This Has to Be the Worst Fight Scene of 2018
You hear the names “Mike Tyson” and “Steven Seagal” and it is easy to envision the two squaring off in a killer fight scene. The greatest boxer of his generation versus the man who brought aikido to Hollywood? That is a classic confrontation.
Or rather it surely would have been if Tyson and Seagal had made a movie together in, say, 1991. Sadly, it is 2018. If time is an illusion, it is a brutal, unfeeling one.
Tyson and Seagal square off in China Salesman, which was released in China last year and received a small release in the U.S. earlier this summer. I would have an easier time describing the properties of advanced nuclear physics than I would summarizing the film’s plot, so briefly: It involves a corporate battle over cell phone rights in Africa. (The title character is an engineer at the center of the whole kerfuffle.) That’s about all I got, to be honest; the story is shockingly difficult to follow.
Tyson and Seagal play side characters in that struggle. In an early scene, someone serves Tyson’s character — who insists he doesn’t drink — a glass of urine. Naturally, that leads to a brawl. At least the first part of it isn’t terrible, with Tyson showing off his punching power against a bunch of goons and at least one very large barrel:
Then Seagal, who plays the owner of the bar, gets involved. From there, it all goes very, very badly.
For one thing, it’s pretty clear Seagal and Tyson never stood in the same room together during the shooting of China Salesman. There isn’t a single shot where they’re in the same frame. Instead, every shot features one of the two stars and the other’s stunt double. They two could have shot their halves of the fight months apart.
All the best action scenes throughout the history of movies involve long takes and wide shots. That’s the best way to appreciate the fight choreography and admire the physicality of the performers. The way China Salesman is shot makes that literally impossible. Then again, I’m not sure you’d want to admire the physicality of these performers. Seagal is essentially immobile at this point in his career. His stunt double performs every single shot that can be disguised through quick editing and careful framing. For the occasional moments that require the actual Seagal, he basically stands in place and waves his arms while people run at him. Like this:
In a desperate attempt to inject speed and intensity into this battle, China Salesman is edited at a manic pace, sometimes to the point where the shots needed to connect different spaces and beats in the fight are simply missing. So Seagal and Tyson are fighting here in the middle of the room...
And then a single shot later, there's a pillar directly behind Seagal...
I honestly can’t tell if some of these shots are in slow-motion or regular speed with Seagal moving extremely slowly.
In that very last shot, is Seagal doing aikido or is he drunk? They are in a bar, so maybe it’s both?
Props to Seagal’s stunt double, though, who is working overtime here. And you can tell he’s working overtime because he weighs at least 50 pounds less than Seagal, making it very obvious any time he’s onscreen. Just a few examples:
This titanic struggle concludes with Tyson getting the upper hand — and by titanic I mean like the boat; the whole thing ends in tragic, awful disaster, with more very obvious doubling and some very strange line readings.
Tyson screams at Seagal “You serve me pee, you die!” And then, after another couple punches, “Mother f—er, you drink piss!” If Mike Tyson actually tried to serve Steven Seagal human urine, we’ll never know; the movie immediately cuts away to another spine-tingling scene of corporate intrigue. If you wish to know what happens next, you can watch the film on Netflix. I wish I could say the rest of the movie was better than this, but it is not.
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