Ranking the best action movies from the legendary Gary Daniels!
Expert Karateka and kickboxer Daniels was the uncrowned king of spinning kicks in the 1990s, and his gravity-defying skills led him to much success in the action movie arena. The blue-eyed whirlwind never broke into the top tier of action heroes despite his incredible martial arts talent and solid acting qualities, but remained in the DTV circuit for his entire career. Yet he graced action movie fans with some ultimate classics, and it this article we have a look at Daniels’ 10 most explosive entries to the genre!
10) Gedo aka Fatal Blade (2000)
Gedo (aka Fatal Blade) was another take on the East meets West type of actioner. L.A. cop Richard (Daniels) tries to track down the murderers of his partner, and Yakuza hitman Domoto is called from Japan to help his fellow gang members in a turf war with a rival gang. Both of their paths cross in unexpected ways, and mayhem follows. The plot sounds simple enough, but is somewhat convoluted and actually not that interesting.
Fortunately, the classic quartet of car chases, explosions, shootouts, and martial arts helps us forget about it. Having a bunch of Yakuza in the movie is always a boon, too, lots angry yelling and growling in Japanese and the weird code of honor is badass stuff! Daniels takes on his favorite role as cocky cop with a martial arts hobby, and delivers some awesome fights, going really rough on his fellow stunt adversaries with uncanny agility. Gedo is a competent production that looks surprisingly elegant for a DTV actioner, and overall is a nice goodie bag of cost-effective carnage.
9) White Tiger (1996)
The combined action veteran power of Daniels’ fighting prowess and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s unmatched sleaziness in villain roles coalesced in White Tiger. Daniels play Mike, member of a DEA assault team. When his partner gets killed during a raid, he is out for revenge in Chinatown. In the meantime, Victor Chow (Tagawa) is setting up machinations to rise through the ranks of the triads at all costs.
Black suits, sunglasses and Mercedes cars, the triads are a cool bunch of classic action movie gangsters. Add to that some stylish shootouts and explosions, kick-ass martial arts action by Daniels in top form, and we get plenty of excitement. The finale also features the awesome moment when Chow grabs a phone handle while fighting Rick, grunts “it’s for you, Mike” and starts beating his face with it. Maybe White Tiger is not destined to become a classic, but it’s a good time-waster and has everything an action fan could want in a movie.
8) Firepower (1993)
“LAPD, Rock’n’Roll division!” In a dystopic future, a fake (and lethal) vaccine for AIDS is being produced in Los Angeles’ Zone of Personal Freedom (aka the Hellzone), a district where law enforcement is suspended. Police officers Darren and Nick are determined to find out who’s behind this, and go undercover into the Hellzone posing as tournament fighters. Escape from New York meets Bloodsport in this buddy cop flick that was one of the earlier co-operations between Daniels and the mighty low-budget action forge PM Entertainment.
The story hook of a fake AIDS vaccine hit the zeitgeist of the early 1990s, and the Hellzone is convincingly decorated with tons of filth on the street and characters that look equally filthy. The first half of the film does some surprisingly convincing world-building and mixes it up with shootouts and car chases (watch out for that classic GM Futureliner that thankfully emerges without a scratch from a violent pursuit), while the second part is basically just a series of fights. I’m almost sorry to write this, but in this film Daniels’ character comes across as rather irritating, and the script gives him a couple of seriously cheesy and sexist one liners (not of the charming type). He somewhat compensates this with a good performance in the ring, beating the daylights out of the everyone he is matched against. Firepower packs a serious punch for a low-budget flick, and is more fun than it has any right to be.
7) Recoil (1998)
Daniels and PM Entertainment worked together on several movies, but the pinnacle of their collaboration is the “R” trilogy of Rage, Riot and our number seven on this list, Recoil. During a bank robbery, the son of crime boss Sloan gets killed by detective Ray Morgan and his squad. Sloan hires some hit men to take out the whole police department, and the fun begins. An ultraviolent shootout between police and bankrobbers sets the stage, and is one of the most intense action sequences PM has ever created. And it continues after that with car chases that will blow your mind. There’s cars flipping, crashing, jumping, grenade duels at 70 mph, and one of best showdowns in a PM flick that includes a five-minute wrestling duel on the roof of a speeding limo.
Daniel undergoes the usual revenge flick transformation from caring family guy, over agonized victim to remorseless avenger, and he does a pretty good job at all of it. The whole story has its lengths, though, especially in the middle part. But this, and even the embarrassingly cliched mafia characters cannot ruin the film, there’s just too much awesome action happening. Recoil is an orgy of destruction with just a little too much drag occasionally, and that’s really the only thing that prevents it from being PM’s finest hour.
6) Fist of the North Star (1995)
Fist of the North Star is loathed by hardcore fans of the manga and anime series, but then which live-action adaptation of this kind of source material isn’t? And despite the obvious issue that almost all Japanese characters in the film are portrayed by white people, if you approach Fist of the North Star as just trying to be a fun post-apocalyptic actioner, you’re in for a lot of entertainment. Daniels plays Kenshiro, member of the North Star clan, who competes with the Southern Cross faction over what’s left of civilization after World War 3. Southern Cross leader Shin kills Kenshiro’s father, and establishes a tyrannical rule over the world. Kenshiro survives the attack, and becomes a one-man army that thrashes everyone who stands between him and his quest for revenge.
