Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon is the one I will always remember as my first glimpse into the realm of martial arts movies. Since then, we've seen many others take the formula and attempt to change it to make it seem fresh and new. Most American attempts to do so have failed miserably over the last 35 years for me (except for maybe Bloodsport with Jean-Claude Van Damme, which is a guilty pleasure) .
Back in 1997, Todd McFarlane's anti-hero Spawn came to the big screen. Though Spawn was not a great film, for me it always stood out as having some great things about it. John Leguizamo played the demented clown with some great one-liners, and relative unknown Michael Jai White starred as Al Simmons, the soldier who becomes Spawn. I always thought White did a great job with the role (as did Leguizamo), but I can't say I remember him in anything since then.
Blood and Bone takes care of that situation nicely, and I hope signals the beginning of a resurgence in martial arts movies about more than wire work and fight choreography. White plays a character simply known as "Bone," who has recently been released from prison and finds himself quickly drawn into the underground world of street fighting in Los Angeles. These street fights are not boxing matches - this is mixed martial arts at its most raw. Bone must fight to survive and work his way up the ladder to the top.
The biggest thing that impressed me about this direct-to-DVD offering from Sony Pictures was the slow reveal of the story. Yes, there are plenty of short, violent fights to tide over most fans of martial arts films. But as you learn more about Bone and why he's doing what he's doing, it made me think back to the era of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Lone heroes coming out of nowhere, wading into a fight simply because it would be wrong to do otherwise.