Uri Boyka (Scott Adkins) growls at one point that he's been given one gift from God: that he's the world's most complete fighter. Not much of anyone else seemed to think so, though, at least not for a while. Boyka's last match left him with a shattered knee. Hobbling around a dingy Russian prison, Boyka's spent the past few years hiding behind a mane of ragged black hair, mopping up blood and urine in the prison latrines. His ravaged knee seems to prevent him from ever fighting again. Convicted of murder, any hope of parole remains far out of reach for at least another fifteen years. When Boyka snarls at an underground prison fight promoter (Mark Ivanir), telling him that he wants to be a part of the international tournament on the horizon, Gaga assumes it's a suicide run...that Boyka just wants to die with honor in the ring. Nope. Busted knee or no, Boyka is still a force to be reckoned with, breaking a seemingly indomitable brawler in a matter of minutes. Gaga's found his champion...the man who's going to represent Russia in a tournament of prisoners from the world over...the fighter who's going to make an already wealthy man that much richer.
The tournament promises freedom to the victor, but in the meantime, Boyka is basically trading out one prison in favor of another. Here, he's not lugging a mop around cold, underlit hallways. He and the other fighters -- well, most of them, anyway -- are shoved into a labor camp, forced to swing hammers and shatter oversized rocks all day. They can barely stand up when they're shuttled back to this Georgian prison, but if they can suffer through it, they're given one hour to train in the gym. If this seems like a bizarre way for a prison hosting an underground tournament to treat its fighters, then...well, you're getting it. So, yeah, it turns out that the tournament where millionaires pluck convicted murderers from prisons the world over and have them fight for their freedom might not be on the up-and-up.
Undisputed III: Redemption throws together just enough of a story to keep the momentum of all these fights going. Undisputed shrugs off any plot point that it can't turn into some kind of action sequence since one of those has to roll around every few minutes. No romances, no weepy backstories, no rambling monologues...nope, the movie's every bit as swift and brutal as its brawls in the rings. You've got your stoic fallen hero type, the arrogant chatterbox competitor-turned-best-friend (Turbo, played here by Mykel Shannon Jenkins), a couple of hiss-worthy badniks, and...that's about it. Undisputed III keeps it simple and never really lets itself get distracted from the fights. Hell, its focus is so intense that even though the hook for the tournament is freedom from the most punishing prisons on the planet, Boyka really couldn't care less. He's not fighting to rescue some
Undisputed III knows its audience. It knows we've torn into all those Cannon brawlers from the '80s, that we've gotta stop channel surfing whenever we flip by Jean-Claude Van Damme kicking some poor bastard in the head...y'know, that we're in it for the fights. The movie's engineered so that never more than a few minutes pass without someone getting the shit kicked out of him or at the very least some kind of training montage. Not only is there a hell of a lot of fighting throughout Undisputed, but every last one of the battles are spectacularly staged. I've gotta admit that I don't follow MMA that closely, but if UFC fights were overflowing with martial arts moves this acrobatic, I probably wouldn't bother watching anything else, ever. I'm constantly in awe of the moves that these warriors are so flawlessly executing. Bodies twist and contort...soar through the air...strike the perfect middle ground between between speed and power. It's fast, and it's brutal, but there's a certain sort of grace to a lot of these moves too. There's a hell of a lot of personality in each fighter's arsenal -- one distinct style pitted against another, from Boyka's spin kicks to Lateef Crowder's breathtakingly acrobatic capoeira skills -- and Undisputed sets out to showcase every last second of it. The fights aren't augmented with wire-fu or CGI. The camera doesn't cut away to hide a stunt double or lean on frantic, overcaffeinated editing. No, Undisputed wants you to see exactly what's going on in long, unflinching takes...in graphic detail. The choreography of these battles is jaw-dropping, and it's very much appreciated that Isaac Florentine places such an intense focus on them. He's a director with a sharp visual eye and a definite sense of style, but again, Florentine is here to show off these devastating martial arts moves. A staggering amount of time and effort has clearly been invested in
Everything about Undisputed III either sets out to bolster the intensity of these action sequences or is just trying not to stand in their way. The overall storyline is kind of forgettable, and the smart money says you can pick out pretty early on what the final match is gonna be, who's going to turn up in the final reel for a last minute rescue, and what some of the twists near the end will wind up being. That's perfectly okay, though. The screenplay really doesn't want to be that ambitious; it's just there to be good enough...an excuse to convincingly string together a bunch of spectacular action sequences, and it definitely nails that. There are a few really clever lines of dialogue that stand out too, and its brief jabs at a sense of humor generally manage to connect. The acting's hit or miss -- the aging crime lord's delivery in particular made me cringe -- but it too is generally good enough, and it's not as if Undisputed gets caught up in long, rambling monologues anyway. The actors who are handed the most dialogue are generally the most capable, though, and...man, Scott Adkins is just pitch-perfect in the lead.
