The American Marital Arts Film (2004)



When it comes to film books you can find just about any subject within the horror genre covered, same goes for Sci-Fi, and any number of foreign countries are covered but American martial arts films of the 80’s and 90’s are an under represented area of cinema that The American Marital Arts Film book tries to give it’s due.

Growing up in the early 90’s I watched plenty of direct to video and low budget action flicks. From Dolph Lundgren to Van Damme, to the faceless clones trying to cash in on the successes of big budget action fare, I watched a heap of the stuff. That being said I now know that there were some big blank spots for me and over the past couple of years I’ve been trying to make up for that. I’ve watched films from lesser known martial arts stars like Billy Blanks, Gary Daniels, Cynthia Rothrock, Don Wilson, and more. I was excited to see that this book covers, in detail the work of these unsung heroes.

The American Martial Arts Film aims to be a comprehensive guide that is organized by historical importance.  The history of the martial art film is covered as well as some very early examples in American cinema and television. The book also details what was happening in the country at the time in order to give the films historical context. This context at times however becomes overbearing and unnecessary. I would have preferred if it was scaled back a bit as in certain sections the author makes mention of moments in history that have little bearing on the discussion of film and seem more like an opportunity to air a grievance.

The book is split up by decade which in theory sounds like a good idea. The problem is the decades are subdivided by particular actors. The actors’ entire filmography is then discussed, even the films that weren’t produced within the decade in question. For instance, you’ll find Steven Seagal in the 80’s despite the fact that he only made one film in the 80’s, the rest were released in the 90’s and yet they are all found in the chapter discussing the 80’s.

That being said the book is thorough. Each film is discussed and critiqued and each actor is given a brief biography. The book hits it’s stride in the chapter dedicated to the 90’s. This is where you get detailed information about many unsung heroes of direct to video action. I myself found numerous films that I’ll need to check out along with some actors that I previously had little knowledge of. This is the section that I will be referencing in the future for sure. It’s really neat to open a book and find sections dedicated to Cynthia Rothrock and Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Jalal Merhi. If you haven’t heard of them, you should pick this book up. I would love a book solely dedicated to late 80’s and 90’s direct to video action films. A guy can dream can’t he?