Many people know Mark Dacascos as The Chairman in Food Network’s Iron Chef America, a role that he returns to this week as Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend comes to Netflix. But Dacascos is also one of the best screen fighters we’ve ever been blessed to see gracing our screens, delivering some quintessential action performances in the ’90s and beyond that remain remarkable to this day.
Dacascos’ unique combination of charm and skill coupled with his laid-back attitude made him stand out from other martial arts stars of his era, like the much more intense Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme. While he never got the shot at major stardom that those other two did, he’s seeing a wonderful little career resurgence recently, playing the lead villain in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, voicing a main part in the solid Batman animated movie Batman: Soul of the Dragon, and reportedly joining the cast of Cinemax’s excellent martial arts television show Warrior for its third season.
Dacascos was also one of the best interviews on Scott Adkins’ excellent Art of Action interview series, diving into his life and career. It’s well worth your time.
While some of his best movies (including the capoeira drama Only the Strong and the live-action adaptation of Crying Freeman) are not currently available to watch at home, these three are, and they all rule while also providing terrific displays of Dacascos’ talents.
This is my personal favorite of Dacascos’ movies, and it made our list of our favorite martial arts films you can watch at home. In Drive, Dacascos plays a superhuman escaping a group of deadly assassins. His laidback charm, good looks, and terrific martial arts skills suit the role of a bionic man. Along the way, he teams up with a down-on-his luck songwriter (Kadeem Hardison) and a motelier (a very charming Brittany Murphy, in an early role). —Pete Volk
Drive is available to stream for free with ads on Vudu, Tubi, and Pluto TV.
Brotherhood of the Wolf
Dacascos stars opposite Samuel Le Bihan in Christophe Gans’ 2001 martial arts-action-horror period film Brotherhood of the Wolf as Mani, the formidable and ever-loyal Iroquois companion to Sir Grégoire de Fronsac, a knight and royal naturalist of King Louis XV. When the province of Gévaudan is besieged by a mysterious rash of murders perpetrated by some unknown creature, Fronsac and Mani are dispatched to investigate. What they find is a conspiracy that threatens not only the local townspeople, but a plot that could topple the French monarchy if not stopped.
Dacascos’ Mani is a noble warrior of few words and swift actions, the kind of guy who’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe (and blow-for-blow) against a gang of devious combatants or a horrifying armor-plated monster. Seriously, this guy could’ve given the Predator a run for his money. If you love swashbuckling sword duels, martial arts fight scenes, tricorne hats, and Monica Bellucci (’nuff said), Brotherhood of the Wolf is a must-see installment in the canon of Dacascos’ best performances. —Toussaint Egan
Brotherhood of the Wolf is available to stream on Shudder.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Dacascos wasn’t initially slated to be the lead villain in this movie. Per his interview with Adkins (linked above), he was working with famed Shakespeare teacher Patsy Rodenburg when director Chad Stahelski asked if he would be willing to do a cameo in the new John Wick movie, with maybe a line of dialogue and a short fight. Dacascos agreed, and when the actor originally slated to play the villain dropped out of the part, suddenly our guy was in line for a much meatier role.
The Wick series redefined modern action in many ways, and the third installment is the most martial arts-heavy of the bunch. It’s a shift for the series that suits Dacascos well — he plays Zero, an assassin hunting Wick, and has a showstopper of an ending fight scene on a floor filled with glass panes. That scene took three to four weeks to shoot, Dacascos estimated, and he said he nearly walked into one of those glass panes about a “half a dozen times.” —PV
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is available to rent on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.