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An Ideal Partnership - The films of Director Isaac Florentine and Actor Scott Adkins

Darren Murray
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An Ideal Partnership - The films of Director Isaac Florentine and Actor Scott Adkins

Throughout the history of Hollywood there have been filmmakers who have always relied on the talents of a regular group of performers or in some cases one particular actor. In a number of cases this has resulted in some of the Filmmakers finest work.

There have a memorable amount of famous partnerships between director and actor, with some of the most popular being the work of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro or alternatively John Ford and John Wayne. There are of course many more, some of them more famous and popular than others.

With this article I am going to be looking at one of the less famous collaborations. This isn’t to say it is any less worthwhile just because it hasn’t had the same level of praise or awards heaped upon it. The DTV market is sometimes looked down upon by certain film critics, but it shouldn’t be overlooked as there is some major talent that make their living in this market

Actors like Michael Jai White, Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren have been consistently working in the DTV arena for years. Some may argue that they aren’t exactly the best actors, but there is a reason why people keep paying to see their movies and most of the time DTV movies give the audience what they want.    

Lately audiences have been looking towards the DTV market for their fixture of action; with them featuring proper stunt work and fight choreography instead of the typical staple of CGI assisted action that has become prevalent in Hollywood of later years.

One of the best and brightest of the actors to emerge in the DTV market, and one who really should now be headlining mainstream features is Scott Adkins. Hailing from Sutton Coldfield in England, Adkins has been practicing martial arts since his early teens, although his first foray into acting was in dramatic roles, with no action involved. British viewers would have seen him in a number of television shows such as Dangerfield (1998) or Doctors (2000).

He eventually got to show off his martial arts credentials in the Hong Kong movie Extreme Challenge (2001). Directed by ace action choreographer Tung Wai, the film only gave Adkins the briefest of chances to show off his capabilities but did lead to the actor getting small parts in other Hong Kong movies such as The Accidental Spy (2001) and Black Mask 2: City of Masks (2002).

He would still make appearances in the odd television show, such as famous British soap opera Eastenders (2003) or science fiction show Mutant X (2003). It would be in the same year that Adkins would finally get a substantial action role, with military actioner Special Forces (2003).

This would mark the actor’s first collaboration with director Isaac Florentine, with this partnership continuing throughout both of their careers

Florentine, like Adkins, has a martial arts background with him opening his own Karate school in Tel Aviv. In addition to this he served three years in the Israeli Army. He would go on to obtain a degree in Film and Television at Tel Aviv University, which with the skills he learned went on to direct his first feature, a short movie called Farewell, Terminator (1987).

Farewell Terminator went on to win numerous awards at film festivals, even going on to represent Israel at the Oscars in the short foreign-student film category.

Due to the success of his short movie, Florentine decided to relocate to America, and try his luck in Hollywood.

Initially Florentine worked as a stunt performer and fight choreographer before he would go on to direct his first full length feature film. Desert Kickboxer (1992) would never feature on anyone’s list of favourite martial arts films, but proved that Florentine could construct a good action scene and work with a limited budget.

It would be a few years before he would direct another feature, Savate (1995), starring DTV star Olivier Gruner. Savate still has some issues but was a major improvement on his first feature, and yet again showed his capabilities and how he could work with limited funds.

In the time between Desert Kickboxer and Savate, Florentine would begin his association with the Children’s television show Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993). Originally working as a second unit director, Florentine wound up directing a good deal of episodes throughout the shows various incarnations.

His work on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is evident in a good number of his earlier films such as High Voltage (1997) and Bridge of Dragons (1999), with him using similar camera set ups and sound effects. Even with him making more movies, Florentine still worked on the show until the early 2000’s.

Florentine had already been in the movie business for around 16 years before he would work with Scott Adkins. Even then, Special Forces is almost at the halfway point before Adkins finally makes an appearance. After that he is one of the main focuses of the film, with him getting an especially good fight scene during the finale.

The lead actor in the film is actually Marshall Teague, who Florentine had worked with previously on the similar U.S. Forces 2 (2001). Teague is probably best known for his bad guy turn in Road House (1989), where he got his throat ripped out by Patrick Swayze.

Teague carries the film well, but it must be said that if it weren’t for the appearance of Adkins the film would just be another in a long line of Nu Images military action films. The best action in the film belongs to Adkins, even though Teague is no slouch in this area, with his fight with main villain Eli Danker being memorable.