Director Tony Randel created a pretty awesome visual mix, and combines the classic post-apocalyptic imagery of crumbling cities and desolate desert landscapes with Soviet-style art and a touch of Metropolis. Daniels as one-man army of a mission of revenge is in top shape, topless and sweating for the most part of the movie, and showing off some serious splits during a meditation session. He also pulls some nasty moves on his opponents, rearranging body their parts in very uncanny ways. Fist of the North Star looks a lot better than it should considering its budget, the mood is perfect, Daniels is great in it, only the chaotic and meandering plot prevents it from being an ultimate masterpiece.
5) Hawk’s Vengeance (1996)
Gary Daniels is Hawke and wants vengeance, rarely has a film been so aptly named. Eric Hawke attends the funeral of his step brother, a cop murdered by two hitmen. The ex-marine starts an investigation of his own to find the killers. He gets in the crossfire of a war between an Asian and a Neonazi gang and soon after discovers a sinister conspiracy. The story is all over the place, but that’s okay, it’s only purpose is to throw as much enemies towards Hawke as possible. The setting is pretty neat with a lot of street violence and all sorts of goofy characters.
It’s hard to take anything serious, and it’s probably also not meant to be, such as when Hawke attacks the Nazi gang while dressed up as a rabbi. Daniels’ fighting is top notch with lots of spinning kicks roundhousing everyone who gets in his way. And the usage of improvised weapons in several of the many fight scenes really adds to the fun. Defibrillators and electric knifes become deadly devices, and the greatest of them all is a rooftop antenna Hawke and the end boss are beating each other to death with. There’s a just a ton of crazy stuff going on this movie, Hawk’s Vengeance is perfect entertainment!
4) Riot (1996)
With Riot, PM Entertainment made a welcome change from their usual generic crime story background, and the grim intro with original footage from street riots sets a very different tone than for almost any other PM film. Three kids get killed by the police, and riots break out in the city on Christmas Eve. The daughter of the British ambassador gets abducted in the turmoil, and ex-SAS operative Shane is sent to the epicenter of the riot zone to deliver the ransom money.
Daniels walking through a lawless zone with a suitcase full of money is a magnet for all sorts of mayhem. He’s really just running from one place to the next through streets filled with rubble and burning cars, mopping up hordes of enemies (among them a drunk softball team and a murderous hockey gang), always on foot and outnumbered. We’re treated with the classic PM suite of shootouts, fights and explosions, but this time delivered within an atmospheric setting and good-looking sets. The fight choreography and camerawork s also excellent, and with Daniels’ skills in kicking ass added to the mix, Riot becomes an awesome B-actioner.
3) Bloodmoon (1997)
For Bloodmoon, Daniels worked with director and stunt choreographer Siu-Hung Leung who made the totally bonkers martial arts spectacle Superfights two years earlier. Bloodmoon follows in its footsteps, giving us 90 crunchy minutes of insanity. A mysterious masked stranger kills several martial arts masters, each time during a blood moon. Ex-cop Ken O’Hara is called back to action, and leaves no stone unturned and rib cage unshattered to bring an end to the killing spree. The plot and dialogues in Bloodmoon are trash of the finest kind, and will give you a few good laughs between the fight sequences.
The quality of the fights is completely at odds with the rest of the film, we’re treated with Hongkong style fights of the highest level with an incredibly creative choreography and tight editing. The action goes completely through the roof, with the fighters going up against each other like tornadoes, smashing each other with everything they can get their hands on. Together with less than a handful of other films such as Drive and Guyver: Dark Hero, Bloodmoon is the best iteration of Hongkong-style martial arts in a US action flick of the 1990s, and also gives us the best physical performance Daniels has ever delivered in an action film. It’s a wild mix that may leave you baffled occasionally, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun!
2) Cold Harvest (1999)
Two masters of action joined forces for Cold Harvest. Daniels was an established name in the action world in the 1990s, and director Isaac Florentine grabbed the opportunity to leave his first true big mark in the genre. A mysterious plague devastated humanity, and civilization lies in ruins. Bounty hunter Roland rescues Christine, the wife of his deceased brother, from the grips of lunatic bandit lord Little Ray, who has some a sinister plan for her. Roland takes up the fight to protect Christine from Little Ray’s goons.
The setting is great, a chaotic blend of western and post-apocalyptic tropes infused with a total overdose of both gun and kung fu. The tempo and intensity created by Florentine is completely off the scale, and he gives Daniels plenty of opportunity to showcase his talent, every five minutes he shoots someone or kicks them through the room, doors or windows. In Brian Genesse as Little Ray Daniels finds a formidable opponent, their showdown is an incredible fight sequence and appropriately the highlight of the film. A low-budget action flick cannot get better than Cold Harvest, it’s pure DTV gold!
1) Rage (1995)
Daniel’s ultimate masterpiece (and that of PM Entertainment) is Rage, the first non-stop action flick to have ever seen the light of day! A mild-mannered elementary school teacher (Daniels) is abducted by a group of rogue scientists and turned into a killing machine. Not overly content with his fate, he uses his newly acquired superpowers to escape and keep his numerous pursuers at bay. From the beginning to the end, Rage is in total overdrive mode and never stops for even a minute.
The whole film evolves around several set pieces that unleash a cascade of old-school mayhem with Daniels dangling from a skyscraper while being shot at by a helicopter, and other sequences that feature some of the best stunt work to ever make it into a US action film. The finale in a shopping mall becomes another highlight with more people to throw than there are windows to break, and the ultimate nightmare for action movie fans: a video store that carries only PM titles gets shredded! Rage is one of the best action movies of all time, at least when considering the ratio between spectacle and spent budget. I dare you to prove me wrong and check out this masterpiece!