What is it with successful Hong Kong action directors coming to Hollywood and ending up hitting the straight to video market making films with has been action stars? Ringo Lam is probably the most shining example of this. In Hong Kong he made such classics as Prison On Fire and Full Contact. In America, he's best known for his less than amazing work with (gulp) Jean Claude Van Damme (though I've got to admit that their most recent effort In Hell was pretty good).
Following that trend, we now witness Siu-Tung Ching, the man who while working in Hong Kong brought us A Chinese Ghost Story and Dr. Wai In The Scripture With No Words goes straight to video with Steven Seagal in Belly Of The Beast.
Seagal plays tough guy Jake Hopper, a retired CIA agent whose daughter is kidnapped while on vacation in Thailand. Of course, when Hopper gets word of this, he's on the next plane to Thailand to rescue his daughter himself. As he goes about busting heads and investigating her mysterious disappearance, he discovers a group called Abu Karef that is allegedly a terrorist faction that sends him an audio tape of their demands.
Hopper doesn't think that things are as cut and dry as they seem and, while keeping an eye on the Abu Karef, continues to stick his nose in where it doesn't belong until eventually, he has to beat everyone up to save the day and of course, make some time with a lovely Thai native woman, all too eager to make a real man out of him.
The plot is pretty pedestrian and more than just a little bit predictable, but it's not unenjoyable watching Seagal hamfist his way through terrorists and kidnappers in an attempt to right the wrongs that have been committed against him. But it would have been better if he didn't have to do it in 'bullet time' ala Keanu Reeves in The Matrix because the end result is nothing but laughable.
There are some flashy moments during some of the fight scenes that lend a bit of genuine pizzazz to our begrudging action hero, and the film is reasonably well directed in that it looks good and is marginally entertaining, but when Hopper opens up his proverbial can of whup-ass on the bad guys, just try not to laugh. I couldn't do it.
Columbia's anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen transfer benefits from very nice, deep blacks and solid color reproduction. There are a few spots that look just a tad soft and during these scenes there is some slight haloing around some of the edges but this issue aside, Belly Of The Beast looks quite good and leaves little to complain about (technically speaking, at least).
Belly Of The Beast is given the Dolby Digital 5.1 treatment on this release, and despite the really silly sound effects that accompany almost all of the fighting moves during the combat scenes which come flying out of the rear channels, this mix is pretty solid. Nice bass response gives your subwoofer a healthy bit of exercise and the dialogue is well mixed and well balanced overtop of the sound effects and background music, which benefit quite a bit from some very nice and very distinct channel separation in the front and rear channels.
We get a few trailers – one a piece Out For A Kill, The Foreigner, The Returner and one for the feature presentation as well.
If brainless action movies with laughable fight scenes are your cup of tea, then Belly Of The Best is the movie for you. In all seriousness, it's a bad film, but it's not unwatchable. You can find worse ways to kill ninety minutes. The disc looks and sounds very good, and despite the absence of any real extras, this is worth a rent for Seagal fans.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.