5 Movie Martial Artists That Lost a Deathmatch to Dignity
Nothing in the known universe is more badass than a kung fu movie star.
Yet, when a superstar battles his way to the top of Badass Mountain, something happens--something terrible and difficult to watch. These are the men who fell from awesome to ridiculous with horrifying speed:
With all of the embarrassment Seagal has brought upon himself in the last 10 years, it's tempting to forget that he is a bad, bad man.
Steven Seagal is an aikido master--a martial art less concerned with form than inflicting ridiculous amounts of damage to people's load-bearing joints. Seagal began his martial arts career in Japan, where he was one of the first foreigners to open a dojo there. The Japanese taught Seagal aikido, at which point we assume he said something along the lines of "I've got some lessons of my own to teach," then promptly flew to Japan to teach it back to them the right way. If you are pregnant or nursing, have a history of heart condition or stomach problems, please consult a doctor before reading the following list of facts about Seagal, all 100 percent true and each more badass than the last:
1: Steven Seagal is a recognized Tulku--a Buddhist holy man who reincarnates repeatedly by choice; presumably if you kill him, he can choose to come back as a grizzly bear that hungers only for vengeance.
2: Steven Seagal is not only a deputy sheriff in his hometown of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; he's also on the SWAT Team and is responsible for their training.
3: Steven Seagal adopts homeless animals. Not so badass? His two dogs are named Chaos and Fist. Holy shit! Here's your ass, by the way, you might want it back after Seagal's life knocked it off of you.
Steven Seagal was not an elegant man. His action scenes, unlike their Hong Kong counterparts, were not about elaborate or flashy moves. They were about breaking your arms mostly, in the quickest and easiest ways possible. Seagal showed up dressed in black leather, greased-back hair and gold chains, resembling nothing more than a New York Guido out for kicks on a Saturday night. Then, to everybody's amazement, you watched as he flipped men around his head by the dozens to a soundtrack of bones snapping so fast and in such numbers, it was like setting off Chinese firecrackers in a bowl of Rice Krispies. Seagal took the sometimes condescending sophistication out of martial arts movies. He was there to do business, and may God have mercy on your elbows if you took issue with it.
This clip from Out for Justice hearkens back to his early days of rapid fire limb-breaking and terrifying, albeit somewhat confusing threats, such as: "Whose hot dog is this, eh? That yours?!" Seagal casually, almost absent-mindedly beats the shit out of most of New Jersey in this video, using a billiard ball wrapped in a bar towel. This clip is six-minutes long and there are six arms broken in those minutes. Take a minute and count 'em. Did you only come up with five? That's because the sixth arm is yours. Go ahead. Check. Then get yourself to a hospital. Tell them Seagal sent you--they've got a special ward all ready to go.
Seagal's martial arts and film career went downhill pretty fast, but even more disappointing than that was his personal descent into the foul and dank valleys of Douchebag County. Early Seagal characters were all about the everyman, they were inner-city cops by and large; unsophisticated and unconcerned with anything but justice, preferably street justice, if you have it. By contrast, Seagal himself became more and more of an unapproachable bottle of dick with every year that passed. He was an early adopter of such douchebag traits as: Fascination with a cheap, cursory sort of Asian spirituality, the sensitive pony-tail, pseudo-environmentalism and of course, the frat boy guitar.
Seagal soon decided to incorporate his newfound love of everything asshole into his movies, and the blue collar cop characters that made him famous gradually morphed into EPA agents protecting rivers and fighting big business. After the repeated failure of his box office releases, Seagal decided to focus on music and cut a blues album called The Crystal Cave, a title which could not spell out 'hippie dickhead' any clearer if you wrote it out on a Hacky Sack and hung it from a puka shell necklace.Most Pathetic Moment Caught on Film:
This is Seagal's music video, "Girl, it's alright," from the album "Mojo Priest," which manages to one up "Crystal Cave" as the single phrase most likely to cause spontaneous rage-vomiting. Watch carefully for a prime example of douchebaggery as Seagal romances what appears to be a 14-year-old Asian girl in a Buddhist temple while crooning platitudes you usually only hear right before you're date-raped in a Lifetime Network movie of the week. Also watch for Seagal's bloated bulk squeezed into a shimmering gold and red foil two-piece, inadvertently causing him to resemble a 7-11 hot dog.
