Belly of the Beast Impressions

Look at this fucking mess

So when I went round to Pod’s for our usual 4-movie sitting I ended up forgetting to bring Out For a Kill, the movie that’s mentioned in the other posts here as the one I was going to talk about first.  Unfortunately, this website is only operated by two people so I don’t have the resources for a Ministry of Truth and won’t be retconning the previous posts.

Be warned that in this and every other post there will be spoilers in the classical sense.  I know I don’t watch these films to see how the story unfolds so I don’t know if I would technically consider them “spoilers” because they don’t actually detract from my enjoyment.

Belly of the Beast is set in Thailand and it really helped to see Seagal somewhere a bit more visually interesting.  After the quagmire of inane plot and endlessly shifting allegiances in The Foreigner it was good to see that this film went with a simpler hook:  Seagal’s daughter is kidnapped.  Now, the reasons behind this are murky.  At least two of the factions involved are pretending to do something when they’re doing another and on a single viewing I have to confess that I don’t actually know what everyone was up to.  So there’s a whole tangled mess going on in the background, but none of that really concerns Seagal: his character just sort of cuts through it as he stomps around Thailand looking for his daughter.  He ultimately figures out where she is but I have no idea how because the last two characters he’s in contact with before the final battle he kills without questioning.  But anyway, somehow he finds out where she is and then rescues her and brings down holy hell on a bunch of people in between and for the first time ever I think I mean that literally  since there’s magic and an evil (possibly satanic) sorcerer-type fellow involved.  Also, Ryu from Street Fighter (Byron Mann to give the man his dues) is along for the ride, playing a former partner of Seagal turned Buddhist monk seeking redemption.

I think the most important thing to know about this film is that it’s fucking nuts, given that when I tried to do a synopsis above I just talked about the crazy bits and then had to admit that I didn’t follow enough of the plot to actually write a synopsis.  The madness is well established by the credits and the totally-unrelated-to-the-rest-of-the-film scene that follows.  The title “Belly of the Beast” appears and lingers over the body of a naked, voluptuous woman swimming though a pool.  I have no idea why she’s naked or swimming and it can’t be totally for titillation because we only see her back and even then the water’s distorting it, but it’s still a naked chick in a pool so I’m enjoying it, but I’m deeply confused.  That’s essentially the rest of the film.  It turns out that the woman in the pool is completely inconsequential and never reappears so enjoy her when you can.  What follows is one of the most non-sensical but clearly stand-out scenes in the whole film.

It’s a sequence in which Segal (+ young, toned, attractively sweaty body double) infiltrate a house undetected and steal a disc.  Seagal’s big stunt is doing a forward roll when there’s absolutely no necessity to do so.  It’s hilarious, bringing to mind the explosion forward roll in The Glimmer Man (one of only a few moments worth watching in that film).  Then something very strange happens and now that I think about it should have clued me in to the magical nature of the film.  There’s a guard pacing and a small raised bit of marble.  So Seagal wants to move unseen using the raised marble as cover.  He’s getting on, so I’d forgive him for crawling, but he decides to slide past it on his side feet first.  What they were going for was like when Tony Jaa goes under the jeep in Ong-Bak but that’s not how it looks.  It’s an effect that could only have been achieved by tying something to Seagal’s feet and pulling him along.  It looks absurd, but it’s amazing.  It was A-B repeated on our viewing.  The scene is capped off by him exiting through the back door in the kitchen, but just as he’s about to leave he stops and swivels and you expect maybe a dude’s spotted him, but no, he saunters over to the fridge and steals a bottle of water, going to so far as to drink it there in the kitchen.  I can’t remember if he keeps the bottle or not but after he drinks he turns around and gives the house a Nod of Justice.  The kind of nod you’d give your old house before you walked out the front door for the last time.  It’s fantastic.

I really liked Belly of the Beast.  It’s always engaging, if not coherent, but the knowledge that Seagal is trying to rescue his daughter gives adequate justification for all of his actions.  There are some really great hand-to-hand fights and even though there’s a lot of double use sometimes it is Seagal and he looks pretty good.  There’s a fantastic bit where Seagal and Ryu are attacked by Sword-wielding Ninjas led by a transvestite (don’t ask, I don’t know either) and the fight’s really amazing, and I don’t mean amazing in the same way I did for the first scene, I mean this is a great fight and Byron Mann’s stuff is really solid.  There’s a shoot-out in a train yard with a John Woo trolley and an amazing bit where a stunt-man jumps out of a train car shooting twin pistol but they cut to close-ups of Seagal and he’s  not falling the way he should be. It’s hilariously unphysical.  There’s an amazing cartoon moment in a police station where Seagal gets a bit rowdy and is suddenly surrounded by about 12 guns and Byron Mann does an incredible gun disarm that got A-B repeated.

Beyond the action, the acting is solid and there’s no distracting over-dubbed dialogue.  The relationship between Seagal and Ryu is well-played and I was almost as interested in his story as I was in Seagal’s.  The villains are villainous, the old friends are suitably questionable and the film looks great.  There are also plenty of What the Fuck is he Wearing? moments to keep the fans happy.

This is all preamble.  Where shit gets real is in the final battle.  It’s one of the most cinematic climaxes I’ve ever seen, and it was straight-to-DVD.  Seagal and Ryu special ops their way into a castle (there’s no reason for it to be a castle, it just makes it more climactic) to rescue Seagal’s daughter and her friend who were kidnapped.  It’s very well choreographed.  I always like sequences where I feel like the action heroes are doing something other than running and having all of their bullets hit because their in an action movie.  Ryu stays behind to guard the girls from what looks like infinitely spawning enemies which gives Seagal an opportunity to face off against the big bad.  The sequence is really phenomenal.  It starts with the other motherfucker standing across the room shooting arrows at Seagal, which Seagal shoots or slices OUT OF THE FUCKING AIR.  The sequences are CG but they look really fucking good.  Eventually things get more up close and all of the fighting is brutal and kinetic but then suddenly Seagal gets voodoo dolled by the evil sorcerer guy!  But then the order of monks that Ryu was a part of all pray the shit out of the sorcerer guy so Seagal can take care of business.  It’s almost completely out of the blue and it’s totally insane but I’ve never seen anything like it and it makes a brilliantly over-the-top battle so much better.  It pushes the scene and the film over the edge of OTT and I know that doesn’t make metaphorical or grammatical sense but that’s in keeping with the film.  I don’t know what’s beyond that edge, but I do know that I want to visit it again.

Originally posted 27 September 2009.


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