Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Director: Donald Whittier
Producer: Donald Whittier
Screenwriter: Donald Whittier
Based on a short film by Sam Hargrave and Anna Henke that consists of nothing but a brief martial arts sequence in the woods, Fight Circle takes that concept one step further to present a 90-minute martial arts sequence in the woods.
The most astonishing thing about this movie is that, in spite of its low-budget production, much of it is actually quite good. At least, much of the fighting is good, anyway. Making due with no special effects outside of camera angles and sound editing, writer/director/producer Donald Whittier manages to put together a visually compelling film. Whittier combines beautifully scenery with smart cinematography and careful editing to produce combat scenes as convincing as anything Hollywood has to offer. Much of the credit, however, goes to Sam Hargrave, whose experience as a second-degree black belt informs the action. And we must not forget the cast, all of whom carry out their stunts with convincing precision.
If you love martial arts movies beyond the point of insanity, you'll go crazy for Fight Circle. In an age when most fight scenes rely on wire work and quick cuts, this little film masterfully demonstrates that, even now, there's no substitute for old-fashioned ability.
That this movie looks and sounds as good as it does is a blessing, because when the screen isn't illuminated with gut-pounding action, it drifts aimlessly into the shadow of intolerably bland acting and incompetent dialogue. The opening scenes of the movie are so sloppy and uninspired that, after a few clips of people pretending to farm by pulling random weeds in grove, the first couple of confrontations between two fighters are quickly spoiled by the fact that the actors appear unable to maintain straight faces through their lines.
Whittier clearly decided that good fight scenes are more important than good acting, and it shows in the film. There isn't a single moment in Fight Circle's 90-minute runtime that is acted with any degree of believability. A few of the cast members, such as Anna Henke and Runyan Woods, actually appear to have take a few community college drama classes, but even their attempts at delivering emotion on screen are defeated by the ridiculousness of the story.
In his production notes, Whittier boasts that he spent three months writing this script. And that's sad, really, because those days are lost forever and there is shamefully little here to show for the effort. Within the film, there is almost no explanation for the existence of the fight circle. The film's website passes it off as some kind of vague tradition in this "medieval" society, but it never really makes sense. And limited vocabulary renders even some of the more substantive lines into just-barely polysyllabic drivel. So rather than attempting to create verisimilitude through meaningful character interaction, the cast just runs around the forest kicking each other and ripping off each other's necklaces.
The real trouble here is attention to detail. Not only does the script lazily mingle half-assed attempts at Eastern philosophy with a minimal gesture at medieval garb and loosely assembled Lord of the Rings-esque campsite sets with no sense of context; it also never really endeavors to create any impression of a larger social structure around the fighters. So what we get to watch is an hour and a half of footage of the advanced class from a suburban kung fu studio running around the woods in bedsheets and tights.
It's okay that Whittier can't write. Everyone has shortcomings. I, for instance, can't draw worth a damn. But if he sincerely wanted to make a decent film, he should have handed off the task to someone with a little bit of skill. Or, failing that, he could have at least given a little more attention to other on-screen details so that people actually appear to be doing something when they're not fighting. While watching the movie, I had started tracking the number of times people did the same chores over and over again without making progress, but I lost track. For instance, people wander back and forth between the campsite and the river all day, just fetching water. Perhaps they wouldn't be so thirsty if they'd just do something else for a while. During one training montage, Paky (Anna Henke) throws the same log onto the same pile of other logs about a dozen times. It's just frustrating.
In the end, Fight Circle is a hollow and meaningless film. Whittier has certainly demonstrated some acumen as a director and producer, but this movie is so annoyingly pointless that it actually ceases to be laughable by its conclusion. I give the cast and crew all the props I can for their efforts in creating truly impressive martial arts scenes, and I must repeat that the scenery and camera work are beautiful. But trying to create meaning from the scenes between the fighting may actually cause brain damage.
If a chick fights in the woods, does anyone see it?