A ranking of the best action movies starring Kenpo master Jeff Speakman.
Kenpo master Jeff Speakman jumped into the spotlight of the action movie world with his debut The Perfect Weapon that has become a classic of American martial arts cinema. One of the most talented on-screen martial artists of his era, his prowess earned him several more roles in the years that followed. In this article, we’ll honor his work and rank his best action flicks!
7) The Expert (1995)
The Expert made the laudable attempt of blending crime thriller, court drama and martial arts action into one film. The sister of police instructor John (Speakman) is murdered by the psychopath Kagan. He is captured and sentenced to death, but a psychological evaluation delays the execution. A furious John decides to rid the world of Kagan once and for all. The cooperation between cult director William Lustig (Vigilante, Maniac) and Speakman should have been a guarantee for a thrilling ride, and there are some good things that can be said about the film.
Lustig knows how to create that urban exploitationer vibe, and The Expert occasionally has an excellently creepy atmosphere. On the downside, we get a muddled plot, and half of the film has the sleepy momentum of a TV courtroom show. When Speakman enters into rage mode things lighten up on the action front, even though his fights are not very numerous. The violent finale when John breaks into the prison somewhat compensates for the dull proceedings before. The Expert is moderately entertaining, but will likely be thoroughly enjoyed only by hardcore Speakman fans.
6) Land of the Free (1998)
In the 1990s, video store customers could always rely on PM Entertainment to provide the simple pleasure of total carnage, and Speakman’s first film for PM does not disappoint either. Frank (Speakman) works as election campaign manager for senator Carvell (William Shatner). He is recruited by the FBI to find out whether Carvell is involved with a right-wing militia. When Frank’s spying is discovered, he and his family are taken into the witness protection program, but there is no escape from Carvell’s associates.
Shatner hams it up nicely as a charming scumbag, but we’re here to see Speakman delivering the goods, of course. His Frank is a mighty martial arts master, who takes no prisoners when kicking and blasting corrupt cops and other unsavory folks. The action is filmed a bit flimsy for PM standards, but there’s still plenty of cars corkscrewing into the LA sky. While not a PM classic, Land of the Free is a solid piece of DTV action.
5) Plato’s Run (1997)
The great Gary Busey got one of the few opportunities in his career to shine as an action hero in Plato’s Run. Ex-Navy SEAL Plato Smith takes a mercenary job to rescue some prisoners from Cuba. Upon returning he is trapped in a conspiracy that threatens his life and that of his daughter, and calls in a favor from his two old squad mates (among them Speakman). The film is primarily a vehicle for Gary Busey with a supporting role for Speakman only.
The plot is a bit too convoluted for its own good, but that’s okay, just lean back and enjoy Busey being an incredibly implausible action hero. Speakman shows up in the beginning of the film and comes back just in time for the final battle. He definitely is the most skilled and menacing member of our mercenary trio, a master of stealth, knifes and heavy mortars. There’s no originality to be found in the action scenes, but whenever things get too dull the pyrotechnics department takes over. Plato’s Run is classic NuImage stuff of the better kind.
4) Running Red (1999)
PM Entertainment’s traditional mix of car action and explosions got an upgrade thanks to Speakman’s frantic slapping and roundhousing in Running Red. Former Russian special operative Gregori has built a new life for himself and his family in the US. His old fellows catch up with him and talk him into a hit job. Gregori refuses to keep working for them afterwards, but these folks don’t take no for an answer. Speakman shows he still got the spark, and kenpos everyone into the ground with lightning speed, even though we need to admit that the final showdown is decided by the bad head honcho dropping his asthma spray.
The major crime of the film is that it uses the bus chase footage from Red Heat as one of its action sequences. Incidentally this was also the case for a film on our previous Top 10, Danny Trejo’s Bad Ass, so it looks like we’re not far from a future “Top 10 action movies that feature the bus chase from Red Heat” list.
3) Deadly Outbreak (1995)
Our bronze medal goes to another classic entry from NuImage. A group of terrorists led by Colonel Baron (Ron Silver) infiltrates and seizes a chemical weapons research institute. US embassy guard Dutton Hatfield (Speakman) happens to be around at the time, and decides to liberate the facility on his own. In this classic Die Hard scenario, Speakman faces off Ron Silver who is great as always as stoical criminal mastermind.
This research laboratory is not a place I’d like to work at. Gas bottles and toxic waste are everywhere, and everything explodes very easily. The bad guys are so hilariously stupid and careless that they are easy picking for Speakman. Deadly Outbreak is Speakman’s funniest film with many cheesy one-liners and lots of kicks to the balls. It delivers cool fights, bloody shootouts and tons of explosions, what else could we wish for?
2) Street Knight (1993)
Speakman’s second feature was the swan song of the legendary Cannon Studios. Two gangs fight a street war that is escalated by a group of mercenaries with false-flag killings. The police is not interested in intervening, so ex-cop and local resident Jake jumps in to sort things out his way. Street Knight is a fantastic trope gallery of 1990s low-budget action: stilted dialogues, sudden onset of romance, blue light at night, a cheap synth score and a power ballad in end credits.
A plot is almost non-existent, every dialogue just serves to set up the next violent escalation. And Street Knight delivers big time! Speakman mops the floor with his enemies and delivers neck-snappings by the minute. And let’s not forget his ultimate kill: a point-blank shot into his opponent’s mouth, that also kills another baddie standing in line of the exit wound!
1) The Perfect Weapon (1991)
The film that jump-started Speakman’s acting career became an all-time action masterpiece. Jeff’s mentor Kim, who helped him get into martial arts training when Jeff was a kid, is murdered by the Korean mafia. Jeff returns to his old hood, and leaves no bone unshattered to find the killers and punish them. The story is simple, and effectively paves the way for the many frenetic fights.
Speakman does his brutal kicks and punches with uncanny speed, and takes down four street thugs in three seconds. Mark DiSalle’s sharp direction contributes a lot to the quality of the action sequences, and the film as whole. The fights are flawlessly filmed and choreographed, and the production quality is excellent. Speakman is supported by a great cast, among them James Hong as conniving mafia boss, and wrestling behemoth Professor Toru Tanaka, who takes center stage in the final showdown of the film. The Perfect Weapon delivers martial arts action of the highest grade from start to finish!