The fight sequences had the expertise of stunt and fight choreographer Akihiro Noguchi, and make the film stand out from similar DTV films of the time. Noguchi had previously worked on Florentine’s Savate as a wire co-ordinator and as fight choreographer on the director’s science fiction action movie Cold Harvest (1998). Like Florentine, Noguchi worked extensively on the various Power Rangers shows.

Florentine and Adkins next collaboration wouldn’t be for another 3 years, but it was worth the Wait. Undisputed 2 (2006) is better than it has any right to be. Originally devised as a proper sequel to Walter Hill’s Undisputed (2002), with original star Ving Rhames set to reprise his role as George “The Iceman” Chambers.

This was not to be, with Rhames dropping out of the film and the filmmakers being forced to replace him. Luckily they struck gold with the casting of martial artist Michael Jai White. White makes the character his own, with only certain aspects of the character being kept from the first film. It is clear that Jai White is more of a martial artist than a boxer but this is a non issue in a film of its type.

Like the previous film he made with Florentine, Adkins was again in a supporting role, albeit one that gave the actor a true showcase for his martial arts skills and also the chance to play one of his most memorable and beloved characters, Yuri Boyka.

Adkins is clearly the villain of the film, but Boyka is only truly interested in becoming the most complete fighter in the world. He is a true force to be reckoned with, with Boyka punching, kicking and flipping through-out, even overshadowing the impressive Michael Jai White in the films many fight scenes.

Another carry over from Special Forces is supporting actor Eli Danker, playing a much nicer individual than his previous villain role. Like Florentine, Danker comes from Israel. He is especially good in his role and it is a shame that he always seems to get saddled with typical terrorist role. 

The fight scenes are choreographed by another underrated martial artist in the business, JJ Perry. Perry’s fight sequences are always energetic, and sometimes the saving grace of an action movie. Perry has consistently jumped between DTV efforts and major Hollywood blockbusters, with him lately being the second unit director on films like The Fate of the Furious (2017) and The Dark Tower (2017).

Personally his best work is through his DTV work, with his fight choreography getting a chance to shine, not being hampered by the use of dodgy CGI or having to heavily stunt double a leading actor.

Perry would go on to work on Adkins and Florentine’s next collaboration The Shepherd (2008) as well as working with Adkins again on The Tournament (2009) and Jai White on the excellent Blood and Bone (2009). In addition to these, both Perry and Adkins worked on X Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), although this clearly doesn’t show them at their best.

Florentine and Adkins third film together would yet again find Adkins in a supporting role. With decent production values and fan favourite Jean Claude Van Damme in the lead role, The Shepherd should have been one of Florentine’s finest to date. Unfortunately this was not to be.

Whilst still enjoyable, with some well created action scenes, The Shepherd still pales beneath Florentine’s previous Undisputed 2, being more on par with the likes of Florentine’s High Voltage.

Van Damme had been on quite a roll at the time, with a number of solid DTV outings like In Hell (2002), Wake of Death (2004), The Hard Corps (2006) and Until Death (2007). The Shepherd may be on par with some of these offerings but considering the talent behind and in front of the camera, it should have overshadowed them all.

Part of the problem is Adkins. Not that he is bad. In fact he is one of the best aspects of the film. It is more to do with him being relegated to playing an underwritten henchman, with only a handful of fight scenes. Well-choreographed, they still pale in comparison to what he had created the year previously. Even his final fight, with Jean Claude Van Damme proved to be a disappointment and surprisingly brief.

Thankfully Adkins next film with Florentine would finally have the actor front and centre, with Adkins playing the main hero of Ninja (2009). an attempt to update the popular Ninja movies of the 1980’s, Ninja has a lot recommend even if it is not the best film to come from the Adkins Florentine partnership.

Ninja does play like a 1980’s throwback, which does result in the film appearing cheesy and being totally ridiculous. Still this is in fitting with the genre, and Ninja gets the most important of the production right, the action.

Like Undisputed 2, Ninja is a terrific showcase for Adkins physicality, with him performing his fight scenes with considerable skill. Some of the best of these include his fight against a gang that takes place on a train. It is reminiscent of the Hong Kong film God of Gamblers (1989), where actor Charles Heung took on a similar gang.

The most impressive has Adkins taking on a group of cult members, which involves him performing various acrobatic moves. There is also the finale where Adkins takes on Japanese actor Tsuyoshi Ihara. The fight doesn’t disappoint.

