Isaac Florentine is a name very well known to Martial Arts movie fans around the globe! Ask around! When it comes to the action genre, everyone who knows their stuff would agree that Isaac is doing fantastic work to illuminate the quality of action movie talent in the west. Looking ahead to his next film, scheduled to begin filming soon, I thought this would be a good opportunity to revisit some of the greatest filmmaking accomplishments of this exceptionally talented director, and encourage those who havn't yet seen his work to start taking notes!
Through early films like Desert Kickboxer and Savate, Isaac began defining his own, unique vision for the spectrum of physical action he'd later showcase. Savate is notable for portraying the little-explored French Kickboxing system of the title and blending the action and western genres in dynamic synergy, a style later revisited for Cold Harvest. Savate also featured Olivier Gruner and set an early pattern of capturing stars at their very best, a talent shared by Sammo Hung, among others, during his Hong Kong work in the 1970s and 80s. Others to be showcased in Isaac's cinematic 'hall of fame' include Gary Daniels and, more recently, Scott Adkins.
Bridge of Dragons was a great vehicle for its two leads, Dolph Lundgren and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, and made full creative use of the unconventional futuristic setting its characters inhabited. However, in my mind, Isaac's first, truly defining (ie sit back and take note) film came in the form of Cold Harvest. Throwing together a mix of action and spaghetti western genre conventions amidst post-apocalyptic chaos, the film set itself apart as a unique and ambitious action outing. Two great 'physical' performances from Gary Daniels and Bryan Genesse gave us an excellent hero and villain story-arc with some truly devastating ballistic and hand-to-hand combat sequences. Cold Harvest remains one of Isaac's best titles from the 1990s. Snap this up if you havn't already!
When I speak to people, a title which seems to have slipped under the radar is Special Forces. Only recently receiving it's UK DVD release, this special ops / war film, for the most part, doesn't sit too far removed from similar genre entries. Yet it remains essential viewing for its impressive (and now historically important) first-time collaboration with energetic, lightning-fast Brit, Scott Adkins. Co-starring as Talbot, an SAS soldier who helps Marshall Teague's band of soldiers, he gets the unrestrained opportunity to deliver an exceptional fight sequence, which culminates in the most exciting scene of the film!
Marking one of his best known projects, Undisputed II took the underrated Walter Hill boxing drama and reinvigorated it with a heavy dose of MMA. Throwing Michael Jai White and Scott Adkins into a prison together, with only one walking away from the battle, this was one fight show fans had to see. And it delivered. Seriously. So much so that in hindsight it puts a lot of other recent Martial Arts films to shame. As well as being a massive accomplishment for Isaac, it cranked up the profiles of Michael and Scott, who both clearly had a lot of talent to share. It's good to see they've both been extremely busy since! Undisputed II even became a cult hit among MMA and UFC fans and its no surprise. When a film of this style is delivered so well, put simply, this is what it all comes down to. Actions speak louder than words!
Next, Isaac directed Jean-Claude Van Damme in The Shepherd: Border Patrol. Its a film which broadly delivers the goods but ultimately suffered from post-production interference. Had more control been given to Isaac and his team, there's no doubt the film would have been a great deal more satisfying, most notably during the fight sequences. There are still some great scenes and the Van Damme / Adkins showdown still packs a punch (and spinning kick!). Well worth seeking out!
Ninja presented the unique opportunity to resurge the popular Ninja genre made famous in the 1980s and apply this nostalgic template to a modern day setting. In fact, the concept of a modern day Ninja, utilising stealth technology and modern weapons seems so obvious its a surprise it hasn't been tackled more often! Importantly, Ninja also served up the first leading role for Scott Adkins, by now a regular collaborator, and allowed him to take centre stage in an epic, stylised battle of old versus new. Again, capturing the best elements of his stars, Isaac made full use of Adkins' skills and athleticism, a trait that can't be said for any filmmaker who fails to use the talent available. Ninja is another great outing for Isaac and Scott and should be high on the priority list of any Martial Arts and action movie fan!
Undisputed III marked the highly anticipated return from former villain, Uri Boyka (Scott Adkins), now an anti-hero in an impossible, against the odds situation. Raising the bar on the mind-blowing action seen in Undisputed II, Isaac did the impossible and stunned an audience who thought it couldn't be topped. Packing the arena with even more top-tier, up and coming stars, like Marko Zaror and Lateef Crowder, Boyka was no longer an invincible fighting machine and had to raise his game to compete at the next level. Undisputed III is a rare sequel that raised the stakes and serves up a real lesson for physical action cinema, impressive on virtually all fronts!
Next, Isaac and Scott team up once again for Blood Hostage, due to begin filming early next year. This time depicting the devastating system of Krav Maga, the film already sounds like a bold project to take their work in yet another groundbreaking direction. As a filmmaker devoted to raising the standard with every project, there can be no doubt Isaac is an extremely important and heavily underrated director to watch out for. Action and Martial Arts movie fans have long known this, hopefully it won't be long before everyone else takes notice. Spread the word!