David Carradine is Elvis of kung fu, having the honorable distinction of helping to pioneer western martial arts movies only by virtue of blatant racism. He is most famous for playing the lead in the 1970s kung fu serial, creatively titled Kung Fu, winning the part from Bruce Lee, even though Lee helped create the show for the sole purpose of acting in it. Apparently no one told Bruce that at that time Chinese people were considered "too Chinese" to play Chinese people.
Carradine is slightly less famous for playing the titular Bill in Quentin Tarantino's gold-plated B-movie and pop culture circle jerk, Kill Bill. He is not famous at all for the remake of Kung Fu, titled even more creatively, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.
David Carradine was not only on the forefront of the burgeoning martial arts genre, but his role actually created the concept of the karate cowboy; a character which can be seen later in such examples as Chuck Norris' Walker, Texas Ranger or the Patrick Swayze action vehicle (which we would totally drive), Roadhouse. Some die-hard fans consider Carradine a disgrace because of his lack of expertise while starring in Kung Fu (he didn't actually know any martial arts at the time), but to be fair it was the '70s, a time when a man could raise his leg above the knee and spin around and everyone would give him the benefit of the doubt.
Plus, he totally kicked Bruce Lee's ass at being white. While that may not be much of a feat, being better than Bruce Lee at literally anything nets you some tough-guy points.Most Epic Moment Caught on Film:
In this clip, the famous intro to the Kung Fu series, Carradine lays down several scenes that have since become kung fu movie classics. From the now omnipresent training montage to lifting a burning iron kettle with your wrists, Kung Fu was the first place we saw these things and he was the first guy that made us want to incompetently emulate them, thus endangering ourselves and others.The Sad Decline:
As it turns out, the ability to look cool greased up in your underwear and screaming declines rapidly with age. At around 55 these conditions reach their peak, and instead of striking fear into your opponents with your powerful yells and intricate body movements, you're more likely to prompt helpful citizens to hit the button on your Medic-Alert bracelet for you. This sad fact, combined with Carradine's natural flower child tendencies, took all the badass right out of his sails and left him hopelessly adrift in Weird Old Hippie Guy waters.
It certainly did nothing to help David's rep as a master of pain distribution when he appeared in this infomercial for his series of exercise tapes called Spiral Fitness. This was meant to capitalize on the 'Crazy Device + B-List Celebrity' fitness craze back in the '90s, like the Thighmaster or the Total Gym. Unfortunately, David was a bit too short on funds to manufacture a decent crazy device, so he used what appears to be either a short length of garden hose or a large rubber dildo instead.
Watch about one minute in when, after witnessing Carradine flail about in a backyard for far too long, the camera angles switch and accidentally catch somebody's dog in the scene. The dog, following its keen canine instinct to avoid shame, promptly runs off camera, leaving David alone again to tell you all about how this bright green dildo really makes him want to move.
Jean Claude Van Damme
Jean-Claude Van Damme was born Jean-Claude Camille Francois Van Varenberg in Brussels, which is basically a smaller, comically inept version of France, (think of it as Short Round to France's Indiana Jones). His parents were a florist and an accountant, and young Jean-Claude took up ballet at the age of 16 before beginning his career in martial arts. With origins like these, less befitting a world famous action star and more suited to say, a sexually ambiguous summer camp counselor who teaches you to swim with one hand firmly planted in your "bad touch" area, it's a wonder Van Damme ever had a reputation as a badass at all. His is a story that should inspire every pasty nerd, meek dork and timid geek to step up, be a man, kick ass and take names. Maybe even the French.
Van Damme's breakthrough film, Bloodsport, was the bloodiest, most brutal and merciless martial arts film to make mainstream cinema at the time. Audiences who previously had to weed through hours of ridiculous, ill-informed and castrated versions of action films just for the chance to see a man do the splits in short-shorts (uh... we mean, beat another man mercilessly with only his bare hands, his strong, comforting bare hands... ) had finally found a film with balls.
Bloodsport summed up its entire plot in a one-word title; it was a movie about a sport that was fucking bloody, and if you expect more from your cinematic experience, sir, be it plot, emotional relevance, or character development, well then you are perfectly free to unfurl your Victorian-era parasol and mince your dainty way over to catch the last half hour of When Harry Met Sally.
