"Today, you have the chance to be the greatest martial artists in the world. It's up to you. If you give everything you've got, everything, you'll be winners. That I promise you. You can be the best of the best."
— Frank Couzo
Best of the Best is a 1989 sports movie about competitive martial arts, directed by Bob Radler and starring Philip Rhee, James Earl Jones, Eric Roberts, and Chris Penn.
A group of American martial artists are selected and train to face off against South Korea in a Tae Kwon Do tournament that the Koreans have dominated for years. As they prepare to face an extremely talented and intensely devoted Korean team, the Americans must overcome differences among themselves and some personal demons.
The film got three sequels in the nineties, all of which were more typical action movies.
The first movie features examples of:
- Acrofatic: Travis is on the pudgy side, but is no less skilled in combat than his thinner counterparts.
- Badass Bookworm: Virgil looks the part, being a skinny, quiet guy with glasses who is a practicing Buddhist, yet also a skilled enough martial artist to make America's Tae Kwan Do team. Downplayed when he ends up on the wrong end of a Curb-Stomp Battle in the competition itself.
- Bar Brawl: The team goes to a bar to unwind, Travis hits on the bright idea of dancing with a pretty young woman. When her boyfriend comes back and sees the two dancing, everything quickly turns into a chaotic brawl.
- Brick Break: Occurs twice in the film; once during a demonstration by Ms. Wade, and again in the tournament itself. Also doubles as Chekhov's Skill.
- Casualty in the Ring: Years before the start of the film, Tommy's brother died in a match with Dae Han.
- Creator's Culture Carryover: The South Korean Tae Kwon Do team is cheered for their country as "Korea, Korea!" while it should've been "Hanguk, Hanguk!" "Daehan Minguk," being another possibility.
- Defeat Means Friendship: Though which team was truly "defeated" is something of a matter for debate, it remains that the way Tommy spared Dae Han's life in the final match (at the cost of the American team's victory) impressed Dae Han enough not only for him to express remorse for his earlier killing of Tommy's brother, but to offer himself as a brother to Tommy. The rest of the South Korean team then approach the other American fighters in a display of friendship.
- Despite dislocating his shoulder, Alex Grady refuses to give up or let his bad shoulder end his dreams a second time, and demands that it be popped back into place. He then continues the match with one arm in a sling, and manages to win.
- In the final match, Tommy and Dae Han endure an almost ridiculous amount of punishment from each other, with neither yielding.
- Exposed to the Elements: The Korean team trains shirtless in the snow chopping trees with the back of their hands.
- Eyepatch of Power: Dae Han, the leader of the South Korean team, sports an eyepatch. In accordance with the trope, he both is a badass fighter and is never depicted having any problems with depth perception.
- The Generic Guy: Four of the five members of the American team either have a character arc, or at least some sort of characteristic that humanizes them and makes them stand out for the audience. Tommy has the potential to be the team's best fighter, and he has to wrestle with the fact that his older brother died in a competitive fight and Tommy is going to be facing the man who killed his brother. Alex is the older veteran, who is struggling to come back from an injury that should have ended his career and who has to balance the responsibilities of having a family and a son while taking one last shot at an athletic career. Travis is a Boisterous Bruiser and a stereotypical American hothead and trash talker. Virgil is the exact opposite, coming off as a surprisingly quiet, seemingly nerdy and mild mannered guy for a fighter who's also a practicing Buddhist, something that marks him as unusual. The fifth member of the team, Sonny Grasso, is... just kind of there. The closest thing he gets to characterization is coming off as something of a Casanova Wannabe when he's puzzled at the fact that women aren't throwing themselves at him in the bar despite the fact that he's Italian. The other members of the team promptly note that even Virgil is having better luck.
- "Hey, You!" Haymaker: Attempted when an angry bar patron tries to take revenge on Travis for dancing with his girlfriend. Subverted when Travis ducks, leaving her to take the punch that ultimately leads to a Bar Brawl.Travis: Well, that's a good move, Burt! Don't take any lip from her.
