BACKCombat 2007

As a regular film critic/reviewer for too many years to mention, I must admit to having a jaded, even cynical palette when it comes to “Martial Arts” movie, and knowing that my mate Scott Adkins was a huge fan of Van Damme and all things Hong Kong, I was not holding out much hope when I sat down to watch “Undisputed 2”. Thinking to myself that I will have seen it all before, I was pleasantly surprised, no shocked, to find that the action sequences are the most innovative, unique and refreshing answer to Tony Jaa’s “Ong Bak”, with a potent mix of aerial dynamism and MMA style no holds barred brutality. Scott Adkins has received rave reviews, and rightfully so, for the fight scenes and has even been put forward as Britain’s answer to Tony Jaa. High praise indeed. I recently spoke to Scott about the film that has finally brought him to the attention of a global audience.

Deciding the style

In terms of the choreography Scott met choreographer JJ Perry for the first time prior to making the movie and was shown a video tape of his work. He was relieved to see it was of the highest quality. Isaac Florentine and JJ both had the lion’s share of the input but both accepted that only Scott and co-lead Michael Jai White knew what they were best at and “there were times when Mike and I worked very closely together and came up with stuff.” It was decided that they did not want to go “too Hong Kong” with the film, which Scott admits was difficult given his ability to perform “fancy kicks” and his love of the genre. In keeping with the rise of the MMA scene worldwide, they also felt that they wanted to add some of that flavour and make it more “Western”, with strong punches and kicks.

The “Ong Bak” factor

“Ong Bak” was obviously an influence, Scott admitted, “you can’t not be influenced” such was the film and it’s stars influence. Scott had seen the film at Isaac’s house before it’s release and was reminded of the seismic change in action movies that that John Woo brought about. “Everybody started using 2 guns and you couldn’t not do it because it was such an influence. Then Michael Mann came along and moved it forward with ‘Heat’ and Speilberg with ‘Saving Private Ryan’, the realism.” Scott felt that ‘Ong Bak’ immediately fell into the same category and he saw it as the natural progression of screen fighting. For Scott, it was the perfect incentive for him to ‘raise the bar’ with regard to both the film and his performance within it, adding wryly that “he (Jaa) had a lot more time than we had.”

Taking the hits

One of the strengths in ‘Undisputed 2’ is that all the hits, even complex combinations, look as if they really land, and heavily, there’s a perfect mix of brutality and beauty to the scenes that have had hard core fans hailing each other. Scott offers a simple answer as to why – “we did hit each other, a lot,” pointing out that body shots have to land, you can’t pretend. Scott was used to doing this in Hong Kong but in ‘Undisputed 2’ he was wearing only MMA shorts, so there was nowhere to put padding. The result was “a lot of bruises, as I couldn’t pad up my arms or shins. We were all covered in bruises but we wanted to make the best fights we possibly could and we all knew how to take a hit.” To add to the fighter grin and bear it dilemma, the ring wasn’t a custom built wrestlers ring and although it was padded, it “didn’t have that give to it, it was pretty solid.” The scene where Scott attempts a tornado kick and Jai White scoops his leg (from a great height) genuinely hurt and “knocked the wind out of me.”

Getting size

Scott is known for his naturally athletic physique but there were reservations about giving him the role of ‘Boyka’ as Michael Jai White is a big ‘Arnie’ style specimen and producers thought Scott wouldn’t look big enough for the villainous role.  The alternative was for Scott to bulk up and ‘Undisputed 2’ sees him at his largest ever on film and ripped to the bone. On the downside, for someone known for his incredible athletic spins and kicks, the size did prove a problem. “It was certainly a lot harder to do things. The scene where I kick over Silvio’s head, I knew we had to start with that move because it was the hardest move of the day and if I was tired, carrying all that extra weight, I probably wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Playing the lead

Despite the time frame and niggling injuries Scott was proud to be finally anchoring a film and he admits to working as hard as was humanly possible, aware that “it was a good opportunity for me. Everybody is working as hard as they can to come up with the best product.” Jai White is a black belt hall of fame martial artist and both leads took their fair share of punishment, something Scott acknowledges can lead to time when “you get a bit ratty with each other, but you’re working so hard, not sleepy so much, so it happens but we came out of it good friends.”

Suffering for your art

The film was shot on location at a genuine prison in Bulgaria, in January, snow thick on the ground. The main set was a big open hall and it wasn’t very warm! Added to that, Scott’s character is covered in tattoos which had to be applied and due to the nature of the film, he regularly had to be doused in fake sweat. In between takes Michael could put his dressing gown on, but Scott’s would rub off the temporary tattoos, so he left the dressing gown off. The result saw Scott very sick just as it came to the major fight scenes.

Fans reaction

The hard work paid off, however, and Scott finds it flattering that those who share the love of the genre have really warmed to what has been done – “there hasn’t been one negative response, there’s a great buzz on the internet.” With such warm reviews and a film that came so close to a cinema release after fantastic test screenings (sadly New Line felt the lack of a ‘recognizable’ star was not worth the risk), Scott is hopeful that it will lead to more work but he is happy to be a fan favourite in a “B” movie way, as a martial arts icon. “I didn’t set out to be Tom Cruise. I grew up enjoying the eighties action movies, ‘American Ninja’, ‘Bloodsport’, I know these films are looked down upon but as a young man I idolised these guys and if I have a similar career, then I’ll be fine with that.”

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