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Film / Gymkata

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Hu! Ha! Gymkata!

"You are invited to witness the deadliest martial art of them all..."

Gymkata is a 1985 American-Japanese martial arts action film based on Dan Tyler Moore's 1957 novel The Terrible Game. Shot in Yugoslavia, the film stars Kurt Thomas as Jonathan Cabot, an Olympic-levelnote  gymnast who combines his gymnastic ability with ninjutsu to enter a deadly competition in a fictional country, Parmistan. It has developed a cult following as an unintentional comedy for its dubious premise, poor production quality and low budget.

The United States "Special Intelligence Agency (SIA)" wishes to set up a site in the Hindu Kush mountain range of fictional Parmistan to support a satellite monitoring station, which will aid the US in preventing possible nuclear attacks. Before the US can go forward, however, they must gain permission from the Khan of Parmistan (Buck Kartalian). The Khan will allow the US to build their station only if they assign a designated champion to participate in "The Game". The Game is a deadly athletic competition where the victor earns the right to their life and is granted one wish. Apparently no foreigner has won the game in nine centuries, but the US approaches Olympic gymnast Jonathan Cabot (Kurt Thomas) to be their champion. Cabot is informed that the previous athlete the US sent to participate in The Game went missing in action; not only was this athlete an SIA operative, he was also Cabot's father.

Although Cabot is a world class gymnast, he lacks the survival skills to endure the deadly nature of The Game. He will be pursued by ninja-like Parmistani warriors who will stop at nothing to kill Cabot. In order to have a fighting chance in The Game, Cabot receives invaluable training from an unnamed Japanese martial arts master (Tadashi Yamashita) and Princess Rubali (Tetchie Agbayani), daughter to the Khan of Parmistan. He undergoes a rigorous regimen of weapons training, fighting styles and climbing up and down stairs on his hands. This amalgamation of martial arts and Cabot's gymnastics skills give birth to a new discipline deemed Gymkata. Towards the end of his two-month training period, Cabot makes a romantic advance upon Princess Rubali. She initially resists, but then succumbs to him.

For the general trope of gymnastic moves being used for combat, see She-Fu or Dance Battler.

Gymkata has examples of:

  • Benevolent Architecture: It's amazing how much of Parmistan's architecture just happens to look and function like gymnastics equipment. It's a good thing that the goat tether's loops happen to be on top of it so it can be used as a pommel horse, and those random, haphazard steel pipes just happen to be at the right distance from one another to be uneven parallel bars.
  • Broken Pedestal: Of a sort. Cabot tries to compliment Thorg, who's also apparently an athlete of some kind, by saying he's admired the guy since Munich. The big lug cold-shoulders him right away, showing himself to be something of a dick. By the time he's beating the crap out of Cabot and strangling another contestant to death, it becomes obvious that Thorg isn't just a dick, but a psychotic dick.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land: The crazy town Cabot has to go through as part of the game, which includes a guy who cuts off his own hand in the middle of fight because he couldn't let go of a pipe he grabbed for some reason.
  • Cold War: The whole point of sending Cabot to compete is so the U.S. can set up a satellite base as part of the S.D.I. program.
  • Death Course: The Game is already fraught with danger, and Zamir's determination to prevent any competitors from winning makes it even deadlier than usual; he and his mooks kill two-thirds of them before the halfway point.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Thorg could have easily survived, if not won the race, had he prioritized making it to the finish line over bumping off his fellow competitors.
  • Disappeared Dad: The elder Cabot never finished the Game, and is seen being shot and plunging into a canyon at the beginning of the movie. Of course, they Never Found the Body...
  • Film of the Book: The novel on which the film is based, The Terrible Game, has nothing to do with gymnastics.
  • Friendly Rivalry: Gomez. He's competing against Cabot but is an amiable guy who helps try to keep them both alive. Sadly, he doesn't make it out of the Village of Crazies.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: One of the ninjas had an aim that was so bad that when commanded to kill a failing contestant, he shoots the ninja holding him.
  • Insane Equals Violent: The Village of Crazies is filled with people who are violently crazy enough to butcher anyone who enters. Somehow, they're also rational enough to not deliberately attack each other.
  • Insistent Terminology: "Karabal— by the Caspian Sea" (As opposed to, presumably, Karabal by the Mediterranean or Irish Seas...)
  • Mook Chivalry: A particularly egregious example. In the pommel horse fight scene, all the mooks look somewhat menacing with their pitchforks and such, but they're not even making an effort to appear as if they're aching to jump Cabot if not for his combat skills. Most are quite literally just standing still until its their turn.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Kurt Thomas has a gymnast's body, and is often in skimpy shorts.
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: As an athlete, Kurt Thomas was an excellent gymnast. As an actor... Kurt Thomas was an excellent gymnast.
  • Ruritania: Parmistan appears to be a weird mashup of East European and Arabic cultures, with a little bit of East Asian flavor thrown in as well.
  • Town Full Of Crazy: And the seemingly Only Sane Man is a priest with his garb cut in the back to show off his ass.
  • Tempting Fate: "Just a little anti-American sentiment, nothing to worry—" Cue arrow to the chest from off-screen.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The village at the end of the Game route is populated entirely by lunatics.