He has directed and starred in many memorable films of that caliber, such as “Tiger Claws”, “Talons of the Eagle”, “Expect to Die” (bad, but still memorable).
Merhi was also responsible for directing three martial arts movies entitled “The Circuit” – a cliche story about a ex-underground champion fighter Dirk Longstreet (Olivier Gruner), who has to return to “the circuit” for his own reasons.
The first film of the series packed some familiar faces, such as Billy Drago in a surprising “good guy” role, Bryan Genesse (sadly a non-fighting part), Loren Avedon, sexy Gail Harris, and Michael Blanks (Billy “Tae Bo” Blanks’ little brother).
Despite badly choreographed fights, “The Circuit” was enjoyable, and Gruner was a great fit for Dirk Longstreet. Besides this probably is the only film where you can see Billy Dragon playing a good guy, who’s also a martial arts trainer.
Sadly, from the first part, it all went downhill. “The Circuit 2” had even worse fights, and despite bringing back Gruner, Harris, Avedon, and adding Gary Hudson and another 90’s action star Lorenzo Lamas in the film, it really didn’t help much.
“The Circuit 3” quickly fell into the category of films that few people heard about somewhere, and yet the film was not available anywhere.
Also directed by Jalal Merhi, “The Circuit 3” allegedly had problems with financing, distribution and a lot of other things, and eventually it did surface in a roughly edited version online back in 2010.
That same year, a collection “Circuit – the Complete Collection” was released in DVD in New Zealand.
One good thing about “The Circuit” series was that Jalal Merhi kept the storyline going, staying close to his main characters, mostly Dirk Longstreet. Olivier Gruner reprised his role, and in the end of the film he faces off against James Lew and the “ebony twins” – Jamal and James Duff.
Again, the fighting choreography was far from solid, and overall the film wasn’t any better from “The Circuit 2”.
Like already mentioned, Merhi (who appears in all three films as “editor Bill”) had an interesting storyline with how Dirk Longstreet’s life was going, and probably improving the fight scenes would have helped a lot.
It’s safe to assume that “The Circuit” wasn’t considered commercially viable, and the trilogy was released at a bad time – the 90’s action craze was gone, and it was still about 4-5 years before the UFC-style film craze began. Aside from that “The Circuit” just wouldn’t be able to compete against these MMA movies.
When BZFilm talked to Jalal Merhi back in 2010, he was asked whether his future plans would include gathering the 90s action stars (Matthias Hues, Loren Avedon, Billy Blanks, Lorenzo Lamas) for a film.
Merhi made it clear that such thing will not happen, saying “They are all great, but I do not like to go back to the past.”
Merhi did stick to his words – after making “The Circuit 3”, he made TV-series “Soccer Dreams”, and then “The Conspiracy Show with Richard Syrett” – both far from action and martial arts movies he’s known for.
In the end, it is sad that the story of Dirk Longstreet was never developed the right way. Merhi went as far as making three films with pretty much the same characters and similar stories. He might have as well gone for the TV-series.
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