Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Aside from being a very talented artist/musician (whom I've had the pleasure of collaborating with on more than one occasion), Jacob "Whalehawk" Sanders is also a fellow blogger who shares the same kinda love of awesomely bad, guilty pleasure action films from the late 80's/early 90's as me. In this third installment of our Expendables special, Jacob delves in to the world of the classic Brazilian/American martial arts film; Only The Strong. Some of you may be scratching your head at this one because it doesn't feature anyone from the cast of The Expendables. But I think we all know it comes from the same "school" of Expendables-related action movies (plus Jacob manages to make a nice connection between Only The Strong and a recent Expendables-related movie that was already touched on in a previous entry). Consider Only The Strong a first cousin or little brother to films like Hard Target, Delta Force or No Retreat No Surrender.


If you’ve ever found yourself at a traffic light, and you noticed that every so often, your turn signal starts to blink at the exact same speed as your neighbor’s turn signal, you have just witnessed a thing called “entrainment.” Entrainment is the process whereby two interacting oscillating systems, which have different periods when they function independently, assume a common period. This phenomenon can be found elsewhere; red lights on top of skyscrapers, windshield wipers, metronomes, prides of lions, seconds hands. Every once in awhile, things magically line up of their own accord. No one forced it, no one rushed it. Things just naturally came together, danced in sweet harmony, and then entropically drifted back apart. Entrainment is the only way to explain to people, who have been raised by our current model of the 24-hour TV channel, how movies used to be absorbed on television. In 1994, you sat around and waited for magical shit to happen. Nothing was On-Demand, no programmable TiVo was available, BlockBuster Video was around but not in your house, the internet was a tadpole, VHS tapes, hourly consultations of TV Guide, only 44.1 channels available...it was a different, maybe even simpler time. Being enthusiastic about entertainment meant you had to physically be in front of a TV somewhere, at some time, watching some channel, and then maybe, just maybe, you’d get what you were after. More importantly, if nothing lined up magically, you still watched whatever was on because it was a Friday night in 1994 and you were a 13 year old boy, dangerously prone to cold sores. Let’s make no mistake, if there was nothing on TV I became a Zen monk and watched that nothing. It was in this state of nothingness that cinematic manna was delivered. It was a movie so second tier that they had to build a 3rd tier to house it. A movie forged in an estuary, where the river of flashy dance pants meets an ocean of mortal combat. A movie featuring semi-gratuitous violence, controlled meditative violence, group exercise/violence, and the happy funtime Brazilian martial art form of Capoeria. I speak of course of my “guilty pleasure” action movie, Only The Strong.

According to the Christian Movie Review, Only The Strong contains the following; Humanism; some drug & alcohol abuse; roughly 25 obscenities; drug lords get revenge by setting fire to school; occult in chanting to accompany dance called "capoeira"; and, considerable violence in kick-boxing & practice of martial arts throughout film. I don’t think I can sum the movie up better than they did. Those things are totally in this movie. The reasons I selected this movie to be my “guilty pleasure” action-adventure flick is because after only really seeing this movie twice maybe, I cannot forget any of the lessons Mark Dacascos taught those ragamuffin kids. You might know Mark Dacascos as “The Chairman” on Iron Chef America...

But to me, he’ll always be ex-Green Beret Louis Stevens. In the movie, Stevens is called Stateside from a tour of duty in Brazil where he has learned the martial art of capoeira from the rhythmic and colorful natives. Stevens returns to his hometown high school in Florida to find it in a state of ruinous chaos. There are gangsters and drug deals in the bathroom, bad haircuts in the hallway, and a whole host of kids who don’t care about nothing for nobody! After he scares some of the thugs away with his flashy dance pants moves, his old teacher, Mr. Kerrigan, sees the effect he has on the students, and nominates him to teach his flashy dance pants moves after-school to the aforementioned ragamuffins. He not only teaches flashy dance pants moves and self-defense, but Stevens instills in these loveable and moldable hoodlums that greatest gift of all; self-respect. Through several montages, the movie plays out in a predictable teacher/savior/martial arts hero arch, ending ultimately with Stevens getting the girl, the gangs being run out of the school, and the after-school kids learning some valuable lessons.
But a couple things stick out that gave this movie some staying power with me and really solidified the pleasurable aspects of its guilty nature...

1. Louis Stevens getting in on the knowledge of self tip - With quotes like ”I've got major news for you. The world can be as big as you want it to be, or as small as your tiny little hood.” I felt like Louis was talking right at me! He was saying to me, “Jake! I see you eating that Totino’s Party Pizza, and I see you practicing roundhouses on your huge teddy bear, I see you got a cold sore. The world is huge!” You’re right on the money ex-Green Beret Louis Stevens! I’m totally gonna eat another Party Pizza.

2. THIS SONG! I cannot tell you how many times this song waltzes into my head; during my commute to work, eating a banana, eating whey...

3. I found out that the director of this movie, Sheldon Lettich, is the same director of my other go-to action adventure classics, Lionheart and Double Impact, both starring Jean Claude Van Damme. I realize now the magnetism that drew me to this flick; the gypsy-type loner, always a little sweaty, fighting against the odds in slow-mo, sealing deals with grace and power.

4. This was not the most popular movie. Only the Strong earned $3,273,588 at the U.S. box office, making only more than half of its $6 million budget. When I saw it on TV, during those random moments of entertainment entrainment, you could tell there was a lack of quality. But there was something deeper about Only The Strong and other “guilty pleasure” action movies, something that called out the Brawny in me, something that asked a 13 year old boy if he could stand in the face of opposition and still remember all his training and focus. The lessons in Only The Strong, those of dedication and spiritual enrichment through cartwheels, still resonate in the dojo of my heart.

The Christian Movie Review said this movie contained humanism. I can’t find a reason to say that this movie contains anything but humanism. What Only The Strong meant to me in 1994, was that a semi-decent movie could be found on Friday night basic cable. But what this “guilty pleasure” action adventure movie means to me now, and why I chose to share it with you, is that it’s never too late to believe in yourself, support your friends and community, stand up for what’s right, and become the Chairman of Iron Chef America. Ay, cuisine!


247086_TV episodes & movies instantly streaming from Netflix. Start your FREE trial!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...