There's not much about Undisputed III that I didn't love the holy hell out of, really. I do wish the fights hadn't been backed by a barrage of different rap songs, pretty much all of which spout off lyrics about fighting too. That just seems so ordinary...so unimaginative...when paired against fight choreography this ambitious and accomplished. Isaac Florentine really seems to like one effect where an image will fill the screen and then fall back into a four-panel grid, and even though he only whips out that trick a couple of times, it still winds up feeling overused. None of that really matters at the end of the day, though. Undisputed III is just a hell of an action flick...what Enter the Dragon was to the '70s...what Bloodsport was to the '80s. Part of me really wants to say that Undisputed III plays like a Cannon Films brawler updated for the MMA era, but even that doesn't really do it justice. Those movies never had fight choreography this skilled, such a keenly cinematic eye, or a pace that screamed along at this sort of breakneck pace. This is the one of the most exceptional martial arts flicks I've come across in far too long and very much comes Highly Recommended.
Save yourself a couple of minutes and just click on this screenshot. That pretty much sums it up right there.
Yeah, yeah, I know this is just about the worst pun I could possibly dig up, but I'll say it anyway: Undisputed III is a knockout in high-def. Doesn't matter that the movie was shot on a shoestring in Bulgaria and headed straight-to-video...this is one of the best looking Blu-ray discs that Warner has ever hammered out. The movie was shot natively on digital video, and the image is spectacularly clean and clear throughout. No video noise ever creeps in, not even when the lighting is dialed down. Black levels are consistently deep and inky as well, and the red streaks of blood really leap out when set against a palette this deliberately bleak and gloomy. I can't get over the sense of depth and dimensionality that Undisputed III fleshes out, to the point where it practically looks 3D. The image is exceptionally crisp and detailed, rivaling -- hell, and frequently eclipsing -- Blu-ray releases of films with many, many times its budget. There's nothing at all for me to gripe about here: no distracting video noise, no compression artifacting, no edge haloes, no smearing from heavy-handed filtering...Undisputed III is one of the most impressive looking Blu-ray discs I've come across in quite a long time.
Since the flick only clocks in at an hour and a half and there aren't any extras at all, it kind of goes without saying that Undisputed III is served up on a single-layer platter. The movie is presented at its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and has been encoded with VC-1.
On the other hand, Undisputed's dialogue can be tough to make out at times. It's at a disadvantage anyway with so many thick accents, but throughout more than a couple of sequences, the dialogue seems to be dialed down far too low in the mix compared to the music blaring in the background. There are also stretches when I expected the bass to be thicker than it is. I mean, it's not as if the low-end is anemic or anything, but during some of the fights, I kept expecting the chugging guitars to pack a little more of a wallop....the flurries of kicks to hit more like a slug to the gut. The fidelity is generally great, though. No clicks or pops ever intrude, and there's no hiss or anything to get in the way either. This is a reasonably strong soundtrack but overall still pretty typical for what I'd expect out of a direct-to-video brawler.
There aren't any dubs or alternate soundtracks this time out, although subtitles are belted out in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.
Nothing -- not a trailer, not some generic behind-the-scenes featurette...nothing.
The second disc in the set is a DVD that'll work in any set-top player, and it also piles on a digital copy for use on iTunes and Windows Media-powered devices.
The Final Word
Undisputed III: Redemption plays kind of like a cross between a UFC highlight reel and half of the brawlers that Cannon churned out back in the '80s, and I mean that as the highest compliment possible. Undisputed doesn't get dragged down by meandering subplots, some standard issue romance, or anything like that. Director Isaac Florentine gets why his audience is forking over twenty bucks to pick up a movie like this, and he delivers an hour and a half of unrelenting action, a slew of spectacularly choreographed fights, and acrobatic martial arts moves. The movie's intensely focused on its fights, the next brawl never seems to be more than a couple of minutes off, and the cinematography is stylish but there to heighten the intensity...the editing and screenplay never get in the way. Don't shrug this movie off just because it went straight to video; Undisputed III: Redemption beats the holy hell out of most mainstream action flicks and is definitely worth checking out on Blu-ray. Highly Recommended.