Ray ‘Harley’ Davidson is a hustler. With flash clothes and a fast mouth, Harley lives life in the fast lane. With his passion for all things gambling, money runs like water through Harley’s hands and as quickly as he makes a killing he takes a beating, normally at the poker table. Nominally an illegal prize-fight manager, Harley hasn’t produced a live one in months, until Charles Buchinsky literally wanders into his life.
Victor Maitland, top illegal fight promoter and porn baron. Hates losing and loves the prestige of managing the best hitter in town.
Harley dreams of bringing Maitland down and after seeing Buchinsky at work, engineers a fragile partnership. The duo soon becomes a hot ticket, Charles knocking out all-comers, Harley cleaning up the side-bets. Old habits die hard, however, and Harley squanders the money as quickly as Charles earns it. This alerts Maitland, who offers to buy out Buchinsky’s contract.
Harley refuses, and to make matters worse, Buchinsky defeats Maitland’s best fighter in a brutal contest. A second offer is rebuked, but after another disastrous gambling spree, Harley finds himself heavily in debt to a local loan shark. Seeing his opportunity, Maitland buys the debt and now Harley owes him.
Unless Buchinsky agrees to fight a top professional, brought in from the North, using all his winnings as the stake, Harley will never walk again. It begs the question, just who is this enigmatic fighter and is he setting Maitland up for a sucker punch or will he simply walk away with his winnings?
There are strong elements of the classic Western in ‘Sucker Punch’. Buchinsky is the ‘Shane’ style stranger, a seemingly unbeatable fighter (gunslinger) with a secret past, who drifts into town and changes the lives of everyone he comes into contact with, without us ever really learning too much about him. At the same time the film is a comic mismatched ‘buddy’ movie, thanks to the well-timed interplay and chemistry between Gordon Alexander, Danny John Jules and Jimmy Kent. Playing like ‘High Plains Drifter’ meets ‘Only Fools and Horses’, by the end of the film you realise that Buchinsky has manipulated everyone for his own reasons and is the only character with a consistent overview of the whole picture.
‘While this is not an American action film, this is certainly not a ‘mockney’ cockney gangster film either as both Malcolm and I are very fond of European and Japanese cinema and we hope the film reflects that influence. This is our urban western but lets be honest, the best westerns of a generation were indirectly derived from Japanese cinema anyway.’
Above all else, ‘Sucker Punch’ is very much a human story about the dreams that drive us all, whilst questioning the often misguided nature of our aspirations and the true meaning of success. To this end Harley is an everyman, the little guy with big dreams desperate to prove his worth. Through the course of the film we realise that his idea of what constitutes success is flawed and what he aspires to, Maitland’s lifestyle, is ultimately sordid and second rate. Without realising it, he already stands for the indomitable human spirit, as despite all his flaws he is incorrigible, a rubber ball always bouncing back from whatever life throws at him. It takes the enigmatic Buchinsky to show him that he already has everything he needs within him to be a true success. It was this universal humanity to Harley that drew Danny John Jules to the film.
‘It has been a joy to work on and I don’t think you’ll ever get a film like this made at the film council because ‘Jobs for the boys’ just doesn’t cut it in this game. Where else can you get a Black lead in a movie that isn’t a bloodthirsty, gun-toting yardie rapist who has a penchant for smuggling drugs, dabbles in gay pedophiliac, wears baggy jeans, listens to So Solid and lives on a council estate with his single mother and eight brothers and sisters together with his four baby mothers and his twelve kids. Not in my lifetime! Big Up Sucker Punch!’
With Gordon Alexander and Ian Freeman as two of the leads and Danny John Jules sterling action sequences with Wesley Snipes in ‘Blade2’, action was always going to be an integral part of ‘Sucker Punch’ but everyone involved had firm beliefs about what they did and did not want to see from the action set-pieces. All were unified in being tired of wire-work, cranking (speeding up the action), triple somersault spin kicks and unrealistic reactions to shots, where stunt men were catapulted across the room from the simplest punch or kick. To the cast and crew of ‘Sucker Punch’ the modern action film had become over-stylised and totally over the top and they wanted to bring back a healthy dose of reality.
‘‘Action films don’t tend to have a dramatic content and we wanted to get the balance right so that you believe in the characters and care about them. It’s important to realise that whilst our action is important, the set pieces do link the story-they’re not the plot, they serve the plot and that is the big distinction between what we’re doing and other people are doing at the moment.’
Director Malcolm Martin led the way, by pointing everyone in the direction of ‘Hard Times’ the Charles Bronson/James Coburn 1970’s classic that features Bronson as Chaney, a bare knuckle fighter in the depression era. The fights were, by modern standards, simple and basic but they were hard, brutal, and believable and still resonate today, over thirty years later. The fighters involved in ‘Hard Times’ also looked like real bruisers, with a history etched on their battle-scarred faces. With so many tricks being utilised in modern action films the fighters have to be more of a gymnast and acrobat, so they tend to be younger and fresher faced, the result that a supposed bar-room brawl looks more like a scrap in a school dinner hall.
Whilst everyone involved with ‘Sucker Punch’ wanted the fights to be great and still have a certain style to them, they also wanted a raw, believable brutality that would ground the action in truth. Thus, Buchinsky gets hurt, he feels the punches, he bleeds, he is physically sick with fear. His opponents are rough and ready types, genuine tough guys and this is reflected in the action, where every unblocked kick or punch, knee or elbow, causes damage and fights can be over almost before they’ve begun
Similarly, the ‘Sucker Punch’ team were tired of watching films where the villain’s henchmen run around mob-handed in sharp suits and sun-glasses, tooled up for World War 3, managing to wipe out three quarters of the cast, yet somehow missing the hero and failing to draw the attention of the local police. There’s suspending disbelief and there’s taking the piss! ‘Sucker Punch’ is grounded more in reality, where ‘mobsters’ only ever grab a gun if they are going to use it, as gun crime means a far heavier sentence to a professional villain if caught. There are loose cannons and contract killers in real life but gun gang warfare and shootings on the streets of London are still front page newsworthy rare events and our urban slice of life story reflects that fact.
As a result, the action in ‘Sucker Punch’ harks back to the gritty days of the 1970’s, an era the film openly pays homage to, as the makers feel that the film-watching public are ready to go back to their roots and be emotionally involved with the action because it actually serves the plot and is not simply vacuous eye candy of the more is better variety.