Bullet Points: Pushed to the Limit
When you think of a kumite portrayed in film are Bloodsport and Kickboxer the first movies that come to your mind? When you hear that someone is in debt or has a brother killed and the hero is forced to fight you probably go to The Circuit or the aptly named Forced to Fight and Bloodfist III: Forced to Fight. No offense, but you are probably a misogynistic chauvinist pig. Don’t be upset, it is not your fault. Hollywood has perpetuated the stereotype that Kumite is just for the fellas. There is only one movie that has the balls to show women in a fight to the death competition, Pushed to the Limit. You’ve come a long way, baby!
- I know what you are thinking, “Pushed to the Limit? Never heard of it, can you provide a short synopsis and the principal actors?” Pushed to the Limit begins and ends with Mimi Lesseos, better known as Magnificent Mimi from her wrestling days, stretching her acting chops by playing a wrestler named Mimi. Mimi’s brother Johnny (Greg Ostrin) gets in trouble with the Harry Lee (Henry Hayashi), the head of the Chinese mafia, and Mimi’s boyfriend Nick (Michael M. Foley) gets hurt trying to help Johnny. How does Johnny run afoul of Lee? Johnny makes a joke during a drug deal that I am hesitant to relay because of the insensitive nature and lack of humor, but I will apologize in advance and include because if I didn’t they would take my journalist license away. “What do you call two gooks in a fast car? The Gooks of Hazzard.” Keep in mind that Lee is half Vietnamese, and oh yeah, Johnny also stole some of Lee’s cocaine. Lee, besides being the head of a drug dealing mafia, also happens to run a casino that has an illegal kumite. Mimi surmises that the only way to get revenge is to get close to Lee by entering the kumite.
- I know what you are thinking, “I have seen a kumite movie before and they are all the same.” First of all, I am not sure that there is a thing as too many kumite movies, but if there is, Pushed to the Limit is like nothing you have seen before. While Pushed to the Limit has Johnny stealing cocaine from the Chinese and eventually murdered for his transgression, the script is flipped with his sister Mimi plotting her revenge. I know you were expecting to see the helpless female being rescued by the big strong male, but you need to get your head out of the 1950s. It does help that Mimi is a world champion wrestler and is introduced to Nick’s sensei Vern (Verrel Reed), a former kumite participant, at the beginning of the movie. Still not convinced? Have you ever seen another kumite movie where the main star gets the news that her brother is dead when she is filling in as the lead dancer in a Vegas show after winning a wrestling championship?
- I know what you are thinking, “how can women fighting be as action packed as Jean-Claude Van Damme (Bloodsport and Kickboxer), Olivier Gruner (The Circuit), Gary Daniels (Forced to Fight) or Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson (Bloodfist III: Forced to Fight).” I am here to tell you that the fight scenes might be more exciting because Mimi is a champion wrestler, in real life and in the movie, and the fight scenes not only include traditional martial arts but also aspects of wrestling. All the traditional fighting action is not enough, you want gruesome action? Inga, the reigning kumite champion and female Tong-Po, has a signature move where she breaks the back of her opponents and, if they are lucky, provides a little cherry on top by snapping their necks.
- I know what you are thinking, “how can a wrestler enter a kumite and expect to compete.” You are thinking just like Vern, who initially refuses to train Mimi. Mimi convinces Vern after showing up at his dojo and telling him that she is “pushed to the limit.” After Vern is convinced by the title of the movie, natch, a staple of all good fight movies begins, the training montage. Pushed to the Limit shows Mimi struggle at the beginning, with a few of Mimi’s fighting foibles for comic relief, and progressing to where she is taking down Vern’s male fighters with ease. Mimi even passes Vern’s attempted fake mugging test with flying colors. Vern responds to all the training with, as far as I am concerned, the totally unique quote, “Boy, I’m getting to old for this shit.”
- I know what you are thinking, “if there are women fighting, the arena must be filled with pink lace, baby’s breath and doilies.” Wrong again! You need to quit thinking before you hurt yourself. The Pushed to the Limit kumite has all the hallmarks of a classic kumite, seedy locale, fighting to the death, and spectators trying to bet by randomly waiving money in the air, except this kumite has a women’s division. Equality for the win! Lee’s casino, in a seedy part of Chinatown, hosts the kumite and it has incredible three tiered stands for the audience and atmospheric providing green lighting. The audience members bet by randomly waiving money in the air and it gets collected in small boxes on the end of long sticks that also have a flashlight at the end of it. If that sounds confusing, you don’t know anything about betting at a kumite.
- I know what you are thinking, “I have seen Point Break and that was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, and she is a woman.” I am proud of you, Point Break is an excellent action movie, and I am sure Kathryn is glad you noticed, but Pushed to Limit was written, produced and starred in by Mimi Lesseos. That is what you call a triple threat. Still stuck on Point Break? Check out Point Break actor Tom Sizemore and Mimi in 2009’s Double Duty, another film co-written and produced by Mimi. They don’t call her Magnificent Mimi for nothing.
- If you feel like being a little more progressive in your movie choices and evolving from the male dominated troglodyte film world in which we live, give Pushed to the Limit a chance. This is a movie that undoubtedly influenced such classic Hilary Swank women fighting movies as The Next Karate Kid and Million Dollar Baby (another part of Mimi Lesseos’ filmography!)
- If you feel like wallowing in the mud a little longer, check out the Damsels and Tough Chicks selections on Bulletproofaction.com!