Best of the Best

Movie review by
JK Sooja, Common Sense Media
Best of the Best Movie Poster Image
Dated, racist fighting movie has violence, language.
  • PG-13
  • 1989
  • 97 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Not delivering the killing blow is not a loss but a victory. Friends stand by one another.

Positive Role Models & Representations

An Asian American, Phillip Rhee, plays Tommy Lee, who shares the main story arc alongside Eric Roberts's Alex Grady (Rhee also co-produced and co-wrote the film). While there are some dated racist remarks and racist portrayals of Asians and Asian Americans, the character of Tommy Lee doesn't have an accent, is arguably the main character (he's clearly the "best fighter"), and has as much screen time as Eric Roberts. As James Earl Jones declares during the final fight: "American hopes rest on Tommy Lee."


Lots of mild violence and fighting, some blood, bruises, and cuts, and some punishing training techniques like getting hit with large sticks to toughen up. There's a fair amount of punching and kicking, some knees to the face, and a bar brawl. Most of the violence feels very dated, even if it can get quite frequent. A man has his shoulder painfully popped back into place. Men sexually comment on women at a bar. A White man displays racist behavior and hate speech toward an Asian American teammate and Asian competitors, often using words such as "Chink," "yellow," "kim chi," "hop sin." A man grabs a woman's backside and makes out with her at a bar.


Male main characters talk about "getting laid." They also talk about "labium" but say incorrectly, "inner and outer labias." One man grabs his crotch and says that it's his "love muscle." 


Language includes: "s--t," "goddamn," "a--hole," "Chink," "yellow," "balls," and "hell."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink alcohol at a bar and some show drunken behavior. A few adults smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Best of the Best is a martial arts action movie from 1989 that stars Eric Roberts, James Earl Jones, and Phillip Rhee. Expect lots of fighting and brawling, in and out of "competition." Some blood is shown, but all of the punches and kicks come across as quite dated compared to today's action or fighting scene standards. Some faces are shown beaten, bruised, and bloodied. A man later has his shoulder painfully popped back into place. Men also talk about "getting laid," "love muscles," and make sexual comments about women. One White male character consistently shows racist behavior and language toward his Asian American teammate and South Korean competitors. Almost everything about the way South Koreans are depicted is wrong and racist (for example, their names are incorrect, and they speak in grunted gibberish). Language includes: "s--t," "goddamn," "Chink," "yellow," "a--hole," "balls," and "hell." Adults drink and smoke.

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What's the story?

In BEST OF THE BEST, Frank Couzo (James Earl Jones) needs to inspire and lead his new team of martial artists to victory against a strong South Korean team. Two of Team USA's strongest competitors are Alex Grady (Eric Roberts) and Tommy Lee (Phillip Rhee), who both have personal demons to purge. Can Team USA defeat the much tougher South Koreans? Will Alex and Tommy be victorious, both on and off the mat?

Is it any good?

Perhaps in attempts to capitalize on the success of the original Karate Kid movie series (1984-89), this unfortunate movie was green lit. But nothing about Best of the Best is accurate or good. Everything about the way this film depicts South Koreans, martial arts, and organized competition is wrong. The film's premise is dubious and racist, because for one, South Korea's national martial art is tae kwon do, while Japan's national martial art is karate. Especially given that the two nations have a very complicated history with one another, it might be particularly offensive to Japanese and Koreans both, as, for one, South Korea would never host a World Karate Championship. In other words, South Korea (amongst over 70 nations that have ever competed) hasn't won one medal during the entire history of World Karate Championship competitions.

The depiction of the South Koreans' karate team (which, again, itself doesn't make sense) is hilariously primal (they are often shown training in ridiculous ways: standing, flexing under a small waterfall, running through snow shirtless, getting whacked by large sticks over and over, being drilled relentlessly) and inaccurate (the "Korean" they speak is gibberish, and their "South Korean" names are inauthentic). And while the fighting is stylized and flashy, with lots of hits, trading back and forth, and brutality, none of it's remotely accurate (lots of moves aren't karate or tae kwon do, organized competition rules are completely nonexistent, tons of illegal strikes are allowed). On top of these issues, the film's treatment of women isn't admirable, the writing isn't great, and the acting produces many cringe-y moments. But also, for many of the above reasons, for some, this movie will be hilarious.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about violence in martial arts action films. How the does action and violence in Best of the Best compare to other similar films? Was it convincing? Why or why not?

  • Do you think the film's handling of racist behavior was okay? Why or why not?

  • If this movie was made today, what might be different?

Movie details

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Themes & Topics

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