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:
- Bar Brawl: The team goes to a bar to unwind, Travis hits on the bright idea of dancing with a pretty young thing, and when he faces off with her boyfriend, everything goes upside down.
- Badass Bookworm: Virgil looks the part, being a skinny, quiet guy with glasses who is a practicing Buddhist. He's also a martial artist good enough to become a member of America's Tae Kwan Do team, although he is on the wrong end of a Curb-Stomp Battle in the tournament itself.
- 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. Tommy nearly kills Dae Han in their own match, but his teammates and coach talk him out of delivering a final blow on an exhausted, barely conscious Dae Han.
- Defeat Means Friendship: After his defeat at the tournament, Dae Han becomes a friend to his American opponents.
- Determinator: Despite dislocating his shoulder, Alex Grady refuses to give into it the second time and demands that it is popped back into place. He then continues the match with one arm in a sling.
- Eyepatch of Power: One is sported by Dae Han, the leader of the Korean team who, years earlier, accidentally killed Tommy's brother in a similar tournament.
- "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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Title Drop: During Couzo's speech to the team, as quoted above.
- Training Montage: When the US team start getting their act together, a montage materializes.
- Villainous Valor: Dae Han is the chief antagonist as the captain of the Korean team, and is repeatedly shown to be a ruthless and dirty fighter with few scruples. (While the film's ending shows that he has something of a Hidden Heart of Gold and he secretly regrets accidentally killing Tommy's brother in a bout, there is no hint of this before the last five minutes of the film.) 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 the victory for his team. Despite coming dangerously close to literally dying in the ring and receiving a beating that probably takes years off his life, Dae Han refuses to give in until the final buzzer sounds. His tactics during the match may have been despicable, but nobody can say that he doesn't have guts.
- We All Live in America: 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.
- The X of Y
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.
- 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. 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 usually tend to devolve into this, in part because:Announcer: What are the rules?Audience: There Are No Rules!
- Numbered Sequels
- 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.
- You Kill It, You Bought It: After Tommy kills Brakus, the Colosseum is offered to him.
- Worthy Opponent: Even though he wants to kill him, Brakus considers Tommy the one opponent who would pose a challenge to him.