A look back at Steven Seagal in the ultimate Hong Kong action-styled ‘Belly of the Beast’ (2003).
Steven Seagal is a great and ultimate American action movie star. And while his hayday was back in the late 80s and early 90s, Seagal did what many action stars did in the early 2000s – he moved into direct to video markets. He also wisely diversified his style and influences. And Belly of the Beast is a great example of Seagal being an early embracer of the rise of Hong Kong Action Cinema with audiences worldwide.
And while no critical darling, Belly of the Beast is very much a highly enjoyable and very awesome ultimate action movie. Let’s take a look!
Steven Seagal, Meet Ching Siu-tung
So, to talk about Belly of the Beast we have to really talk about the film’s director Ching Siu-tung. A seasoned Hong Kong martial artist, actor, stunt performer and coordinator, Siu-tung is perhaps most notable for his action movie choreography in the cinematic masterpiece films Hero and House of Flying Daggers – plus the awesome non-actioner series A Chinese Ghost Story.
Belly of the Beast though was Siu-tung’s first foray into action movie directing, and man did he have a tall task combining forces with the still larger-than-life Seagal. And what we get is just downright awesome! And quite crazy and over the top and just funny in all the right ways.
Seagal Goes into the Belly of the Beast
Released the same year as Siu-tung’s Hero. Belly of the Beast was also the third of a trio of direct-to-video actioners released by Seagal in 2003 (The Foreigner and Out for a Kill being the other two). And truly on the heels of what was one of his last real wide-release motion pictures with 2002’s Half Past Dead.
Seagal had already long passed his skinny cut figure from his debut days in hits like Above the Law. But it’s still fun to see the heavier set Seagal continue his unstoppable rampage in Thailand.
The plot is built around a familiar Taken-style narrative with Seagal’s daughter being kidnapped by a rather convoluted plot of double crosses and CIA spies. What’s fun though is the usual level of respect Seagal’s character earns by… you know, just being Seagal.
Steven Seagal in Action
In true Seagal form, his character – the retired CIA agent and successful businessman Jake Hopper – is a force to be reckoned with in every scene. And for all the characters who know him, they fear for their lives the moment they find out he’s on the case.
The action, though is top-notch. I gotta hand it to Siu-tung for his creativity and originality in tackling any number of fight scenes and set pieces. There are some pretty exotic sets for the $14 million budget, and while not every scene and thematic point lands for sure, the fights are the film’s energy. And they deliver the goods.
Overall, Belly of the Beast is your built on your standard Seagal DTV fodder, but with the Hong Kong action mastery it actually can be considered great cinema. Along with, of course, it being just downright ultimate action movie watching worthy.