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Review Gymkata (1985): Heavily flawed but very creative martial arts film!

genre: martial arts, action, thriller

An American gymnast travels to a foreign country to compete in a deadly game not won by anyone other than a native in more than 900 years.

How many versions of Enter the Dragon can one guy make? Apparently, Robert Clouse felt challenged by making the same film over and over again. Granted, in this version, there are a couple of elements that make it interesting and different. First, the lead, Kurt Thomas. He was an Olympic gymnast. No martial arts background whatsoever. But some of his moves do seem effective if it weren't for some cheating regarding very conveniently laid equipment in the streets of Parmistan. Since the special intelligence agency realize that Jonathan Cabot (Kurt Thomas) might be a little out of his league, they train him so hard that you actually believe he can handle everything. Ok, I am lying. The training montage is ridiculous. Nothing of what he trains is useful. Then again, you are expected to roll with it, and to be fair, the entire cast takes events seriously, so I did too. Fun facts, the two trainers are played by Tadashi Yamashita (American Ninja) and Sonny Barnes (Force: Five)

Second, while the premise is basically similar to that of Enter the Dragon, where an agent has to infiltrate to investigate matters, they do add an element that is different. It's the game, a take on The Most Dangerous Game. The contestants will be chased and killed if they don't win. Main villain Zamir, played by Richard Norton, doesn't play by the rules and does what he can to sabotage the competition. Other competitors are played by Conan Lee (Ninja in the Dragon's Den) and John Barret.

Third, the setting, Gymkata is filmed in Yugoslavia. And let's say, that Robert Clouse really capitalized on this location. Old, medieval looking town with inhabitants who seem like they came straight out of a horror film about mental asylum escapees. I swear, I do think that these actors and extras were made to believe they were filming a horror film, since the last part of the film is actually quite creepy. While it is surprising, it does detract from the lighter tone from the beginning and the middle part. Apart from some pacing issues, flaws and lack of story, Gymkata at least is a very creative martial arts film. 

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