- Hidden Heart of Gold: For all his ruthlessness, Dae Han is revealed to regret having killed Tommy's brother, and cares enough about honor to forfeit his medal to Tommy, who "saved a life in defeat".
- Hot-Blooded: Travis is a hothead who tends to shoot off at the mouth, either by making smartass remarks or engaging in Trash Talk.
- It's Personal: Tommy isn't just interested in winning the competition, he wants revenge on Dae Han for the death of his brother.
- Jerkass: Travis is far and away the most antisocial of the American fighters, although he steadily becomes more supportive of the team as the story progresses.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
- Coach Couzo presents himself as a callous hardass who only cares about winning, throwing Alex off the team when he leaves to visit his injured son and placing Tommy against Dae Han despite knowing that Dae Han killed Tommy's brother. It's all a facade to ensure his students do their best and remain safe, since going too easy on his students in his youth led to the death of Tommy's brother.
- Dae Han. He's quite smug and a dirty fighter, but does have a sense of honor, giving his medal to Tommy after the latter spared his life. He also apologizes for killing Tommy's brother and offers himself as a brother to Tommy.
- Travis spends most of the film being a dick to his teammates and everyone else. But once Alex and Tommy are kicked off the team, he implores the coach to bring them back and makes peace with them when they return.
- Limited Reference Pools: All throughout the movie, the sport of Tae-Kwon-Do is constantly referred to as Karate, even though it is blatantly obvious what it is supposed to be, as it is the South Korean national sport where the South Koreans are powerhouses on the international scene. Also, anyone who has the tiniest familiarity with Karate and Tae-Kwon-Do can tell the two apart at a glance, but it was the 80s and Karate was far better known in the US.
- Meditating Under a Waterfall: The South Korean Taekwondo team is shown standing under a waterfall during their training.
- Meta Casting: At the end of the film after the big match, Dae Han apologies to Tommy for the death of Tommy's brother and offers himself to act as a brother to Tommy. The actors playing Tommy and Dae Han are real life brothers.
- My Greatest Failure: Frank Couzo coached the team that Tommy's older brother was on, and blames the death on himself due to going too easy on his students in training.
- Politically Incorrect Hero: Travis. Aside from being a vulgarity-spewing jerkass in general, an early scene has him attempt to rile Tommy up with a blatantly racist joke. As noted elsewhere, he steadily grows into less of a jerkass, to the point of imploring Coach Couzo to let Tommy (and Alex) stay on the team.
- Second Place Is for Winners: The first Best Of The Best offered one of the most famous examples of this trope. The American team loses the tournament because Tommy has beaten Dae Han to the verge of death, but refrains from delivering another strike even though it would give his team the points they needed to win. At the award ceremony, the South Korean fighters are sufficiently impressed with Tommy's honorable act that they give their medals to the American fighters.
- Title Drop: During Couzo's speech to the team, as quoted above.
- Training Montage: Both the American and Korean teams get several of these, and they take up a not-insignificant amount of the film's running time.
- Trash Talk: Travis freely dispenses this whenever he (or the team) are challenged.Travis: Yeah! Drop him like a toilet seat, Tommy!
- Underdogs Never Lose: Zig-zagged because the underdog American team did lose, if only because Tommy was too honorable to keep attacking (and scoring) when Dae Han was almost dead. However, the South Korean team are so impressed by this act that they give their medals to the American team anyway.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: When the American team gets into a massive Bar Brawl, Couch Couzo sits at the bar passively, watching all the violence around him with a bored expression.
- Villainous Valor: Dae Han is the chief antagonist as the captain of the South Korean team, and is repeatedly shown to be a ruthless and dirty fighter with seemingly few scruples. However, nobody can deny that the man has courage and determination, because as his bout with Tommy increasingly turns into a one-sided beatdown with Dae Han on the receiving end, the man keeps coming back for more. Tommy deals out ludicrous amounts of punishment and Dae Han gets back up every time, launching increasingly desperate attempts to counterattack or to simply stay conscious and alive long enough to secure victory for his team. Despite coming dangerously close to literally dying in the ring and taking a beating that probably shaved years off his life, Dae Han refuses to give in before the final buzzer sounds. His tactics during the match may have been despicable, but he clearly has a Rocky level of grit.
