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Best of the Best

Best off the Best

The Last Dragon

What He said:

What is the true measure of a man? Is it the size of his heart? His ability to kick ass? Beautiful wavy hair? Or is it a combination of all three? These are the types of hard-hitting issues that Best of the Best examines.  

The United States Karate Team (the what?) is looking to fill out its roster for an international tournament against Team Korea in the next few months. They are holding a tournament and have invited hundreds of people from around the country. Selected are, Alex Grady, Tommy Lee, Travis Brickley, Virgil Keller, and Sonny Grasso.

Best of the Best

Alex is an emotional man, with excellent hair, but dedicated to becoming the best of the best. Hey, see what I did there? He (Eric Roberts) is a widower and father of a six-year old boy named Walter (Edan Gross). He is a normal guy with a day job, but a lifelong martial arts practitioner. It’s hinted that he had a competed at some level in the past, but had to stop because of injury. Well, he’s gotten the itch again, because he decides to enter his name for the team. Despite his injury, he is selected for the team, because he’s got crazy skills and a beautiful mane.

Tommy Lee (Phillip Rhee) is a martial arts teacher. He owns his own school. He teaches kids and seems like an all-around good guy. However, Tommy has a past. His brother was killed during a competition when Tommy was just a child. The memory haunts him to this day. The man who killed his brother, Dae Han Park, is on the Korean Team. Tommy wants to get revenge on Dae Han for what he did to his brother. He struggles with how to handle the situation. He’s a good man, but secretly wishes to kill Dae Han (Simon Rhee).

Best of the Best

Travis, Virgil, and Sonny fill out the rest of the team. They are actually just filler characters, which is why they don’t deserve their own paragraphs. Travis (Chris Pen) is a brash cowboy from the mid-west. He’s sort of an ass hole. Virgil is the exact opposite. He’s a Buddhist and generally peaceful guy. Sonny (David Argesta) is a stereotypical Italian and streetwise fella from Detroit. Travis doesn’t get along with Virgil initially. Hell, Travis doesn’t get along with anyone. He isn’t too fond of Tommy either. He mocks both of their calm demeanors and more traditional beliefs (in martial arts). But this is the 80s and what would an 80s movie be without everyone banding together and learning a little something from one another?

The five of them travel the U.S. Team’s training facility where they will train for the next three months under the tutelage of Coach Frank Couzo. Couso (James Earl Jones) is the definition of a hard-ass. He won’t let them talk to their families, makes them eat, sleep, and shit karate for the next three months, and is very stuck in his ways. Never is this more obvious than when he is forced to take on an assistant coach.

Best of the Best

Kathryn Wade (Sally Kirkland) is a black belt, a psychologist, and an avid practitioner of many Easter philosophies. She is a lot like Travis and the sponsors want her on the team, because they can help train their minds and spirits, while Couzo whips their bodies into shape. Besides the fact that he resents an assistant coach being forced on him, Couzo is not a big fan of her philosophy. She’s very calm, while believes in working the guys to the bone.

There’s lots of drama going on here. It isn’t just Tommy and Alex dealing with drama, Coach Couzo is dealing with his own issues as well. It’s a learning experience for all of them. After three months of training and personal drama, it’s off to Korea to see if these guys really are the best of the best (I did it again).

Though this movie barely managed to sneak itself into the 80s (it was released in November of 1989), this movie is the epitome of a classic 80s movie. It’s got everything. Music montages, tough, but emotional men, dramatic backstories, over-the-top acting, if it was found in an 80s action flick, it’s in this movie. Is that what we love about this movie – and others like it – though? They are loaded with as much cheese as a grilled cheese sandwich, but it still gets you. Well, that is if you are a guy. Ladies like chick flicks and romantic comedies, but this is the kind of stuff that brings a tear to a man’s eyes. Tommy’s tragic back story, Couzo having to confront his role in Tommy’s past, Alex’s desire to prove he’s good at something- don’t we all just want to be the best of the best at something – it’s all there.  Action movies were a thing of beauty back then. The action movies of today just don’t have this kind of heart; which explains why The Expendables 3 is bombing in theaters.

Best of the Best

I would also like to point out that I always felt like this movie takes place in the same universe as Over the Top, Rocky 3, and 4 (the 80s Rocky movies, not all of them). They all had a similar feel and charm to them. They are the kind of movie that brings a tear to a man’s eye, but also make you want to take everything that sucks about life and kick it square in the balls.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on August 18, 2014.