Death Fighter Review: Weekend at Jawed El Berni’s
Updated: Apr 17
Dir: Toby Russell
Release Date: 2017 (Filmed in 2012)
“An American cop witnesses his mentor's murder in a stake-out gone wrong and finds himself on the wrong side of the law in Thailand. Teaming up with an ex-military mercenary, out to settle a score of his own, they head off to bring the killers to justice”
I shall begin with this. I watched this film based on the title and the stars alone. Any film from the 80s-90s heyday of low budget Action that had a word and then, ‘Fighter’, after it, ensured that the plot revolved around an illegal no holds barred fighting ring where someone had to avenge the death of a friend who got drawn in and subsequently killed.
Those were just the rules of these films. No worries, just lots of fights in a murky arena and lots of money being waved around by extras demanding blood and death until the final bad guy gets involved and we have a final fight full of slow motion and the good guy finally triumphing when all had seemed lost.
I miss those kinds of films and thought I had stumbled across another, newer one, which I hadn’t seen. Sadly, I was disappointed on this front as they went more for an action thriller (with fights) and lots of gun play instead.
Bearing this in mind, I will stop reminiscing and here is my review of what I actually did watch.
We begin at the Burmese/Thai border and a couple of guys are doing some jungle parkour while a woman hides. The guys catch up with each other and have a pretty decent fight ending with the clearly, ‘good guy’, losing and ending falling from height and landing in a stream. The bad guy (Peter, played by Jawed El Berni) smiles and walks away.
We cut back to the girl who is now limping about when a highlight of the film enters (yes, it is still in the opening 2 minutes or so but you will understand) in the form of Cynthia Rothrock in camo fatigues and brandishing a whip! She is obviously captured.
Now, I have always been a big admirer of Rothrock ever since the dubious No Retreat No Surrender 2 and China O’Brien beginnings, Martial Law, the Rage and Honour and Tiger Claws efforts along with her super sexy Sworn to Justice in 1996 where I was finally rewarded with a nude scene! I was once even told to get out of the way by Rothrock’s bodyguard when I saw her as a special guest at an evening of kickboxing title matches.
Safe to say, we go back a long way.
Some would even say we were in a relationship together. Mainly just me that would say that but a man has to have dreams.
Seeing Rothrock cracking that whip was a treat and a half and I will try to mention this obsession too much more as we go on…..
We meet Michael (Matt Mullins) all preoccupied with obsessing over Draco the bad guy and neglecting his young lady friend though she points out it isn’t even official FBI business and questions this fixation and following his mentor, Conrad, around the globe just to get Draco.
We then meet Conrad, played by Joe Lewis.
Interesting facts, Joe Lewis was a champion heavyweight point-fighter and kickboxer in the 1960s and 1970 and is one of only 5 people to defeat Chuck Norris. He featured in a handful of movies back in his day and a cameo as himself in Walker Texas Ranger – class from Chuck.
Sadly, this is Joe Lewis’ final film and he appears to be quite ill throughout his brief appearances.
Conrad enters, looking like a fat, sweaty uncle at a family wedding and says he’s got a lead on Draco leading to Michael leaving his lady friend alone in the room and she is clearly unhappy.
No time to worry about a moody woman as we head to Draco meeting up with some fellow bad guys in a warehouse doing some kind of shady business transaction. Draco is a wild eyed lunatic looking like a cheap version of Mark Strong and he brings someone out to check the quality of the cocaine he is purchasing. This guy is wearing a white lab coat so he is clearly the right guy to be checking this kind of thing.
I would assume that, on the way over there, everyone else all dressed in black and with balaclavas would have been laughing at this idiot in his lab coat like that’s all he ever wears but nobody mentions it at all.
Draco is paying in gold for some reason which Michael points out and warns Conrad, “That’s a lot of gold and a lot of guys.”
“Like monkeys in a barrel.” Conrad replies and this nonsense seems to allay any misgivings he may have had.
Cynthia Rothrock spots a man lying on the floor, finds Draco and whispers, “It’s a set-up”, which is all Draco needs to instantly start shooting absolutely everyone near him.
Just like that. Shoots everyone without question.
What if it was one of Rothrock’s trademark jokes? What if the guy was asleep? What if he’s fallen and required assistance? What if he was pranking Rothrock?
No time for any of that to cross Draco’s mind, he’s blasting people to death.
Upon seeing this mass bloodshed, Michael suggests something that makes sense but never happens in an action movie,
“Let’s just call the cops. It’s suicide!”
Naturally Conrad is having none of that and gives his second ridiculous line in a matter of minutes,
“I don’t quit and I don’t commit suicide”
He runs into this certain death situation. Lots of shooting, people falling down, some fighting culminating in Jawed El Berni and Rothrock joining forces to take down Michael.
