That's it in a nutshell. If you're new to capoeria, it's Brazilian kung fu. Think of Eddy Gordo in Tekken. Or alternatively, think of someone doing a slinky little dance, then flailing their legs around wildly and kicking seven shades out of their opponent. That's capoeria.
The legendary Mark Dacascos plays Louis Stevens, an ex-special forces soldier, who has come back to the hood where he grew up. The teacher who put him on the straight and narrow, Mr Kerrigan (Geoffrey Lewis - Tango and Cash), has a problem. He's a teacher. And he has to teach the biggest bad bottoms in the whole of America. They spit, swear, bring knives to school and are generally unkind to small mammals (not necessarily shown in the film). Enter Louis who is going to teach them some capoeira moves and some respect.
Okay, you already know the rest of the plot already. But Only the Strong is top fun. When Dacascos starts doing his funny little capoeira dance I have to admit that I agree with the miscreants. It looks stupid. Not the coolest way to start a fight. But then when the legs start flying, it all becomes clear. Dacascos has some seriously cool moves. The fight choreography is also great; the final fight culminates in head kick after head kick. Very cool.
There has to be a villain for Dacascos to pit his skills against. He comes in the form of local drug lord Silverio, (Paco Christian Prieto) the cousin of one of Louis' students. At one point he offers money to Louis to train his men in the art of capoeira. Which is strange, seeing as though he is supposedly better than him. Wouldn't he just do it himself? Never mind. Inconsistencies are all part of the fun.
There has to be some love interest for Dacascos (as you can see, it is fairly formulaic). She comes in the form of fellow teacher Dianna (Stacey Travis - Phantasm II). She looks suspiciously like Brigitte Lahaie, the famous french porn star. Er... how do I know that slightly compromising fact? Think fast. Oh yeah! She's in Jean Rollin's Fascination. Phew.
This is definitely a film I will revisit. I think Crying Freeman is the better film, (I've maybe been harsh on that, only giving it 7/10, in fact I'm going to go and up it right this minute) but this is still cracking. Sadly, there's no region 2 release of Only the Strong yet. Someone release it sharpish. One very strange thing that this film throws up is that it was filmed nearly twenty years ago and Mark Dacascos only seems to have aged about ten years in the intervening years. Maybe all that leg flailing keeps him young. Or in my case, it just gave me a hernia and a prolapsed bowel.
If you like this you could also try:
Crying Freeman, Drive, Brotherhood of the Wolf.