Undisputed III – The most complete fighting movie in the world?

This post was originally written as an article for The Mancunion newspaper.

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‘Boyka! Boyka! Boyka! Boyka!’ – The chanting of a thousand malnourished, krokodil-addicted Russian convicts thunders around the makeshift ring like the intro song to SpongeBob SquarePants does in the sound-torture cells of a CIA blacksite. Yuri Boyka, played by the awe inspiring Scott Adkins, is by his own humble admission ‘the most complete fighter in the world’, and he is back to reclaim his title.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Undisputed film franchise – and may you be given 22 consecutive life sentences in a Georgian Gulag for being so – here’s the story: In 2002 a film called Undisputed was released, starring Wesley Snipes as a jailhouse boxing champion and Ving Rhames as a thinly veiled rapist caricature of Mike Tyson. The pair disagree, have a fight, and the film ends. It’s your typical grits and gruel prison flick, with nothing to its name but the amusingly prophetic depiction of an incarcerated Snipes. Undisputed’s sequel changed everything. Taking charge of proceedings from original director Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hrs.), action auteur Isaac Florentine sent the series in a brand new direction, quickly finding fandom in the UFC generation. Replacing Ving Rhames with Michael Jai White and relocating the setting to a corrupt, mixed martial arts-obsessed Soviet jail, the film was a powerhouse drama about interpersonal violence, gaining international acclaim for its innovative choreography. The third instalment in the series takes things a notch further, pitching the best prison fighters from the eight toughest lockups in the whole world and offering them freedom in exchange for victory.

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Undisputed III: Redemption was the 70th top rated film of 2010, coming in at an impressive 7.5/10 stars collected from over 20,000 viewers on IMDb. Pound-for-pound (or dollar-for-dollar) it was the most successful action movie of the year, punching well above its independent studio’s weight and benching more than the combined mass of the voting members of the Academy Awards, a group who inexplicably gave Best Cinematography to Avatar and Best Film Editing to The Hurt Locker despite Undisputed being indisputably superior in both categories. Double-act Ross W. Clarkson and Irit Raz (DoP and editor for Undpisuted III, respectively) provide the kind of breathtaking imagery usually reserved for Chinese martial arts epics and John Woo gangster yarns; the use of whip pan in particular would have Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson swooning in their seats, while the agonisingly detailed zoom-ins, which often effortlessly revolve anything from 90 to 360 degrees around the duelling actors, are simply sublime.

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Going back to director Isaac Florentine briefly, his gift for capturing gut wrenching, balls to the wall action is the best thing this side of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team. This is a man whose first film was called Desert Kickboxer, and his career hasn’t let up for a minute since. I, for one, cannot wait for Undisputed IV.

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