In the 1990 film Death Warrant Van Damme gets involved in a no-holds-barred, 10-minute-long battle to the death with a super-size version of Fire Marshall Bill from In Living Color. After starting the fight by flexing as hard as he can until somebody throws a wrench into his face, Van Damme finally pulls it together long enough to kill his opponent--three separate goddamn times! First by pushing his head into a saw, then by jump-kicking him into a blast furnace, then finally impaling his head on a spike and giving it a bit of a twirl for good measure.The Sad Decline:
Eventually Van Damme insisted upon doing the splits throughout the majority of his films which, once coupled with his irresistible desire to dance, led more often to extended scenes of him splay-legged on the floor wiggling his booty to the beat, rather than what audiences wanted; scenes of him jump kicking sharks in the face until they explode.
As the early '90s passed, so too did the public's fascination with G-rated hip-hop, shoulder-length mullets, Rollerblades and pastel-colored clothes. All of which, unfortunately, were the core elements of most Van Damme films. Once again we wanted our heroes to be simple, grizzled everymen with nothing to lose; one foot in the grave, the other wrapped in an American flag and lodged firmly in a terrorist's asshole. Gone was the demand for sweaty, vaguely effeminate Frenchmen who had to inexplicably interweave spin-kicking the bad guys while gutturally growling out all of the vowels in sequence, with bopping out to the Top 40 in yellow Jane Fonda shorts.
During the long, cold night that followed his blazing glory days, Van Damme appeared here on what Brazilian's pretend is a television show where he embarrasses himself repeatedly, initially by appearing wearing giant red Bono sunglasses and a shiny plastic coat. Then continuing to mimic a stripper--hoochy-dancing, booty shakes and all. He then proceeds to bump and grind with what appears to be Kiss' Gene Simmons in drag, and finally wraps it all up by ultimately popping what we are nominating The World's Most Awkward Boner (which he tries to hide, but fails because, as in his movies, he just can't stop dancing.)
Two doughy South American men in leisure suits then point at his manhood and giggle uncontrollably. Way to castrate the action hero, Timecop.
Michael Dudikoff starred in a series called American Ninja - movies which were single-handedly responsible for the ninja becoming a staple fantasy for children of the '80s. That's actually saying quite a bit, because if there's one thing the '80s were about, it was coke. But if there were two things the '80s were about, it was coke and ninjas.
Like David Carradine, Dudikoff did not practice martial arts while starting his career, but became proficient in them later--most likely to help defend himself against the army of liquored-up moviegoers who wanted bragging rights on the American Ninja.
Yes, Dudikoff tanked when he tried to move out from the ninja typecasting but really, the man's job description was 'pretending to kill lots of ninjas,' a statement which, to this day, is the number one response when the question "What do you want to do when you grow up?" is posed to preteen boys and Cracked writers (We know, you thought Cracked writers were preteen boys. The two are actually distinguishable due to the difference between acne scars and actual acne).
Most Epic Moment Caught on Film:
In this trailer for American Ninja (which was originally and ruinously called American Warrior) Dudikoff covers every base for the modern badass. He's got no past, no date of birth and no mercy. Shit, does anybody know how you get a job writing these trailers? That is gold right there. He flips through trees, impales a truck driver with a grappling hook, draws a sword in front of a giant American flag, and though it's not explicitly shown, the implication is that he's about to take down a helicopter with nothing but a bow and arrow.
If you look up the term Ass Kicker in the dictionary, there will be a picture of nothing--because it's a fucking dictionary, they don't have pictures--but we swear to God the page smells a little bit like Michael Dudikoff.
American Ninja was about Private Joe Armstrong, an orphaned drifter coerced into the armed forces who takes on an evil cabal of mercenary ninjas. In later sequels, as the movies grow more and more ridiculous, the villains take the not often seen Skittles approach to evil, asking you to "Taste the Rainbow... of Ninjitsu!" They do this by arranging their mercenaries in handy battalions color-coded by competence, black, confusingly, being the most inept, with the danger level rapidly rising as the colors become more festive.
After the fourth installment and roughly eight film hours of robin's egg blue and peony pink ninjas folding in fights so quickly they could find alternate employment at The Gap, the series finally ran out of steam and Michael Dudikoff's star was irreparably tarnished. Amazingly, Hollywood could find no further use for a man whose skill-set included strangling Asians with the American flag, and so as the '80s drew to a close, the post-coital shame dawned on America, and we realized just how embarrassingly ridiculous these movies appeared to the world.
