The ultimate action movie club ranks the best – and most ultimate – action films directed by the great Isaac Florentine!
Isaac Florentine has established himself as a master of modern action cinema during a career that spans more than two decades by now. A karate master himself, he left his dojo in his home country Israel, and moved to the US where he embarked on a career in the film industry. His first assignment led him to work as action choreographer and director for the Power Rangers TV franchise. It seems that this was a good starting point, as he could collect plenty of practical experience in staging energetic and over-the-top action.
His talent enabled him to develop a unique style for filming and editing some of the most spectacular fight scenes that were ever created in the Western World. He also brought the best out of many talented martial artists, most prominently Scott Adkins with whom he created many instant classics. So let’s get started, and have a look at the ten best films from action mastermind Isaac Florentine!
10) Bridge of Dragons (1999)
Bridge of Dragons marked Florentine’s first of many journeys to Bulgaria, a paradise for action movie productions on a budget. The film made the interesting attempt to cross a medieval fairy tale with a modern action flick. In a far away land, the ruthless general Ruechang kills the king, and intends to crown himself by marrying the late king’s daughter Halo. Halo manages to flee, and Ruechang sends his best warrior Warchild (Dolph Lundgren) to capture her.
The movie is a bit of a mess with stiff acting and dialogues that sound like they were literally taken from a children’s night-time reading book. Florentine also still seemed to be under the influence of his Power Rangers period, as there’s an overabundance of swooshing sounds on the audio track. The action is all rather generic, there’s not much martial arts on display, but we’re compensated with an overdose of gunfights and explosions, and stuntmen frequently being catapulted across the screen. Dolph Lundgren as Warchild gets to do a couple of nice fights and stoically endures any absurdities the script throws at him. Bridge of Dragons is worth a watch for anyone who has a taken a liking to low-budget action flicks.
9) The Shepherd (2008)
A film with a decent bar fight rarely is a bad one, and on top of that The Shepherd gave actions fans the first clash between action legend Jean-Claude Van Damme and rising star Scott Adkins. New Orleans cop Jack Robideaux (Van Damme) joins the Border Patrol in a small town close to the Mexican border. He arrives not a day too late, as a crew of ex-Navy Seals is running an immigrant and drug smuggling operation (among them Adkins’ character Karp), and the over-strained police department is in dire need of a couple of extra fists for Lady Justice.
The US-Mexican border with its many troubles has always been a popular location for violent clashes in action movies. Florentine gives Van Damme and Adkins plenty of opportunity to do their share of roundhousing, and Van Damme shows that he can still kick some serious ass. Adkins steals the show from him more than once, though, jumping twice as high and kicking three times as fast than everyone else around him. As usual, Florentine only needs a camera and some space to stage his trademark kinetic fight sequences, and that alone already makes The Shepherd a satisfying DTV actioner.
8) Acts of Vengeance (2017)
An action film that features a book by Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius as a key element with life-changing insights not only for the main character, but also for the audience? Bring it on! Cocky lawyer Frank loses his wife and daughter in a murder. He drifts into alcoholism, and eventually finds a way to deal with his grief by becoming an MMA fighter with a vow of silence. When he finds a new lead on why his family was killed, he puts his newly acquired skills to good use. Every director can consider himself lucky to work with a legend like Antonio Banderas. Florentine makes him look good as a brawler in a couple of nicely staged fights, where he messes up everyone real badly who dares to go up against him.
The film also features a cool cameo by Florentine himself as martial arts instructor who is bringing Frank into proper vigilante shape. A slick direction, good pacing and Banderas’ intense performance are able to conceal some weaker elements of the film, especially in the plot department. With Acts of Vengeance, Florentine convincingly demonstrated that he can also make more traditional action movie material shine.
Assassins: How the Stallone Action Thriller Inspired The Matrix
7) U.S. Seals 2 (2001)
Action films often feature somewhat far-fetched plots, but the premise of U.S. Seals 2 is probably what a screenwriter would be forced to write for eternity when being locked into the deepest circle of hell. Ex-Navy seal commander Ratliff goes rogue and hides on an island with a nuclear warhead. The island is covered in a cloud of natural gas which prevents the use of firearms. Lieutenant Casey Sheppard assembles a ragtag group of martial arts specialists and takes the fight yo Ratliff. Everything about the story and its characters is so outlandish, that U.S. Seals 2 better have some good action, and boy, does it deliver!
Gravity-defying jumps, flips and flying kicks give us fights of the highest quality with an obvious nod to classic Hong Kong action cinema. Florentine still drew some inspiration from his work on Power Rangers with fast zooms and pans (and another overkill of swooshing sounds), but his unique vision for shooting hi-octane martial arts sequences was already very much developed here. Spectacular action combined with complete embarrassment in every other department make U.S. Seals 2 a totally strange, but highly entertaining action flick!
6) Close Range (2015)
Close Range is another fine example of Isaac Florentine and Scott Adkins pushing each other to greatness. Just like in Florentine’s The Shepherd, there’s trouble at the US-Mexican border. Ex-soldier Colt Macready crosses into Mexico to rescue his niece Hailey from cartel boss Garcia. He also retrieves a flash drive that the cartel wants to get back at any cost. Garcia sends a small army of hitmen to the farm where Macready, his sister Angela and Hailey are hiding out. The film moves along a thin plot thread, but that’s no problem, the story is not an embarrassment, and effectively paves the way for the action sequences.