They never even get much of a chance as a heavily sweating Conrad fires wildly at them from a great height. The only reason Conrad has climbed to this vantage point becomes obvious when Draco shoots him and he gets a slow motion fall and dies.
To be fair, he would probably have died anyway from excessive sweating and/or massive cardiac arrest and Draco probably did him a favour. All of the bad guys escape and the police turn up.
End of scene.
At the Police Station, Michael is being told off in terrible English by the Captain (disappointingly not played by Carl Weathers) but he knows about losing a colleague in the line of duty and gives him his gun and shit back and tells him to get out of there.
A woman is arguing with another policeman about stuff she has evidence about but they aren’t proving very helpful and, as she turns, Michael bumps into her like a clumsy bastard and knocks her photos to the floor. He bends to pick them and he either thinks it or says it out loud, I am not entirely sure,
“Human trafficking? This has Draco’s name all over it.”
She snatches the photos back and just fucks off in a mood.
Back at Draco’s jungle hideout, Cynthia Rothrock is handing over the woman we saw in the opening scenes. Draco offers some flirting to Rothrock for good measure,
“Oh you’re physically impressive but you know what I like most about you?”, I thought he was going to say her tits and ass in Sworn to Justice back in ’96 but he disappoints and concludes, “You don’t talk much.”
He then possibly rapes the other woman, we don’t know.
Meanwhile, the terrible English speaking Police Captain has inexplicably found his way to Michael’s hotel room now and tells him he will help him take down Draco by directing him towards another guy who will actually help him take down Draco.
And that, friends, is where Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson comes into play.
He’s in a seedy bar and shows a large wad of cash which gets noticed by local hoodlums who naturally want to steal it. Nobody robs The Dragon and he duly kicks the royal shit out of them all in a decent bar fight.
He knows Draco and agrees to help Michael and shoots some henchmen who somehow turn up to kill them.
He takes Michael to his place where we meet Otto. Otto is an odd character who appears to be a drunk, bumbling fool but proves his worth by reassembling a gun faster than Michael. He proves his worth throughout and, in my opinion, should have had a spin-off movie.
No time to lose, we’re off to the jungle!!
Michael, ‘The Dragon’ and Otto are wandering about when Michael is bitten by a centipede which makes him hallucinate and eventually faint. He wakes up in a jungle field hospital run by the moody woman he bumped into at the Police Station.
In case you didn’t remember that with it being almost 20 minutes ago, they give us a quick flashback so rest easy. She’s not the only one out there in this hospital as she is treating the guy who took a nose-dive into the stream at the beginning of the film and he is now bearing some of the most unrealistic bruises and cuts I’ve ever seen.
We get ‘treated’ to a Buddhist festival in the evening where people do some dances. Otto joins in and gives us some moves, proving his worth again, and then the Doctor gets involved and does some shit dance with a couple of swords while Michael stares at her like he’s never seen a woman before.
They round the evening off by lighting lots of Sky Lanterns and releasing them into the air, clearly not worried about burning down the jungle or thinking of the welfare of any owls in the neighbourhood.
Next morning and Peter (Jawed El Berni) arrives at the hospital with a gang so he can finish off the guy we all thought he had killed at the beginning. He quite brutally slices his throat and leaves, seeing Michael as he does so.
Don ‘The Dragon’, in turn spots Peter and follows him into the jungle so they can fight. Jawed El Berni is clearly a talented martial artist (he has also appeared in a couple of Scott Adkins films – Ninja: Shadow of a Tear and Savage Dog) so this fight is a little slower than his previous ones because ‘The Dragon’ was 58 years old when this was made.
Back at the hospital, after some shit flirting from Michael, the body is discovered so it all kicks off leading to Michael fighting henchmen, the Doctor having a go and good old Otto proving his worth by fighting beneath a stilted house and then out in the open.
‘The Dragon’ and Peter are still at it and, even in his heyday, when The Dragon stripped down to a vest, I thought he had quite a large head. It seems even bigger now he has aged which is not a plot point just my opinion.
Upon seeing the size of his opponent’s head, Peter spots a chance to run off and takes it leaving ‘The Dragon’ to shake his massive head and set off back to the hospital.
The Doctor uses the classic clothesline distraction technique to outwit an idiot and hits him with a frying pan like in Tom and Jerry. Instead of simply following all the henchmen back to Draco’s hideout, they stand together looking at a beautifully picturesque shrine by a waterfall where the Doctor declares, “Only I know the way.”
She promptly steps straight onto a landmine.
Ever the gentleman, Michael steps onto it as well so she can get clear of it.
‘The Dragon’ speaks some shit about a white tiger (the original name for the film as it turns out) and just runs at him and tackles him off the mine and it explodes. Everyone is fine of course and the Doctor now likes Michael which she shows by holding his hand.
