weaker Korean dude breaks 9, proving in spades that the supposed raw power that Chris was recruited for came in about as useful as a passionate love for bee keeping. So just to recap, that’s 3 losses out of 5 fights so far and only one of them was even close. I’m not sure who the fuck it is they were referring to when they named this movie Best Of The Best, but it’s extremely apparent that it wasn’t any one of these assclowns. Maybe it was the catering staff…
With the lesser peons quickly out of the way, the movie finally picks up as Eric Roberts makes his way into the ring, even going so far as to show us a random bar in the US where a throng of drunken onlookers are cheering and drinking, proving this to be a monumental occasion for at least a couple of dozen people. It might even be important enough to rival the viewership of last year’s lumberjack championship. Just before the match finally starts, Eric declares that he’s going to kick his opponent’s ass. Really, Eric? I thought you were there to crochet him an ill-fitting sweater out of wool and an undeserved sense of self satisfaction. Once the fight actually begins, Eric starts to close the gap between the teams’ points fairly quickly before things start to even out in the second round. It continues to flow along fairly evenly until Eric gets knocked down and takes an axe kick to the back. It appears to be a fairly unremarkable moment until he crawls back to his corner and reveals that he’s injured that bum shoulder that everyone was warned about. But being a man of steel, brawn, and high fiber content, ignores the calls for him to quit, telling him that it’s over. He knows, just as the announce tells us, that the rules state that if he cannot continue, all the points that he had gained are forfeit, which doesn’t make any goddamn sense, but whatever. Instead Eric begs for someone to pop his shoulder back into place until someone finally does. But it’s not exactly like he’s back to peak physical condition at that point, so rather than letting it hang uselessly at his side, he demands that someone “tape it up” while literally screaming like a girl. They do exactly that, taping his arm to his chest before he heads out for the last 30 seconds of the fight with the use of only one arm. And not only does he manage to survive that time, but he actually manages to fight better than he did with two hands, capping it off by kicking his opponent out of the fucking ring. As his bout comes to an end, we see that the score has narrowed to a mere 29 to 22.
Much to my chagrin, the final match of the tournament is not between a back massager and 1975 Buick Skylark, but is instead, of course, between Tommy Lee and De Han. Tommy is tentative at first, so in return Dae Han starts kicking his ass, scoring three unanswered points before his opponent finally decides to wake up. Fulfilling yet another 80′s martial arts movie stereotype, once the fight actually begins to climax it consists of little more than a lot of needless jumping around and horribly telegraphed kicks. But Tommy Lee finally starts to kick some ass, ending the first round down a measly 6 points instead of a whopping 7. If that’s not fucking progress, I don’t know what is. Just before the second round starts, Darth Pudding reminds Tommy that they need to either make up those points or score a knock out. Alright, at this point this whole plot is pretty blatantly not making any goddamn sense. If he knocks out his opponent, why would that arbitrarily make up the point difference between the two teams? Even if you disregarded points and decided that specific match was a total victory, the Koreans have still won more matches than they have. Honestly, at this point I’m surprised it isn’t stated that they only way the Americans can win is if Tommy Lee performs the infamous Triple Lindy. But the second round starts with a little more spice, as Tommy Lee takes two illegal hits, first to the balls and then to an eye. But that only spurs him on further, as Tommy continues to make up ground closing the gap by hitting Dae Han with a flurry of 5 punches and/or kicks that for some reason only count as 1 point. But after his flurry of pain reduces the point difference to one and leaves Dae Han standing dazed, just begging to be hit with one final killing blow, Tommy has a flashback of his brother’s death and begins to let his anger boil to the surface. Spotting the signs of his coming eruption, Eric and Jimmy Earl start yelling “no” from the sidelines, knowing that Tommy not only intends on murdering his opponent, but also actually believing that he somehow can do just that with a single strike. But rather than somehow proving the incredibly unlikely, Tommy manages to maintain enough control to resist the urge and simply stand there, letting the time run out. When the buzzer finally sounds to bring an end to the match, the Korean team scurries out to drag De Han back to his corner, while a somber Tommy walks back to Captain J.E. Jo’, who tells him that despite standing back and allowing his team to lose by a single point, he actually won that match. So yeah, all that and they lost. Wow. What a massive waste of time this entire ordeal has been.
The tournament then comes to a glorious close with the traditional medal ceremony, where the two teams stand lined up and facing one another as the Americans are forced to watch the gold medals get hung around the Korean team’s necks. But while his teammates begin to celebrate their victory, De Han limps over to Tommy Lee. Barely containing his sobs, Dae Han tells him that to save a life in defeat is to earn a victory in honor, which we’ll just go ahead and translate into “thanks for not destroying my ass”, before declaring that his brother was a great fighter. He continues to say that he deeply regrets Tommy’s loss, and offers himself as Tommy’s brother, which, again, I’ll just go ahead and translate into “want to build a fort out of some couch cushions?”. In a move of ultimate humble respect, Dae Han then puts his medal around Tommy’s neck while they both bawl like kids flocking out of Transformers: The Movie after watching Optimus Prime die. Finding the ability to forgive somewhere just below his ability to make a delicious quiche, Tommy embraces Dae Han and all is right in the world again. Much like the audience in that stadium, I find this so touching that I’m pretty sure this movie just molested me. The Korean dude that Eric Roberts fought is inspired to honor his lesser opponent as well, walking up to him and saying that he knows everything about him before also putting his medal around his neck. Eric Roberts replies by saying that he knows all he ever wants to know about his opponent, which I think is supposed to be a compliment even though it seems like a really shitty thing to say. The last three Koreans then follow suit as well, only much more quickly and with less fanfare since no one gives a shit before the movie draws to a close with them all stand together, holding each others arms up in the air just before the credits roll. So I guess when you’re not actually the best of the best, you can always hope for sympathy.
Donkey: Best Of The Best has the truly great quality of not falling completely flat on its face because of a lack of budget or talent, but entirely because of the very premise on which it builds. Eric Roberts is the somewhat leader of the US National Karate team which spends almost no time actually practicing anything that is even close to actual karate while under the watchful eye of a man whom clearly doesn’t even know how to spell karate, before heading over to Korea to fight in a tournament that they never actually explain the point of, where they face off against only one other team and manage to lose quite badly by any reasonable measure. Fuck. This movie really did push me to the very edge of literary skills, as it’s hard to write any kind of coherent exposition on it when the only thought running through my rather stunned mind for an hour and a half was, “BULLSHIT!” But while I applaud it’s aggressively insane plot, the problem is that watching a movie that consists just as much of random exercise montages as anything else gets painfully boring. I have to give this movie three and a half inappropriately low cut sweaters out of five confusingly dead brothers.
What We Learned:
Donkey: People in the 80′s apparently thought you could basically become a full fledged ninja after doing little more than panting your way through the Sweating To The Oldies series.