Belly of the Beast (2003)

Belly of the BeastCountry: Canada / Hong Kong / United Kingdom
Director: Ching Siu Tung
Starring: Steven Seagal, Byron Mann, Tom Wu, Sara Malukul, Patrick Robinson, Monica Lo, Vincent Riotta, Elioh Macqueen
Music: Mark Sayer Wade

Steven Seagal is too old for this shit. Seagal, never the most animated actor, looks tired and bored throughout this picture. The story itself isn’t exactly a laughing matter, and you wouldn’t expect any of the characters to break into big cheesy grins, but Seagal’s face is like granite. There should be some hint of emotion! And physically he is extremely ‘out-of-shape’. With a title like Belly of the Beast, I am sure there is a nasty little quip, I could throw in at this point, but will restrain myself. Enough about Seagal – the fans know what to expect – what about the movie?

With the circular CIA crest adorning the artwork for Belly of the Beast, I thought I’d be in for more of a traditional spy thriller. But alas, this is more of the same violent dross, as always. This time Seagal plays Jake Hopper, a retired CIA operative who does the occasional favour for his old bosses. A widower, he now spends his time bringing up his teenage daughter.

But at the moment, his daughter is backpacking her way through South East Asia with three friends, including the daughter of a US Senator, and their boyfriends. In Thailand, off the beaten track the teenagers swim and frolic at a waterhole, only to be violently interrupted by a squad of guerrillas. The soldiers kill the boys and take the two girls hostage. Soon a video tape is sent to the U.S. by a terrorist group called the Abu Karaf. They threaten to kill the girls unless their imprisoned comrade’s in arms are released.

Upon this news, there is no way that Hopper is staying at home, and soon he has arrived in Manilla and is tracking down those responsible in his usual bone snapping way.

Naturally enough, for this type of film, all is not as it seems. In Thailand there are many warring militant organizations, and adding to the plot convolution, the law enforcement agencies are also corrupt. In his attempt to discover the truth, Hopper sets off a gang war, during an arms deal that goes horribly wrong.

If there is a positive to Belly of the Beast, it is that it’s martial arts style is more fluid than many of Seagal’s other flicks. It uses more wire-work and is more acrobatic than Seagal’s usual straight-ahead, fight style. The credit for this must go to choreographer Ching Siu Tung (Siu-Tung Ching) who has put together a few impressive confrontations. Fans of Hong Kong cinema will recognise his work as action choreographer for Jet Li’s The Hero, The House Of Flying Daggers and Naked Weapon (which, if you search through these pages, you’ll find a review for).

There’s one set piece that I enjoyed, not because it was staged well, but because it is an old chestnut of the spy genre. It was a repeat of the ‘She-He’ fight from The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World, which in turn was recycled in No 1: Licensed To Love And Kill. For the bookworms out there, you may have even come across similar characters in Clive Cussler’s Shock Wave, and Bill Napier’s Revelation. No racism intended on my behalf, but why do espionage writer’s and film-makers have this fascination with Asian cross-dressers? Is it for the ‘shock’ factor, or like TV personality Alan Partridge, do they have a fascination for Bangkok Lady Boys?

Like most of Seagal’s later films, this film isn’t particularly good, but fans will be fans, and there is something strangely perverse about watching the steady decline of Seagal’s career. None of his films are good, but I seem to keep going back for more. Maybe it’s the old ‘car crash’ syndrome; I know I shouldn’t stare, but just can’t look away!

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