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by Walter Chaw For the purist, an idea like Ultimate Fights from the Movies (from the creators of the horror compilation Boogeymen) is simply abominable: a collection of short fight clips (none running longer than five minutes, regardless of the length of the scene quoted) culled from action films and introduced by cheesy bout cards that do nothing to establish the motives behind the conflict. This is particularly confusing for those who haven't seen the films in question, as--often--these climactic fight sequences involve key plot points that play into their resolutions. Essentially, the DVD is a thinly disguised promotional ploy that targets the demographic that doesn't care to wade through such niceties as plot and character. It targets, in other words, the lowest common denominator--a condemnation supported by its decision to present all of the fights in a cropped, full-screen aspect ratio, handily robbing some of the more beautiful and intricate sequences (cribbed from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Fist of Legend, The Legend of Drunken Master) of a good deal of their visual information.
Ultimate Fights is as much of an affront in its way as those mom-and-pop operations that offer to edit your copies of films for sexual content and language. It gives credence to the idea that action films, by their nature, are not to be taken seriously, offering a separate all-music track (the "Ultimate Rumble Party Mix") for whom words are an endless difficulty. Considering the quality of most of the films plundered (Snatch, First Blood, Scarface, The Killer), the DVD finds endless ways to offend. The sum of these movies is not their climactic battle--Ultimate Fights sets a dangerous precedent. Accepting that what's done is done, Ultimate Fights also tends to use extremely rough source materials, excerpts from the unforgivably dubbed version of The Killer, and edits the "hot coals" fight in The Legend of Drunken Master by at least 20 minutes.
All indignities aside, there is something to recommend to the viewer familiar with the films presented herein in parcel. Hong Kong legend Tsui Hark provides a feature-length commentary that, while staid during the western selections, is extremely interesting for the Asian ones. His knowledge of styles and history is informative and entertaining. Knowing his troubled history with John Woo, I was fascinated to hear the extent to which Hark takes credit for some of the imagery of The Killer. An additional commentary provided by fight choreographer James Lew is packed with information, too, but accessible via the menu only through a bizarre "Fight Card" option undersold on the box. The "audio" button on your remote is the best way to access this feature.
A 10-minute "Behind the Punches" featurette hosted by Lew with unintelligible interjections by a long-in-the-tooth Jean-Claude Van Damme is one of those "how did they do it?" productions that doesn't really have anything interesting or surprising to reveal. Though Lew is a very affable personality, his charm is more than offset by Van Damme's lack thereof. A "Flix Facts" option provides a pop-up caption that doles out fitfully entertaining "Pop-Up Video"-style trivia steadily during the action. I was most amused to learn that Wesley Snipes ad-libbed the "ice-skating uphill" line in Blade. The disc is rounded out by short actor biographies and trailers for Boogeymen, American Pie 2, The Fast and the Furious, Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice, Scarface, The Legend of Drunken Master, Crossing the Line, Gladiator, TimeCop, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, They Live, Black Mask, First Blood, and The Killer, and a music video for "Control" by a band calling themselves Puddle of Mudd.
Films excerpted: Rumble in the Bronx, Blade, Fist of Legend, Snatch, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Scarface, The Legend of Drunken Master, Crossing the Line, The Players Club, Gladiator, TimeCop, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, They Live, Black Mask, First Blood, The Killer
54 minutes; NR; 1.33:1; English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround; English, French, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; FlixMix/Universal