- The X of Y: Used for the title.
The sequels have the examples of:
- Actionized Sequel: The sequels shift into a standard action movie when compared to the traditional sports movie of the first.
- Because I'm Jonesy: A variant. Near the end of the second movie, a stereotypical Texan asks Dae Han where he's from. Dae Han responds "Houston" but badly mispronounces the city name. The Texan just walks away laughing himself silly instead of calling Dae Han on it, or alerting the club's security about the suspicious character hanging around, however.
- Combat Pragmatist: In the second movie, the first opponent Tommy must face in the Colosseum is a champion boxer, with the announcer playing up the My Kung-Fu Is Stronger Than Yours angle of the titanic contest of styles that is surely about to unfold. Tommy begins - and ends - the fight by shattering the boxer's knee.
- Cynical Mentor: Tommy's uncle James, a washed-up (and jerkass) martial arts master who helps Tommy train for his confrontation with Brakus in the second movie. James initially doesn't care about Tommy's quest, but only agrees to help because he will otherwise be evicted by his own mother.
- Demoted to Extra: Dae Han was the antagonist of the first film and among the world's most badass martial artists. After the Defeat Equals Friendship ending of Best of the Best, he returns in Best of the Best 2... to assist Alex and Tommy in a fight or two with Brakus' henchmen. While it was neat seeing Dae Han again, we must sadly recognize the presence of this trope, too.
- Does Not Like Guns: Unusually, it's the Big Bad of the second movie, Brakus, who dislikes guns. That serves as the excuse for why his security team don't blow Alex, Dae Han, and other intruders away instantly when they come Storming the Castle.
- Fight Clubbing: The second movie deals with an underground fighting ring (though borrowing a page from the UFC with Wayne Newton acting as an underworld Bruce Buffer). Travis takes part in it, only to be killed by the club's champion. The attempts by the criminals to keep Travis' death quiet and to silence Alex Grady's son, who witnessed it all, gets Tommy and Alex caught up in it too.
- Genre Shift: The first movie is considered a standard sports movie while the sequels that followed, especially 2, are straight up action films.
- The Mafiya: They are the antagonists of the fourth film.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Alex Grady and Tommy Lee. Built-up in the first movie, demonstrated in the 2nd movie.
- No-Holds-Barred Contest: The Colosseum fights in 2, in part because:Announcer: What are the rules?Audience: There Are No Rules!
- Numbered Sequels
- The Obi-Wan: Uncle James in the second movie. Like Luke Skywalker before him, Tommy does not get to complete his training on account of his mentor's violent death.
- The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Brakus takes this stance to Tommy after their first confrontation, where a strike from Tommy caused Brakus to fall into a mirror and scar his face. Brakus orders his henchmen to hunt down Alex, Tommy, and Walter... but wants Tommy brought in alive.
- Storming the Castle: In the second movie while Tommy fights for his life in the Colosseum, Alex, Dae Han, and a nameless friend of Dae Han's go through the building, beating up the hopelessly outmatched security staff as they make their way towards the ring so they can save Tommy.
- Given that both Sae Jin Kwon and Yung June are listed in the credits, the nameless friend who accompanies Dae Han is likely intended to be one of his Korean teammates from the first film.
- Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: The main conflict in the second film is set in motion when Travis dies in a fight against the Big Bad.
- Too Dumb to Live: Besides signing up for a fight to the death without telling anyone, Travis arrogantly demands a match with Brakus, despite that the latter is built like a Mr. Olympia-class bodybuilder while Travis himself is... noticeably less chiseled. While strength isn't everything in a fight, Brakus nonetheless kills Travis with humiliating ease.
- You Kill It, You Bought It: After Tommy kills Brakus, the Colosseum is offered to him. Tommy immediately closes the Colosseum.
- Worthy Opponent: Even though he wants to kill him, Brakus considers Tommy the one opponent who would pose a challenge to him.