This video was taken at the grand opening of the Gracie Academy. As you can see, somehow Dudikoff got it in his head that it'd be a good idea to emulate Matthew McConaughey's pot-head, frat-bro, burn-out chic. He appears here in an unwashed Abercrombie & Fitch shirt, natural coagulated hair-grease, and last week's stagnant tan-booth sweat. He then proceeds to insanely call out Royce Gracie, three-time winner of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Even if this challenge by Dudikoff is a joke between friends it's unfortunate since Gracie's laughter is a Figure Four Toelock and his smile is six-time International Facial Gesture Champion--with 16 of its 72 wins, inexplicably, by choke-out.
Chuck Norris, who you may know from memes on Teh Internets, was also an action star back in the '70s and '80s. He carved his niche by combining martial arts with rednecks and patriotism, a pairing renowned for its deadly fusion weaponry, such as the Skoal can throwing star and jerky-chucks. Norris was a respected contemporary of Bruce Lee in early kung fu films, though he actually specializes in the art of Tae Kwon Do, where he is one of only a handful of Westerners to be awarded the rank of 8th degree Black Belt Grand Master, a title that could only be made more intimidating if it appended the words 'of Death' to the end.
Chuck Norris epitomized the Americanization of martial arts. He was not only the most skilled of the Western action stars, but also the most American. Sure, Dudikoff may have sported a flat-top and pulled a sword in front of a giant American flag, but Norris one-ups him completely--wearing what stylists refer to as 'a Fuck-You Mullet' while unsheathing his two uzis and greased-up chest. This isn't even from a movie; it's his goddamn driver's license.
Norris' first major role was standing toe-to-toe with Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon, where he actually managed to kick him in the face once. That doesn't sound terribly impressive, until you remember that Bruce Lee invented legs just so he'd have two more things to beat you with when his fists got bored.
This trailer for one of Norris' first starring roles, Slaughter in San Francisco, shows exactly how Chuck got where he is: he was lithe, fast, ripped to the gills and merciless. Chuck Norris plays the role of Chuck Slaughter (good Lord!) a ruthless kung fu mob boss. However, as the trailer attempts to warn you, "the roles he plays, he plays for real." The implication being that for this movie Chuck Norris, in classical method acting tradition, actually kills everybody who disobeys him, kidnaps an old man, and then rapes a Chinese woman enthusiastically.
The trailer poses the question, "Can Chuck Norris be stopped?" Then immediately cuts to about 45 seconds of Chuck Norris beating the Holy Spirit out of the movie's protagonist. The answer, clearly; a resounding "fuck no."
After a decade or so of kicking the world's eyeballs in the nuts, anybody is bound to develop an ego. Chuck Norris decided that wasn't enough, and outdid everybody by cultivating arrogance so magnificent it wears a tiny cape and crown of its own.
In his later movies, the fight scenes don't even bother building suspense by letting the bad guys touch Chuck. He holds a foot out, the camera settles itself behind it, and you sit back and watch as a disembodied boot mows down wave after wave of anonymous terrorist. Some actors phone it in when they're not into a movie; Chuck Norris didn't even send a fax. Eventually he decided he may as well write the parts himself, and proceeded to create Walker, Texas Ranger. A show he at various points wrote, produced, directed, starred in and even sang the theme song for. It depicts him as everything from a cop to the messiah.
Chuck Norris focused his steely glare entirely on Walker, Texas Ranger to the exclusion of all other projects. The show rapidly devolved into a masturbatory tribute to Chuck Norris by Chuck Norris, spouting scene after scene of hero worship so out of touch with reality it became the most unintentionally hilarious show on television.Most Pathetic Moment Caught on Film:
In this clip from one of the later seasons of Walker, Texas Ranger, Chuck Norris wrestles a bear and wins. He not only wins, he wins by stare down. The background flutes imply that his stare possesses Native American magic. Honestly, though, no one clip can do the fantastic, science-fiction scale arrogance of Chuck Norris justice. So how about this one where he shoots down an attack helicopter with the bazooka he keeps in the gun-rack on his pickup truck. Or this one, where he wins a French rodeo just to show them how we roll here in America land. Or, if you prefer, the simple elegance of this one, where he just flies away on his jet pack.
Robert Brockway has his own website at IFightRobots.com.