In addition, the bare-boned setting offers no distractions to the non-stop carnage and brutality Florentine unleashes. He also nicely mixes up the fight scenes with a couple of shootouts and an extended car chase. Adkins pulls off some insane kicks and jumps, and he set the bar so high in his previous movies that we almost came to expect nothing less from him. Close Range is another great testimony to Florentine’s talent for turning even the most mundane templates into kick-ass action flicks.
5) Cold Harvest (1999)
Florentine’s collaboration with the uncrowned king of spinning kicks Gary Daniels was another slam dunk for him in the low-budget action arena. 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. Blending a Western with a post-apocalyptic setting is never a bad idea in my book, and if a healthy dose of Gun Fu is added, and an unhealthy overdose of martial arts, it becomes the perfect mix!
Florentine goes all in from the beginning with a crazy tempo and intensity that makes the film occasionally feel as if it’s played on triple speed! Daniels is pretty awesome in his fights, and Florentine gives him plenty of opportunity to showcase his talent, every five minutes he shoots someone or kicks them through a window. The film features the complete suite of explosions, fights and shootouts, all the way to up a finale that is pure carnage captured on celluloid. Cold Harvest is DTV gold of the highest purity!
Gary Daniels Takes Down Bryan Genesse in ‘Cold Harvest’ (1999)
4) Undisputed 3: Redemption (2010)
Yuri Boyka, “the most complete fighter in the world”, made a spectacular comeback in Florentine’s second sequel of the Undisputed series. After getting crippled by his rival Chambers (in Undisputed 2), Yuri Boyka spends his prison days on cleaning duty. After hearing about a tournament with the world’s best fighters in another prison that earns the winner his freedom, he gets back in shape and has his transfer arranged. We can all guess what happens next. With Undisputed 3, it seems Florentine went back to his early years, and threw anything resembling a plot or halfway meaningful dialogues out the window. Instead he went all in on the action, and created fight scenes of a quality unseen before in Western action cinema.
Scott Adkins is at the peak of his physical prowess here in a role that demands everything from him. Florentine captures each showdown perfectly with an almost uncanny symbiosis between the camera and the actor’s movements. A clean cinematography with long, unedited shots show us the skills and discipline of every fighter in all their glory. Undisputed 3 is one of the best fight flicks ever created outside of Asia, and if you’re a martial arts fanatic, it will probably be your number one Florentine movie.
3) Ninja: Shadow of a Tear (2013)
With the sequel to Ninja, Florentine and Adkins continued in the vein of Undisputed 3, by giving us some of the most spectacular fight sequences ever created, and a plot thinner than a human hair. Casey’s pregnant wife Namiko is murdered. Filled with grief and anger, he tracks down her killers and puts them to death. He then joins the dojo of his friend Nakabara in Thailand, hoping to find some inner peace. His past keeps haunting him, however, and he slowly realizes that the murder of his wife was part of a much bigger scheme.
There’s hardly any ninja stuff in the film, but all is forgiven, as we’re treated with a dozen or so fight scenes. Each one of them is an absolute highlight, and they are certainly more refined than in the first part. As opposed to the first installment, Florentine also cuts back on the cheese factor. He delivers a rather mundane revenge plot, and another slight detriment is that Adkins is missing a charismatic antagonist that we love to hate. Despite this, Ninja: Shadow of a Tear is another eternal Florentine masterpiece with Scott Adkins in the form of his life.
2) Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing (2006)
The fact that no one really talks about the first Undisputed anymore (and that one was directed by the legendary Walter Hill!), is already a hint at Florentine’s extraordinary achievement with the DTV sequels. Ex-boxing champion “Iceman” Chambers goes to Russia to participate in a prize fight, but is framed for possession of illegal drugs instead and imprisoned. He is forced to participate in a martial arts tournament between the inmates, among them the ruthless master fighter Boyka who takes a personal interest in making Chambers’ life a living hell.
Good production values and more than solid acting performances help to create a good sense of immersion and identification with the characters, something Undisputed 3 was severely lacking. Both White and Adkins have an incredible screen presence, great fighting skills and are good actors, the perfect package for modern action movie stars! Florentine takes no prisoners in the fight scenes as always, even though they are admittedly a tad less spectacular than the ones from the third part. All the Undisputed sequels are pretty awesome, but the second part is the most complete action film of them all, and for that reason it ranks highest on our list.
1) Ninja (2009)
Who needs an American Ninja when you can get a British one instead? The top four movies on this list are all so good that one could make a case for each of them being number one, but we’ll argue in favor of Florentine’s first entry to his Ninja duology. Casey lives and trains in the Japanese dojo of sensei Takeda. His fanatic rival Masazuka gets expelled from the school, and eventually returns as an assassin for a secret cult. Casey is sent on a dangerous quest to fight for his life and that of everyone he cares about. Florentine’s Ninja is the true successor to Cannon’s ninja films, and Scott Adkins the true heir to the legendary Sho Kosugi. The film came out in the same year as it’s big-budget peer Ninja Assassin, and jump-kicks that one straight out of the window!
Scott Adkins in his first lead role ever gives a stellar performance, Tsuyoshi Ihara makes for a fantastic villain, and these two one-man armies are kicking and slashing their way through hordes of enemies on opposing sides. With Ninja, Florentine created a perfect action film, filled to the brim with spectacular combat sequences. Sure, it is a bit corny at times, but it delivers spectacle at a level that is not often achieved anymore in contemporary action cinema.