Ihara is another actor that has a martial arts background, with him being a former member of the Japan Action Club (JAC), which was fronted by Martial Arts superstar Sonny Chiba. Ninja proved to be a good showcase for Ihara’s skills, with him being impressive in the handful of action scenes he is involved in.

Fight choreographer Akahiro Noguchi returned to work with Florentine on Ninja. Noguchi’s fight choreography for Florentine had been good in the past, but Ninja is clearly their best work together. Ninja was the first film they worked together on since Special Forces (2003). To date it would also be their last.

Coming of the success of Ninja, both Adkins and Florentine quickly went on to their next feature, Undisputed 3 (2010). Viewed by many as the finest of the series, Undisputed 3 once again stars Adkins as Yuri Boyka, with him now promoted to being lead character.

The plot of the film isn’t really important, with Boyka once again trying to prove he is the most complete fighter in the world. This is made more difficult this time round with him trying to recover from having his knee broken in the last film.

As usual he has to contend with the corrupt guards and prison life in general, with Boyka yet again taking part in a prison set fight tournament. His character is softened slightly since part 2, with him striking up somewhat of a friendship with inmate Turbo (Mykel Shannon Jenkins). This friendship goes in some ways as humanising the character but not to the extent that the audience would mistake him for a hero.    

By this point audiences know what to expect from Adkins, with his usual gravity defying acrobatics being on full display. The film has another ace up its sleeve, with the introduction of Marko Zaror as the films main antagonist.

Undisputed 3 marked the Chilean born Martial Artists American movie debut. Not as great a showcase for his talent as some of the films he made previous, Zaror still impresses. Zaror would later co-star with Adkins in director Jesse Johnson’s Savage Dog (2017).

It is clear that Undisputed 3 was made with a small budget, being shot mainly in Bulgaria and with limited sets. Still Florentine makes sure that Undisputed 3 looks professional, and most importantly fills the film with no shortage of bone crunching fight scenes.

This time Florentine brought in the expertise of fight choreographer Larnell Stovall. His work in Undisputed 3 is outstanding, with him creating possibly the best fight scenes of the series. Interestingly he went on to work with Undisputed 2 star Michael Jai White the following year on Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown (2011), which marked Jai White’s directorial debut.

Jai White retained his services for the excellent Falcon Rising (2014), which was co-produced by Isaac Florentine, and for the third part in the Never Back Down Series, Never Back Down: No Surrender (2016), once again directed by Jai White.

It would be almost 3 years before Florentine would direct Adkins again, but they did work together on Adkins starring vehicle El Gringo (2012) which Florentine executive produced. He also apparently carried out some un-credited second unit work on the films action scenes.

In the time between their next collaboration, Florentine went on to direct the extremely lacklustre Sofia (2012), which surprisingly featured one of the best casts that the director had worked with to date, with the likes of Donald Sutherland, Christian Slater and Timothy Spalll starring. Sadly it featured nothing that made Florentines other work so enjoyable, with the only similarity being that it was shot in Bulgaria.

Adkins in the interim starred with Jean Claude Van Damme in Assassination Games (2011). It would prove to be a lesser film for both stars but still an enjoyable thriller none the less. After this was the previously mentioned El Gringo until he went on to what was his highest profile film at the time.

The Expendables 2 (2012), would turn out to be only a small role for the actor, but it did open the actor up to a wider audience and had him yet again starring alongside Jean Claude Van Damme as well as getting to fight action star Jason Statham in the finale.

Working with Jean Claude Van Damme had seemingly become a habit, with Adkins being cast as the lead in Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012) the next entry in the Universal Soldier franchise. The film was once directed by John Hyams, who had directed the previous entry.  

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning would turn out to be one of Adkins finest action films to date. Perhaps not giving him as great a chance to show his skills as his films with Florentine, it was still a visceral, action packed ride with a better script than most films of its type.

As well as his action movies, Adkins can also be seen in a very brief role in director Kathryn Bigelow’s acclaimed Zero Dark Thirty (2012).

Adkins eventually would reteam with Florentine to make what was their best film outside of the Undisputed franchise, Ninja: Shadow of a Tear (2013). Adkins returns as main hero Casey, with the sequel improving on almost every aspect of the first film with even more spectacular action scenes.

Along for the ride is martial artist Kane Kosugi, son of famed martial arts actor Sho Kosugi. Kosugi may not have the amount of screen time as desired, but he still handles his action scenes well with Ninja: Shadow of a Tear being a better showcase for his talents than his previous Hollywood output DOA: Dead or Alive (2006) and War (2007).

