Walter Hill has a penchant for macho “beefcake” filmmaking and his reputation as an action director is undeniable, yet he made UNDISPUTED after a self imposed hiatus following the disastrous fiasco that was SUPERNOVA, and the result is a fight film without spirit. His usual budget and elaborate production design was taken away and he was left to make a cheap and undesirable movie that did NOT deserve to have a sequel made after it... and yet such a sequel (three of them, in fact) WAS made and it was superior in every sense.
UNDISPUTED II mostly ignores the original events, aside from a passing reference, but does follow the character of “The Iceman” Chambers, now played by Michael Jai White. No longer the world champion Chambers finds himself in Russia to film a Vodka commercial where he is set up by the Russian mob. They plant drugs in his apartment so that he is arrested and sent to prison and forced to compete in an illegal fight against a notorious brute. His savage opponent is Yori Boyka, played by Scott Adkins, who strikes a vicious blow and knows no mercy. Suffice to say the movie is a rehash of the first instalment and serves as a reboot.
Director Isaac Florentine is one of cinema's most undervalued action directors whose talent lingers in the direct-to-video arena. His name is not a house-hold name yet fans of contemporary fight films will know exactly who he is. He has a natural flare for action and has a unique ability to capture martial arts on a highly energised manner where every frame that he shoots is engaging. His camera is kinetic and he pulls no stops to deliver the goods. His highly choreographed fight sequences are heightened by the use of slow-motion, fast-motion, camera gymnastics and atmosphere. Every point of contact within his fights are accompanied by the spray of sweat, lashings of blood and bone-crunching sounds, and what he achieves with UNDISPUTED II is a sequel that surpasses it's predecessor.
The sterile production design of Walter Hill's first film has been replaced with a cold and unforgiving atmosphere, and the characters populating the screen are pitted against a grimy environment full of piss and shit. The mundane boxing of the original story has also been upgraded to facilitate a brutal and unruly brand of mixed martial arts, which give the story an uncompromising quality. Florentine's vision for this franchise is certainly stronger than Hill's and his execution is superb.
The cast is better too. Michael Jai White may not hold the same imposing figure as Ving Rhames but his screen-presence is better suited to the genre. He delivers the same attitude of Rhames' portrayal but offers a lot more sincerity and emotional depth. Scott Adkins steals the show as the villainous Boyka and despite having a totally stodgy Russian accent, his presence is mesmerising. He possesses an intensity and menace that is rarely seen in action movies these days and proves himself to be one of cinema's most underrated tough guys.
Of course there's a whole level of absurdity to UNDISPUTED II, whereby every character speaks English and there's an apparent lack of judicial process. The narrative structure is flimsy and the character arcs are convenient, but when it comes to this particular brand of movie none of that matters. These frailties are compensated by Florentine's signature style and his visually engaging design. He set out to make a hard-hitting fight film and delivered in spades.