Now is the time ‘The Dragon’ decides to share his Draco story and it is unnecessary and obvious; we sent in a team, he killed my men, blah blah. They concoct a plan which is to go in, kill Draco and not get killed.
Seems simple enough.
They head to the camp where Otto proves his worth by going full on Rambo with a mega ballistic high-power sniper rifle which blows the shit out of people. ‘The Dragon’ hides behind a tiny tree (with that head?) and the Doctor releases some hostages only for Rothrock to instantly capture one and hold her at gunpoint.
Draco is dressed like the Nazi explorers in Raiders of the Lost Ark for some reason and says to Michael,
“Mr Turner, there are two things I care about, money and power. You have been playing with my money, I won’t let you play with my power.”
Before anyone points out that this makes very little sense, Draco shoots Michael and drives off with the Doctor as his prisoner, adding,
“And one for the road!” before throwing a grenade at ‘The Dragon’’s tiny tree hiding place which he leaps away from unhurt.
Thankfully, Draco is such a good shot, he fired directly into the hipflask ‘The Dragon’ gave Michael in a previous scene so he’s fine.
But where’s Otto? Otto is, of course, in a tree ready to prove his worth by jumping onto the roof of the truck and fighting everyone inside the back of it leading to a fight on top of the truck as well against a guy wearing Converse boots.
Rothrock gets out and questions whether Otto would shoot a woman. Otto hesitates and Rothrock shoots him.
No hipflask for Otto, he dies.
The Doctor escapes which nobody seems to care about. Otto is dead.
At the mine (yes Draco is mining for gold) a henchman who is really enjoying taking a piss is rudely interrupted by Michel and ‘The Dragon’ who start shooting people and inevitably decide it is best that they split up which we needed so Michael can meet Peter and ‘The Dragon’ can meet Rothrock for some one-on-one fighting while the Doctor turns up to kick two guys who were clearly just waiting for her to do exactly that.
Mullins vs El Berni is a good fight with some good choreography and impressive moves by both ended by Michael doing a somersault and landing on Peter’s neck, ruling him out for a rematch.
Rothrock vs ‘The Dragon’ is a different kettle of fish with it being slower but, given their combined ages being 113, I am fine with that especially as they can still do some of the stuff that made me a fan in the first place.
Rothrock picks up a bamboo stick (which is a no no if you are a villain, you must never pick up a weapon or it will obviously be your downfall) and stabs ‘The Dragon’ in the arm with it and then hits him a bit until it somehow gets lodged in a wall (hmmmmmm, I wonder) and ‘The Dragon’ gets the upper hand.
Rothrock tries again with her, “You wouldn’t.”
But this time plays her sneak attack hand too soon and ‘The Dragon’ kicks her to impale her on the bamboo stick!
No way! I never saw it coming! Hoisted by her own petard!
What of Draco? He is still running away but Michael and ‘The Dragon’ quickly catch up with him in a lovely area of the mine with a shallow lagoon and shoot him about 10 times without even dropping him let alone killing him.
Couple of quick lines,
And out steps the Doctor, catching the slo-mo bullet popped from Mike’s jammed gun, loads hers and shoots Draco straight in the head like he was a zombie or something.
He’s finally dead with his big, stary eyes in the lagoon.
Michael and the Doc walk off in slow motion while ‘The Dragon’ looks on and smiles.
“Otto didn’t live a long life but he lived it to the fullest”, offers Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson as they pay their respects. He sure did live it to the fullest, he was arguably the best character in this film and I’m pretty sure he never even spoke.
He then follows up by telling Michael that he can always come and live there if he ever feels like a change and a career in medicine.
Not sure if you just have to be a good fighter and able to shoot numerous people dead to qualify for a career in medicine in Thailand but it seems it is somehow an option.
Also, who the Hell is Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson to be offering people positions in a medical facility? He is a God damned mercenary for hire not HR for the local Health Service.
Know your place, ‘The Dragon’!
Epilogue scene 2….
This is the order in which we pan across the village now to wrap things up: Some dogs running, a rooster just standing there, a woman squatting for no reason, a kid also squatting, some children running, an old woman sitting and smoking, more people squatting and smoking, a child points and……
Michael walks up the hill into shot. All the kids run to him like he is their hero. He walks up to the Doctor, they hug and walk away and fade.
In memory of Joe Lewis. END
Ultimately enjoyable film just not what the title suggests it would be about (to me anyway) with the release delayed for 5 years due to legal issues of some kind.
Some good fights, some good moments, Cynthia Rothrock with a whip and Otto.
You can watch Death Fighter on Amazon Prime!
FAVOURITE CHARACTER: Otto – proved his worth a thousand times over
FAVOURITE MOMENT: Cynthia Rothrock with a whip
FAVOURITE LINE: Joe Lewis as Conrad: “Like monkeys in a barrel”
FAVOURITE DEATH: Needlessly brutal close-up of throat slitting in the hospital