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Cult Movie Essentials: Best of the Best (1989)

In a decade full of Martial Arts masterpieces came a team of martial artists who built a franchise!

Alexander Grady (Eric Roberts), a widower and father of a five-year-old son, Walter (Edan Gross), is chosen to represent the United States of America in an international martial arts tournament against Team Korea, despite a shoulder injury that once forced him into retirement. Also chosen for the team is Tommy Lee (Phillip Rhee), a man seeking revenge against a member of Team Korea for the death of his brother during a previous tournament. The rest of Team USA consists of Travis Brickley (Chris Penn), an extremely brash fighter with a short fuse; Virgil Keller (John Dye), a devout Buddhist; and Sonny Grasso (David Agresta), a streetwise fighter from Detroit.

Coached by veteran trainer Frank Couzo (James Earl Jones), the team prepares to meet an unstoppable group of true martial arts experts. Their chances of winning are virtually non-existent, as the Koreans train all year long and are known as the best the sport has to offer. Along their journey, the Americans have to deal with their personal conflicts and tragedies, before they become a team.

When the tournament starts, Virgil and Sonny are out classed by their Korean opponents. Travis does his best to psyche up the team with his brash attitude leading to a sudden death breaking duel with his opponent. Couzo invites Alex’s family to motivate him to win; however, his shoulder is severely re-injured during his bout. Instead of giving up, he implores Tommy to “pop” the shoulder back into place and resumes the fight with one arm, ultimately defeating his opponent.

Finally, Tommy faces the captain of the Korean team, Dae Han (Simon Rhee), the man responsible for the death of his brother. After a slow start, Tommy gets the upper hand and delivers a series of moves that forces Dae Han solely on the defensive. As the match nears its end, Tommy has brought the American team within a single point of victory. Consumed with vengeance, Tommy prepares to end the fight, but realizing that the battered Dae Han would likely not survive the attack, Couzo orders Tommy to stand down, saving the man’s life but forfeiting the victory as time expires. Couzo consoles Tommy afterwards, telling him, “You won that match, don’t ever forget that”.

At the medal ceremony, Dae Han approaches Tommy and praises him for his honorable act. He then apologizes for the death of Tommy’s brother, and in return offers himself as a brother to Tommy. Tommy accepts, and Dae Han hands over his medal before the two men embrace. The other members of Team Korea then follow suit, awarding their medals to their respective American opponents.

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