Fight Circle
review by Elias Savada, 16 April 2004

Being an online film critic means receiving a regular slew of local press screening notices and an occasional email from someone with a small film who wants feedback. That's what I'm here for, of course. You get the good, the bad, or the ugly in about 800 words about 50 times a year from yours truly. In mid February I got that irregular email from Donald Whittier, a good ole boy raised in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A successful local entrepreneur, real estate developer, and Tae Kwon Do expert, he grew up making Super8 home movies. He's now graduating to the "big time" with Fight Circle (, billed as "America's first feature-length martial arts film." You can't watch it in the theatres, on cable television, or on dvd from your local blockbuster. It's only on your computer, and you better have a broadband connection to boot. To build word of mouth, Don's pounding the world wide web and offering critics a free pass. For the rest of you, it's seven bucks for a 9-chapter, 89-minute, 750+ megabyte streaming video excursion. One recent weekend, the website was offering it at 50% off. Bargain matinee. It's been available for your viewing since 2:04 pm on February 4th, for those of you taking notes. People are interested, at least, over 70,000 visitors having watched the film's trailer within the first few weeks of the ultra-low budget, larger intentioned project's availability ("FC has its own score" Whittier proudly exclaimed in a recent instant message), most of those viewers brought in by web advertising, banner ads, and geek website

As for the film, like with most circles it's pointless. Granted, I've seen worse on budgets way above those that Mr. Whittier has pieced his picture together. In Fight Circle there are a series of fights using sticks, fists, hands, feet, swords, etc., out in the lush, green woods where everyone runs around barefooted and lives in tents and other assorted structures. The first brief battle finds the boastful Gabby (Jim Coyne), one of the sparsely-clothed warriors that troll the forest, defeating the mighty Undan and returning with the spoils -- a necklace snatched from the great one's neck. Meanwhile Nemo (Ad Santell, a.k.a. the film's director of photography) and his impatient, yet feisty female cousin Paky have small talk about this fight circle thingee (she wants in, maybe -- her dad was a member. Or maybe she saw Uma Thurman in Kill Bill and wants a piece of that action.). Physically, it's a small round "c (as in male chauvinist)-shaped" clearing with scrawny tree saplings and flat  stones dotting its circumference. The metaphysical circle, however, has apparently fallen on spiritual hard times (everyone's opting for the country club just outside the forest, perhaps), but one Zen-like character warns that "the fight circle only kills young men and creates monsters."

Goody, now you think there might be some neato special effects. Maybe something nasty out in the medieval woodshed? Well, the only thing wooden is the acting, and some of that is real nasty. There's a hooded guy who frees Nemo (or is it Mullag?) and Paky. When did they get tied up anyway, and why? Seems everyone roaming the woods has an axe to grind.

Low rumble percussion and occasional bagpipe soundtrack/score (by Robert Hunt) bombards the numerous fisticuffs, grunts, and groans that erupt every few minutes. "The circle is not about killing," one of the contestants  remarks.

"So what," I answered back. (Seems I can do that when it's an audience of one.) Let Paky get the Gordon Liu treatment from the older guy who rescued her and her cousin, who is page to the real Undan (Runyon Woods), who's not dead at all, just retired to a job coaching from the muddy sidelines.

As for bad guys, there's Kas (Kas DeCarvalho), a well toned specimen in leather skirt with a marine's physique and a clean-shaven head. He snaps necks as if they're about to go out of season. In the full circle game he's not playing fair.

So Mullag (Thomas Shanks) and Paky (Anna Henke) train on their own agenda, with the young lad boasting that he's cooked 10,000 more meals than she ever has, and she's told to put all the stones back in the river. Huh? What kind of lessons are we learning? Great parables are had to come by, even if easily accessible on the internet.

There's a lame story line about Mullag pining away amongst the pine trees for Paky, wounded in one of those forest encounters and then running off to heal, or get revenge, but instead finds the handsome Trebor (Sam Hargrave), a master like Undan. Paky, it seems, had stolen Undan's revered chronicle, but it takes Trebor over a year to berate her for the theft, but she does learn the warrior's way in the meanwhile. It's all rather silly. There's talk about levels. Fighting levels. Paky, starting in the amateur league, obviously dreams of a Friday Night Fight at Madison Square Garden.

In tune with the budget, the screenwriting could have used a heavy dose of rewrite. Micro funded doesn't mean it has to be low caliber. On the plus side, the digital production looks and sounds fine, even those handful of by-the-campfire night shots. Chapter Seven's face off against Trebor and Kas is nicely choreographed and provides the only startling plot twist in the film. Unfortunately, nothing comes of it.

Because of the forest dampness, Full Circle might be considered moss see entertainment. (That's the late night humor setting in.) As for the characters that tread about it's arbor field, they're mostly forgettable. For producer-director-writer Donald Whittier, no doubt Full Circle was a nice learning experience, but that doesn't mean everyone on the internet need sit in on this class project.

Written and
Directed by:

Donald Whitti

Anna Henke
Runyon Woods
Thomas Shanks
Sam Hargrave
Kas DeCarvalho

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
been rated.






  Copyright © 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.