I was surprised to find out the Best of the Best was a flop when it came out. I grew up watching it and the sequels that came later so I thought it was a movie that at least did okay when it came out. I also felt that way because of some of the members of the cast were big names. I still think it has a lot of heart and shows a different side of tournament karate. This feels like a movie of its time, where some of it has aged poorly but it still works for the most part.
The story of Best of the Best was originally by Phillip Rhee and Paul Levine. Levine would go on to write the script for the movie. Bob Radler directed the movie. Levine and Radler were able to make a movie that feels different than other martial arts movies. Part of that comes from the tournament setting, which makes it feel similar to Rocky. That part comes from the fact that you really root for a lot of the American team.
You feel the most for Eric Roberts and Phillip Rhee. You also want to root for John Dye and David Agresta too, but Chris Penn’s character is so abrasive that you’re okay with him possibly losing. James Earl Jones, Tom Everett, and Sally Kirkland as the coaching staff for the team offers interesting moments throughout the movie. Simon Rhee, James Lew, Ken Nagayama, Ho Sik Pak, and Dae Kyu Chang are the Korean team. You get brief glimpses of them and their training throughout the movie until the exhibition. Louise Fletcher and Edan Gross round out the cast and add extra heart to the movie.
The martial arts in this movie is on a whole other level. That goes double for the time, since it wasn’t something that was on display in Hollywood at the time. That combined with the practical effects used for the damage in the exhibition fights helps sale the fights are really happening. Paul Gilman did the music for the movie. I think the score fits the movie really well. The title track from the soundtrack was almost certainly made to have the same feel as Eye of the Tiger by Survivor.
Best of the Best is an interesting martial arts movie that has a lot of heart. I know that there are three sequels with the last two only starring Phillip Rhee, with him also directing them. I know that the movie has found its audience in the years after its initial release, especially since it birthed an action film franchise. You can stream Best of the Best on Netflix until the end of March. I give Best of the Best 7.5 gold medals out of 10.