Judge David Johnson is best known for his ability to leap rooftops and swing from streetlights. Oh, wait, that's Batman. No, Judge David Johnson is best known for his erotic cakes.
A mortal fighter. An eternal combat.
The above is the tagline that was emblazoned on the disc cover. I don't know what it means. Don't think this is a Mortal Kombat spin-off, because it isn't (though a spine rip or two would have been appreciated).
Facts of the Case
The Great Challenge (a.k.a. Sons of the Wind) tells the story of a band of friends who are masters in the sport of "Yamakasi," a variation of "Parkour," the French-originated mode-of-transportation/martial art where disciple jump on benches and roofs and porches and the like. These guys decide to take their athletic prowess to Bangkok, Thailand, where Leo (Laurent Piemontesi), the sorta leader of the group, is opening a gym for street kids. How nice.
Unfortunately, their timing is horrible. Bangkok is in the middle of a full-scale turf war between the Triads and the Yakuza. After a few run-ins with toughs from each side, the Yamakasi boys realize that they've stepping into something deep. Complicating matters is the romantic tryst between one of the guys and the daughter of one of the big gangster bosses. This romance draws in bad-ass Kien (Chau Belle Dinh), who is torn between loyalty and love for his sister. Will the newcomers back off in the face of well-dressed Japanese men with automatic weapons? Or will they jump, flip, spin, twirl and whirl their way into Bangkok street violence legend?
This movie is a combination of "cool" and "cheesy." It's like a cheese-flavored ice cream.
Cool stuff, first. While there are only a handful of action scenes, they're staged creatively and are often quite exciting. There's an opening sequence where the guy play some weird "keep away" ball game on rooftops and that's pretty lame, but when fisticuffs start to fly, the quality picks up. The two biggest action set-pieces are the bamboo scaffolding fight and the climactic rumble. These both work well and, most importantly show us something new. The bamboo fight finds the guy scaling this massive scaffolding, purely as a challenge, but run into Kien, who sics his goons on them. What ensues is an entertaining series of flips and slides and pole-to-pole jumps, as the fighters squeeze through the riggings and fire punches at each other. New to me, and wire use was minimal. Always appreciated.
The big-ass smackdown at the end was even better, as the crew of heroes is trapped in a warehouse while Triads and Yakuza are beating the Dijonaise out of each other. The music pounds, the heroes look at each other, and take off into the melee, dodging blades, landing elbows, and basically jumping all over the place like crazy people. The lengthy sequence is well-staged, and, aside from obvious punch whiffs by a few of the actors, lots of fun to watch. It was kind of like a live-action Dynasty Warriors game for the handful of you nerds that would get that reference.
And now, the cheese: these guys weren't particularly bad ass. They did some bad ass stunts, but the characters themselves were more reminiscent of a pack of happy-go-lucky athletes from the Nickelodeon show of your choice or those teen gymnast all stars from that Mr. T cartoon from the early '80s. Okay, maybe it wasn't as bad as that, but nothing from these fighters ever smelled "hardcore." They were just dudes who like flipping over park benches and wanted to teach street kids to do the same and caught up in a gangster turf war. Now, Kien—that mofo was the real deal, but didn't have nearly enough screen time devoted to him. Also, this is a PG-13 film, and a soft one to boot. Very few people die, blood is almost nonexistent and I never sensed anything menacing, even from the supposedly ruthless Yakuza and Triads. Overall, I would characterize the tone of The Great Challenge as playful, which, if that's what you're in the mood for, will be quite suitable for your tastes. Fans of harder action will likely dig the stunt work, but not much else.
The film looked pretty good, given a clean anamorphic widescreen transfer with good colors and detailing. The video shines best at that big throw-down at the end. Dolby 5.1 is only available through the dubbed English track, and the dubbing is annoying. However, the difference between the 5.1 and 2.0 French track is noticeable, so pick your poison. A robust Making of The Great Challenge accompanies some trailers in the extras department.
Parkour fans might get into this film, and there are certainly some inspired action moments, but overall The Great Challenge falls a bit short. For someone like me, who likes his action films hard-boiled, this movie was tad too gentle.
How about taking the bus once in a while?
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Scales of Justice
• "Making of The Great Challenge"
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