DOES IT HOLD UP?: Under Siege - Seagal V. Jones


Once upon a time, everyone's favorite Obama-hating aikido walrus, Steven Seagal, was poised to join the A-list of Hollywood action stars. By the early 90s, he'd starred in a string of gritty, violent actioners where he effortlessly beat entire barrooms full of guys into a bloody pulp. Young, hungry Seagal was a force to be reckoned with; it was finally time for him to ascend to the ranks of Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis.

The film that was set to get him there was Under Siege, a military thriller where he'd star alongside Tommy Lee Jones while being directed by Andrew Davis (The Fugitive). This was also the film where the American mainstream was introduced to martial arts knife fighting. We were all dazzled by the speed and intensity of the final knife fight.... but was that because it was truly awesome, or because we just didn't know any better?

This is what lost innocence looks like, kids!
THE SETUP:

To this day, Under Siege is a hell of a fun ride in the kind of way only a 90's thriller can be. It makes just enough of an attempt at realism and urgency to not be completely idiotic (a refreshing change from the 80's) but was also willing to throw plausibility out of a moving car when it was convenient. This balancing act helped to create a scenario where a navy cook/ex-SEAL (Seagal) must fight to stop an ex-navy mercenary (Jones) from starting World War III.

Aging rocker/super villain.

After fighting his way through a gaggle of bad guys and taking out a pre-nutjob-era Gary Busey, Seagal winds up face to face with his nemesis. This kicks off the first round of every great final battle; the pre-fight monologue.

Foreshadowing!
Jones realizes this is his chance to shine and wastes no time establishing his acting dominance over his opponent. He effortlessly hits all his marks beautifully and somehow manages to have more screen presence than the 6'4” martial artist he currently has at gunpoint. Seagal does his best to fire back by belittling all of Jones' valid points but it comes off as weak condescension at this point. Jones, attempting to cement his lead, verbally bitch slaps him for his troubles.

Chief O'Brien drops a beat while Jones and Busey duet this shit.
THE FIGHT:

After thoroughly LOSING the acting portion of the final battle, Seagal enthusiastically jumps into the physical challenge. After kicking Jones in the face, their iconic knife fight ensues...


In 1991, most of us had no point of reference for this kind of cinematic knife fight, but now we do and much to this fight's detriment. In studying it, the fight breaks down pretty quickly into these simple steps:
⚫Jones and Seagal enthusiastically flail prop knives around to make it look like SOMETHING is happening.

⚫Cutaway to close ups of Jones getting cut with the knife

⚫Over the shoulder shot of Seagal tussling with Jones's stunt double

⚫Rinse and repeat.

Add in some random sound effects to make it seem like the blades are actually connecting and you've got what amounts to two grown men looking ridiculous with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. The fact that the fight is so completely one-sided also helps to remove any real tension from the situation as you sit back and place bets on just how badly Seagal is going to school his opponent.
"Have you tried turning it off and on again?"
DOES IT HOLD UP?

HELL NO! Are you kidding? This is barely a fight scene. The choreography is almost non-existent and is devoid of any real suspense or tension. It's a fight that was made in the editing room and doesn't hold up to any real scrutiny.

Once upon a time, this image and Vanilla Ice were AWESOME!
It has a strange rhythm to it that almost foreshadows the poor cinematography and choppy editing that plagues many of today's fight scenes. When toggling the sound on and off, it becomes obvious that the blade sounds are thrown in haphazardly to create the illusion that a fight is happening. For the most part, the two actors aren't even close enough to shake hands.

While Jones would go on to redeem himself for this fight twelve years later with The Hunted (while also becoming a well respected actor), Seagal's vanity would continue to prevent him from having a decent, 2-sided fight scene. Would he ever achieve the one thing that EVERY other action star had been doing for years? Or was he incapable of letting someone else get in a few good hits on him? This won't be the last time Seagal's fightography is put to the test here.

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