Eight fighters. One Winner. No Rules.
There are many people in the world who have studied or who are studying one of the various martial arts. There are many different styles to choose from, with many of them having fairly unpronounceable names. And, with most of these fighting arts, the top honor would be some sort of black belt. But, what is there to do after getting a black belt? Well, how about entering various competitions to beat opponents into bloody pulps? Naturally, someone had to make a documentary of these events and put it on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Rickson Gracie is considered to be the greatest Freestyle Fighting Champion ever. He's a master of jiu-jitsu which, as far as I could tell, translates into English as "the art of hitting people with your fist to make them bleed and die." At this point of the documentary, Gracie is the reigning World Freestyle Fighting Champion and will defend his title at the 1995 Vale Tudo Fighting Championship in Tokyo, which is the focus of Choke.
The documentary begins with a look at Gracie's rigid training habits and his dojo, which is located in Rio de Janeiro. It turns out that Gracie comes from a long lineage of jiu-jitsu masters, and his family was the first to begin practicing the sport in Brazil. It's a badge of honor Gracie wears every time he enters one of these competitions, and he's never been defeated in over 400 fights according to the bio included on the DVD (which is the only notable special feature).
After this, we get a look at two of his competitors, Todd Hayes who is a kickboxer from Texas and Koichiro Kimura, the Japanese heavyweight shootfighting champion. They both seem to be pretty tough guys, but from looking at Gracie's training regimen, they don't stand a chance.
With the training done, we go to Tokyo, where we meet the rest of the competition when they attend a rules meeting for the tournament. The rules are pretty simple in that there really aren't any. There are eight fighters in a single elimination tournament. You win and advance to the next round by knocking your opponent unconscious or forcing them to submit and tap out. If you think this might be a bit barbaric, you're not too far off.
I won't tell you how it ends except to say the title isn't "Todd Hayes: Choke."
As far as documentaries go, Choke is pretty complete. One of the facets that may set this apart from other documentaries of this sort is the continuous look at what's happening back stage as some of the fights progress. Some of the fighters hope that Gracie will get beat up too much in his first bout to compete in the next round, one fighter wins his first fight but pays a high price with a dislocated shoulder, and Gracie continues to relax.
The video is a bit of a mixed bag, and the digital transfer isn't something I'd be proud of. The picture is full screen, and there are a couple of moments when I thought the cameraman had been replaced by a screaming howler monkey. (It's called a "Steady Cam," friend.) It isn't so bad that you'll get seasick from this effort, but I did consider reaching for the Dramamine. The sound is in stereo, but we're not talking about anything that will push your system to its limits. In other words, buy this for the content, not for the technology.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Choke is a mix of real violence portrayed as a sporting event, and it is definitely not for someone who finds these sports barbaric or pointless or for children. When someone gets punched in the face, that isn't red syrup hitting the ring mat. I guess I can respect someone who enters this type of competition because they must have the utmost confidence in their abilities to get through this unscathed. That, or they're deranged.
My biggest complaint about Choke isn't the violence, however, but the lack of competition that Gracie faces at this event. Maybe it's that Gracie is just that good instead of these other competitors being wussies, but he wins in complete squashes. That does not make for great drama.
The subject matter holds little interest for me. It's not my cup of tea. Not something I'd rent even if this were the only thing remaining at the local video rental place. Otherwise, I might have thought more highly of this DVD. I can admit, however, that Choke is a well-made documentary. If you enjoy full contact sports, this is probably something you will enjoy.
Everyone is acquitted, if for no other reason than I wouldn't want any of these guys showing up at my house to "discuss" things further.
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• Rickson Gracie Bio
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