Fight choreography is taken over by Tim Man this time round, with each of the films fight scenes being excellently choreographed.

In addition to choreographing the action, Man plays one of the films villains, Myat. His fight scene with Adkins is one of the best of the film and it isn’t a surprise that he would continue to work with Adkins, with him choreographing the action for Boyka: Undisputed (2016) and Eliminators (2016).

Man is currently working on another two Adkins film, Triple Threat (2017) and Accident Man (2017), both of which are directed by Jesse Johnson. In addition he has teamed with Isaac Florentine for his upcoming Stoic (2017).

After the release of Ninja: Shadow of a Tear, Adkins went on to appear in another high profile film, The Legend of Hercules (2014). Adkins played the films main villain but was underutilised by the film’s director, Renny Harlin.

Florentine was brought on board The Legend of Hercules to direct the second unit, clearly to give the action an added kick. As accomplished a director Renny Harlin is, it is a wonder why Florentine wasn’t given the opportunity to be the main director, especially considering the film was from Millennium Films, a company Florentine has directed multiple films for.

Not surprisingly the film went on to be a financial failure. Being released around the same time as Brett Ratner’s Hercules (2014), which had the star power of Dwayne Johnson, didn’t help the film either.

There was the usual DTV work to Adkins going, as well as his co-starring role in Chinese action movie Wolf Warrior (2015). The whole is less than the sum off its parts, with a surprising lack of martial arts action considering it is headlined by both Wu Jing and Scott Adkins.

Wolf Warrior still went on to become a major financial success, spawning a sequel. As of writing this, Wolf Warrior 2 (2017) has become the highest grossing Chinese film in history.

Adkins and Florentine’s next film would be on a much smaller scale than previous ventures. Close Range (2015) was clearly made on a much smaller budget, with the majority of the film being limited to the one setting.

The film doesn’t exactly stretch the actors, even though the underrated Nick Chinlund is good value as the conflicted villain. Close Range still offers Adkins the usual chance to take part in some well-choreographed action scenes that only slightly pale in comparison to other Adkins and Florentine films.

Florentine has stated in interviews of being a fan of director Sergio Leone. This has been evident in a good deal of his films with him favouring Leone style close ups and quick cuts between the characters eyes to build the tension. He had stepped away from this in his later work but it is back with a vengeance in Close Range, especially in the finale between Adkins and Chinlund.

To date Close Range is the last Scott Adkins feature that Florentine has directed. However he did produce the latest part of the Undisputed franchise, Boyka: Undisputed. The reigns may have been handed over to director Todor Chapkanov, but the overall look and feel of the film emulates the previous entries so much that it is clear that Florentine is a very hands on producer.

Boyka: Undisputed is another excellent martial arts showcase for Adkins, with every one of the films fight scenes being excellent. Slightly falling beneath the superior third entry, Boyka: Undisputed still manages to progress the character of Boyka, with him now becoming an honourable human being instead of the prick we first saw way back in Undisputed 2.

The change of setting manages to keep the film feeling fresh, with Boyka now on the outside world. As well as in the ring action, there are a handful of action scenes that take place outside, with Boyka even using a gun at one point.

As mentioned previously, the action choreography was handled by the terrific Tim Man, with him almost surpassing the excellent work he carried out on Ninja: Shadow of a Tear.

Since making Boyka: Undisputed, Scott Adkins has went on to appear in the high profile Doctor Strange (2016), with him once again being cast as another henchman. At least he gets a memorable but brief action scene with leading man Benedict Cumberbatch. There is also the upcoming American Assassin (2017), which like Doctor Strange will no doubt waste him in a small supporting role.

For a better Adkins fix fans would probably be best looking at the previously mentioned Triple Threat, where he plays the main villain alongside the likes of Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Tiger Chen and Michael Jai White. There is also Accident Man (2017), with him on lead duties and being supported by Ray Stevenson, Ashley Green and Michael Jai White once again.

Florentine has the interesting sounding Stoic, an action thriller starring Antonio Banderas, Karl urban, Paz Vega and Robert Forster. Hopefully this will be better realised than Sofia, the last film he made without Adkins.

 

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ActionDTVIsaac FlorentineJJ PerryKane KosugiLarnell StovallMarshall TeagueMartial ArtsMichael Jai WhiteMillenium FilmsNu ImageScott AdkinsTim Man