UNDERGROUND (2008)

3.5 out of 10

Release Date: 18th May 2009 (DVD Premiere)

Director: Chee Keong Cheung (Bodyguard- A New Beginning)

Cast: Mark Strange, Fidel Nanton, Leonard Fenton, Nathan Lewis, Joey Ansah, Zara Phythian, Dave Wong, Sophie Linfield, Leon Sua, Liang Yang, Glenn Salvage, Beau Fowler, Shane Steyn, William Mickleburgh, Scott Houston, Chris Smith with Gordon Alexander, Gary Webster and Danny John-Jules

Writer: Chee Keong Cheung

Trailer: UNDERGROUND

images-1Underground gets one thing right, excellent fight choreography. And that’s exactly why this film exists, it’s a fight film. Fans of mixed martial arts will have the fights on rewind and the talking on fast forward. This is your standard Bloodsport retread, twelve cardboard cutouts battle for a cash prize whilst a cartel adjudicate and raise the stakes for some very rich business men who are watching remotely. Obviously, only one of the 12 will be going home with the money – several of which are professional fighters but some are there because they are desperate for the money to get them out of deep hole (zzzz what were you saying? There’s a plot?).

A film of two halves, all the heavy stunt work is done downstairs on the shop floor and all the acting is done upstairs in the office. Neither world troubles the other one until nearer the end. So whilst the 12 stuntmen- cum part time actors duke it out for first place, the real actors bitch and posture trying to out deal each other by pitting their best fighter against another rich opponent’s fighter. It’s a loaded dice as each rich guy is given two fighters at the beginning, so if they have a weak guy that’s set in stone – ill thought out rules. But hey, not my money. Amongst the business men are TV stalwarts Gary Webster (MINDER), Danny John-Jules (RED DWARF) and for all those wondering where Dr. Legg was all those weeks between his appearances in Eastenders, Leonard Fenton (THE ZOMBIE DIARIES) and they do the only lifting required in the acting department (stunt work equivalent for the lunks downstairs). Downstairs the only two with real acting credentials are the wooden Zara Phythian (HE WHO DARES) and the slightly more talented Joey Ansah (GREEN STREET 3) but neither of them get to be the hero (SPOILER!). No the hero is stuntman Mark Strange who plays The Homeless. I almost forgot, to make the cardboard characters extra stiff, none of them have names: instead we get The Model, The Teacher, The Priest, The Foreigner etc. Very boring. Not much seems to be at stake for any of them apart from getting their asses beat, most of the  characters get to go home with a ‘blankety blank cheque book and pen’ too. The reason for a movie like this is that usually the tournament that is centre to the tale is usually a stand out bout in which characters buck the trend or wreck proceedings for future years, but in  Underground it seems like they picked a ‘filler’ year. There’s one winner and eleven losers – wow! It just seems to be business as usual.  There might be a sequel but the stakes are too low for this to engage to invest in any of the fighters. The closest thing we get to a protagonist is Leonard Fenton and later Mark Strange (who also produces – surprise surprise!) once the field thins out – maybe it’s being experimental. A flick with no characters. The whole film has a remarkably stripped down feel, it wishes it was sleek but that will come with larger budgets.

The filmmakers certainly know how to shoot a fight and cast talented fighters. To say it’s for people with low attention spans is an insult to the work that’s gone into framing these wonderful fight scenes, so fans of fighting could do a lot worse than tune in. But like I said, fast forward the slim traces of story line just like you would if you were watching a porno – in fact Underground is the absolute polar opposite of an art house movie. Red Dwarf fans get in line for a good Danny John Jules role too. He has much fun as the closest this film has to an antagonist. It’s weird how this is the only film I’ve ever rated him in!

3.5 out of 10 – Action fans only. This is a pure action film almost to the point of pushing the need for individual characters out of the film completely. Stunning fight work save this bargain basement tribute to Bloodsport or Kick Boxer from being a total loss but it’s not for everybody! But then nor is Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Second review below by Matt CRUSHER Usher 

WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT MEATHEAD IN BEFORE?

