Best of the Best
Eric Roberts, Phillip Rhee, James Earl Jones, Sally Kirkland
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As a once-devout student of Tae Kwon Do, having spent nearly five years in the "dojang", and as a fan of martial arts movies in general, "Best of the Best" is simply that. Combining a talented cast with a dramatic storyline, this film is one of the best darn martial arts movies out there.
South Korea holds the sport of Tae Kwon Do in very high regard. Just as America prides itself on sports like baseball and football, the Koreans treat Tae Kwon Do much like a national past time, and are considered to be the very best in the world at it. Every three years, they select a team of the five best martial artists in the country, to compete in a full-contact tournament.
Their opponents; Team USA, five martial artists gathered from every corner of the country. Though the story itself encompasses the entire team, the main plot revolves around only two of the five members. Alex Grady (Eric Roberts), a veteran fighter, serves as the team's captain, having come out of retirement after a severe shoulder injury to compete in the tournament, with the blessing of his young son Walter (Edan Gross), of course! Also leading the squad is Tommy Lee (Phillip Rhee), an extremely gifted martial artist with a haunting past, which begins to unravel much later in the film. Joining the two captains are Travis Brickley (Chris Penn), a hot-tempered southerner, Sonny Grasso (David Agresta), a former street-fighter from Detroit, and Virgil Keller (John Dye), a mild-mannered Buddhist from Rhode Island.
As might be expected from such a motley crew, the members don't get along too well at first, but fortunately, Coach Frank Couzo (James Earl Jones) is there to keep law and order. With a commanding presence and strict edicts, he goes all out to whip his team into shape in the scant few months before the competition, even recruiting a skilled personal trainer in the form of Katherine Wade (Sally Kirkland), who lends her vast knowledge of yoga and meditation to ensure that the team will be fully prepared. For both she and Coach Couzo know just how dangerous the Korean team can be.
The story takes a shocking turn when Tommy Lee discovers that his opponent in the tournament will be none other than Dae Han (Simon Rhee), who despite being one of the most feared martial artists in the world, also killed Tommy's older brother in a similar competition fifteen years before. Still tormented by the loss, not knowing if he'll be able to stand against his brother's killer, Tommy ultimately quits the team. Likewise, his co-captain Alex Grady receives an emergency call from his mother (Louise Fletcher), and must return home to tend to his comatose son, a move which violates Coach Couzo's inflexible terms of training and results in Grady's ejection from the team. With the competition in jeopardy, the members of the U.S. National Karate Team must search within themselves to decide what's more important: Themselves, or the squad.
In the end, the team ends up proving Coach Couzo's own philosophy. A team is not a team, if you don't give a damn about each other...
As much about teamwork as it is about martial arts, this movie is fairly wide in scope as far as these movies go.
It truly captures the idea that being part of a team is not something to be taken lightly. All the spectacular fighting scenes aside, the level of drama in this film is what really makes it worth watching.
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