Take this scene, which occurs around the hour mark in “Mu Sa Do”, and really epitomizes much of the film: our leading man and leading lady — an underground fighter and a reporter, respectively — are conspiring in a stairwell, while unbeknownst to them one of the bad guy’s thugs listen in from exactly five feet above them and — if that wasn’t hard enough to believe — he’s smoking a cigarette. Now you may be wondering what our leading players have stuck up their noses that they couldn’t smell the cigarette smoke. Of course I prefer to ask this question: who in the world thought “Mu Sa Do” was a good idea?
Laurie Hanley stars as Chase Somete, a reporter (from Canada, I would assume) who is sent to Las Vegas to cover a supposedly “big fight” between Suk (Suk Woo Nam) and another fighter. I say “supposedly” because there seems to be about 20 extras in the stands and the whole thing was so dark that the TV cameras that are supposed to be broadcasting this fight “out to the whole world” must have been hidden. During the match, Suk kills his opponent, which spurs intrepid reporter Chase to, well, chase him back home (again, to Canada, I would assume).
Back in (and I’m just guessing again) Canada, Chase uncovers an illegal underground fighting circuit while trying to get the reclusive Suk to talk about the Vegas fight. And no, if you’re wondering, I don’t think a single frame of “Mu Sa Do” was ever shot in Las Vegas. Early on, we see an establishing shot of an airport, which I assume is the Las Vegas International Airport. Of course I could be wrong, since I’ve never been to Sin City. Then again, “Mu Sa Do” could have been shot entirely in Alaska for all I know.
And yes, if you’re wondering, “Mu Sa Do” really is as bad as I make it out to be. The film is an independent feature, directed by first-timer Natasha Baron, who has no idea what directing is all about. Along with cinematographer Craig Powell, who has no idea what cinematography is all about, “Mu Sa Do” looks, feels, and is amateurish from beginning to end. Add to that a lousy screenplay by Tom Hanley that tries to make illegal underground fighting fresh and exciting as if a thousand similar low-budget films hadn’t already mined the same topic a decade earlier and left the carcass in the desert for the coyotes.
But I guess no one told the above to foreign filmmakers, because Tournament Fighting films are back! The Japanese movie “Muscle Heat” dared into this territory, as did the Thai film “Ong Bak”, and now the Canadians can add their names to that list with “Mu Sa Do”. Except for “Ong Bak”, which offered up stellar action choreography and inspired stunts to go along with its familiar and non-sensical Tournament Fighting sequences (aren’t they always non-sensical?), the other two should have avoided the genre entirely. These films just generally are not very good, and the fact that they are being made cheaper and cheaper only means little to no production values.
Although I’ve tried, I really can’t offer up anything about “Mu Sa Do” to recommend. Craig Powell is a terrible cinematographer, and one has to wonder if he used any lights at all for the interior scenes. Or for the exterior scenes, for that matter. Everything looks so shoddy, giving the film that grainy look only possible with cheap 16MM film cameras. There are also some boneheaded casting; in particular the obvious Rent-a-Goons that litter the film. Granted, the filmmakers probably had a small budget to work with, but I’m sure there are large imposing men who can act and would be willing to work for little to no money. Why clutter up your already lousy movie with terrible “actors” to boot?
Even for a Tournament Fighting movie, “Mu Sa Do” is a poor action film. The fights are slow, lazy, and uninspired. Even non-discriminating action junkies should avoid at all costs. There’s not enough action (or at least quality action) in this film to satisfy even them. Don’t be fooled by its flashy cover, either. It’s a weak movie, poorly constructed, poorly written, poorly directed, poorly acted, and just lousy to look at. I’ve seen a lot of low-budget films with shoddy production values, but I can usually find good things to say about them, which leads me to this: Chase’s two assistants, Andre and Jimmy, are sometimes pretty funny.
Nastasha Baron (director) / Tom Hanley (screenplay)
CAST: Laurie Hanley …. Chase Somete
Suk Woo Nam …. Suk
Earl Wadden …. Jimmy Olsen
Jason Simpson …. Andre