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One thought on “UNDERGROUND (2008)

  1. UNDERGROUND review by The Ushernator!

    Have you ever wanted to stage a big illegal underground fight tournament? If so, this could be the film for you. In effect UNDERGROUND is a manual for the would-be fight promoter. UNDERGROUND focuses on the how, where, when and what of putting fights on. It seems to be quite simple: you put up a few posters saying ‘FIGHT! PRIZE: £250,000’ and sign up a dozen assorted desperadoes. You don’t even need to know their names, just call them things like The Convict, The Foreigner and The Teacher. Next you get some rich people willing to put money on these fighters, none of whom they know from Adam. Then you devise a fight schedule: two fighters take each other on, each time in a suitably dingy looking location (like Nick Nevern’s car park). Sprinkle in a few extras to cheer the battle on, and (of course) add the worldwide internet audience and you’ve got it made.

    UNDERGROUND is a fight procedural movie. As such it may be the first of its kind (though I’m happy to be corrected). Alas, the procedure doesn’t quite run to plan (when does it ever?). You see, the fight organiser has made a fundamental error at the planning stage. Anyone who knows anything about knockout tournaments knows that you begin with a field of 64 or 32 so that you can easily lose half the players each round, and so arrive at a single winner. The bozos here have a field of twelve. So we see them reduce down to six then three then someone must’ve noticed the administrative bungling and come up with a quick fix. In order to get down to two, our ringmaster sends his henchmen in to try to beat up each of our surviving fighters. I still don’t see what was in it for the henchmen but in they gaily henched anyway. Alas it goes slightly awry and there is a fatality! The only fatality in the film and it’s due to an admin error! Yes, you read that right. This is a violent film about violence in which only one person dies. One. I don’t understand how this could happen. Budget cuts? I blame David Cameron.

    It all starts very ambitiously with the sort of music that would have graced a minor 1980s sci-fi movie. And I think there was a prologue to read so that we could set the film in a context of noble bloodletting. What we have here is a film of unusual single-mindedness. The focus is the tournament. Everything else is extraneous. The film pays a little lip-service to such pifflingly peripheral matters like the names of the fighters (why bother giving them names when you can just give them catchy nicknames like The Delinquent? (so-called because he’s a delinquent). True, they do have names, which are sometimes used, but their character names are identical to the actor’s real names. So Joey Ansah plays Joey, known only as The Model. (Because he’s a model.) Lazy writing? Or the simplest way to tell everyone apart? You may have noticed I used the word ‘actor’ a moment ago. That’s a little misleading as most of the fighters are played by stuntmen and martial artists, all of whom, I am sure, are very good at stunts and martial arts. I can’t comment on their acting as they don’t have to do any.

    All the acting takes place in the overheated backroom, the dodgy den full of desperate bankers and gamblers, excited beyond reason by the unpredictable tournament playing out before them. Well, I guess that was the idea. What we actually get is a bunch of vaguely familiar TV actors complaining about losing money. And who cares if some dodgy banker has just lost £200,000 on a fight? In a desperate bid to create something like dramatic momentum, we eventually learn that Dr Legg from Eastenders (one of the backers) once had a son who got killed in some way, and he is now trying to find redemption by giving money to bare-knuckle homeless boxers. Or something.

    Nothing happens in the film. It’s like watching a film of a sporting event which never happened. None of the fighters break the rules or try to escape. None of them is trying to kill the backers. None of them have personal vendettas that they need to settle. They’re just there to take part in the tournament, which makes a nice change from things like THE TOURNAMENT with its tedious twists. UNDERGROUND is a twistless film. And it it’s a film without a protagonist. The biggest role is taken by Fidel Nanton as the ring-master bloke who does a lovely nodding smile of approval at one point. But all he really does is explain rules, referee, and keep an eye on the bets. As the number of fighters diminish, the film does allow us in to see glimpses of the fighters’ lives, but these are so fleeting and tacked on it is impossible to be interested. The film is only interested in the fighters as fighters. (True, some of them become friends, and then find they have to batter each other; two others find themselves fighting each other even though they’re married! dear oh dear.)

    So, this is a film without a plot. It is a film about a series of fights. Ten altogether I suppose. Reader, I slept through at least three of them. I’m sure they were very good, but, seeing as the film-makers weren’t interested in making us interested in the protagonists, then all we’ve got is a series of choreographed set-pieces, artfully done I suppose but lacking in drama or tension. If you like watching people pretend to beat each other up then you might find things to enjoy here. Or you could try treating the film as an experimental attempt to eschew both protagonist and story, but I think that’d only work if it was in French. Which it might have been for all I know.

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