It’s quite difficult to put into words just how strange this movie is. Gymkata is a 1985 martial arts movie starring Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas and it’s not so bad as it’s crazy. Right from the rather confusing opening scene, it grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the end some ninety minutes later. And it ends on an equally bonkers high note you have to see to believe it. We will be following Jonathan Cabot, a young gymnast approached by the CIA, oh I’m sorry, not CIA but SIA (Special Intelligence Agency) to enter a deadly competition in Pakistan, I’m sorry again, it’s Parmistan. The country’s name is Parmistan.
In retrospect, I don’t know why I didn’t figure that out from the opening scene featuring a guy doing acrobatics on a bar and a bunch of ninjas chasing someone in a field. Of course, Gymkata features ninjas, it is an eighties martial arts movie after all. Don’t worry, everything will be explained in an exposition dump just a couple of minutes later. Soon you’ll find out all aspects of this amazing story. I’m talking about nuclear weapons, satellites, ninjas, deadly tournaments, royal intrigue, and gymnastics. We shouldn’t forget about gymnastics as they’re the thing that makes this movie so entertaining but more about that later.
Now, to make things even weirder, Gymkata is based on a 1956 short story The Terrible Game written by Dan Tyler Moore. And the director is none other than Robert Clouse, the same guy who directed two Bruce Lee classics: Enter The Dragon and Game of Death. This is why the camera work and storytelling are pretty tight. Even the performances are not that bad for a movie of this size. What makes Gymkata fall into the so bad that it’s good category is the bizarreness of the story. And that bizarreness then leads to some unexpectedly hilarious scenes. They had to incorporate some aspect of gymnastics in almost every stunt.
Cabot is running away from the bad guys and he stumbles upon a bar he then uses to dispatch his unsuspecting enemies from above. I would like to go on and on about this but I want to leave that for you to discover. I will just tell you this, Gymkata holds a world record for a scene in a martial arts movie where most people get beat up by our hero. You’ll recognize it immediately as Cabot will again accidentally stumble upon another piece of gym equipment. He will kick and punch no less than 51 different individuals displaying his enviable athletic abilities. And almost all of these kicks feel like they’ve landed.
I’m guessing rules and regulations were quite loose in Yugoslavia back in 1985. Yes, Gymkata chose Yugoslavia, a country that doesn’t exist today to be Parmistan, a country that never existed. And don’t you dare trash that beautiful country as the shooting locations seem to be very similar to the ones we see in Game of Thrones. In case you didn’t know, large portions of that TV show were shot on the Adriatic coast, in Croatia, a country which used to be part of Yugoslavia. This, however, leads us to the rather crazy story about the infamous “Town of Crazies”.
According to the star of this movie, Kurt Thomas, the production cast real-life crazy people to play crazy people inhabiting the town. They were living at the local insane asylum at that time and were paid with alcohol and food. I want to look at this from a positive perspective as they get to be in a movie and do something different in their life. And just to be perfectly clear, the people Kurt hits were stuntmen. Speaking of him, Kurt is a true eighties specimen. Athletic, blonde, sporting both a mullet and a unibrow, his honest, deadpan performance is half the fun here. Not to mention his impeccable sense of fashion.
Apart from him we also have a gigantic mounting of a man simply called Thorg played by Bob Schott. Beautiful princess Rubaly is played by ex-Playboy model Tetchie Agbayani. And last but not least, Mel Brooks lookalike Buck Kartalian plays the role of The Kahn. Every time he proclaims YAKMALLA, I had to scream it at the screen passionately. Gymkata is so unpredictable that you simply cannot tell what the next scene is going to bring. Will it be a muscular black guy riding a horse? Perhaps a guy with a falcon on his shoulder?
Or your safest bet is a close-up shot of Kurt’s crotch in glorious blue gym micro shorts as he walks up the stairs on his hands? I’ve seen this movie last night and I have the urge to watch it again right now. It is that good. Gymkata has this special way of going from zero to 100.000 in a second. And then topping that in the next scene. If the surreal regular scenes don’t get you, the fights definitely will complete with hilarious sound effects. They reminded me of another excellent 1985 movie Ninja Terminator. If you’re looking for movies like Gymkata check out our selection of movies so bad that they’re good.
The movie is entertaining from start to finish featuring rather lavish production values with a lot of extras. This is a movie that will grow on you and before you know it, it will have a permanent place in your heart. And when you want to signal to other fans it’s time for another bad movie night featuring Gymkata, all you have to do is scream YAKMALLA!!!
Director: Robert Clouse
Writers: Charles Robert Carner, Dan Tyler Moore
Cast: Kurt Thomas, Tetchie Agbayani, Richard Norton, Buck Kartalian, Bob Schott, Eric Lawson
Fun Facts: The sweater Kurt Thomas wears is actually his own.