This review is by special request of several individuals on the STONE COLD DVD talkback and other people over the years who have tried to get me to watch this movie. The Perfect Weapon of the title in this 1991 white martial arts movie is Jeff Speakman, an American Kenpo Karate sixth degree black belt who I guess is playing himself, since they just call him Jeff. The movie opens with Jeff shirtless and oiled up, in a living room doing karate moves to that horrible song “I Got the Power (It’s Gettin It’s Gettin It’s Gettin Kinda Hectic It’s Gettin It’s Gettin It’s Getting Kinda Hectic I Got the Power!)” by the group Snap!. It’s funny because this movie is only 85 minutes long but they still felt they had time for him to do moves to that entire song. As it ends he puffs his chest out like he just won a medal.
Then Jeff goes for a ride in his convertible and as he soaks in the open road he thinks about his past. So we learn that after his mom died he was a troublemaking kid, and his cop dad wanted to send him to military school. Fortunately Pops’s Korean war buddy Kim (the great Mako) convinced him to send Jeff to Kenpo Karate Dojo instead. To learn self discipline.
(after this flashback Jeff smiles nostalgically)
But in high school some jock assholes picked on his brother so he did some flying kicks, broke a football helmet and hospitalized the guy. So his dad worried that he was gonna kill somebody some day and kicked him out of the house.
(after this one he frowns).
So now as an adult Jeff is estranged from his family but sees Kim, now owner of successful Koreatown business Kim’s Imports, as sort of a father figure. Luckily he happens to call Kim to chat at the same time that the Korean mafia is shaking him down. Kim convinces Jeff to stay out of it but, obviously, the mafia guys kill him so Jeff has to bring them to justice and/or get his white karate revenge.
Jeff Speakman seems to be good at karate, but he does not have much of a screen presence. That’s why he never had an UNDER SIEGE type breakout. I guess he’s supposed to have a dark side, and he tries to talk like Clint Eastwood sometimes, but he still seems like the nice jock boyfriend character in a horror movie. The good guy counselor in a movie like THE BURNING or a FRIDAY THE 13TH sequel who gallantly helps the final girl but gets killed 2/3 of the way in. He’s not terrible, but he’s pretty bland. I can’t really picture many people watching the movie and thinking man, Jeff Speakman is so cool. I want to be Jeff Speakman.
If you don’t know what he looks like, just picture a white karate guy from the ’80s, but then imagine he has no mustache. That’s Jeff Speakman. Actually, when he’s not in closeup he looks alot like the captain guy from SERENITY. Similar hairdo and jacket, anyway. Maybe he was the stunt double, I don’t know.
There are plenty of funny parts in this movie, but to be frankly honest I do not think it’s the classic I was led to believe it was. You probaly had to see it at the time to really be attached to it. There was a part where he was beating on a couch with two sticks which kind of made me smile, but not like it did for the people who love this movie. I did like when the old businessman villain suddenly had a knife pop out of his sleeve. My favorite part though is when Jeff pole vaults over a barbwire fence. It had been established in the high school flashback that he was a pole vaulter, but I didn’t really believe he would use it. It would be even cooler if he did it a whole bunch of times. Hey, there is a car driving at me, let me grab this pipe that’s on the ground and pole vault over it. Anyway, that was cool. That woulda been fucked up if he hit the barbed wire, too. That’s a good stunt.
Although the main villain is the old man with the knife up his sleeve, the guy he mainly fights is the old man’s henchman, Professor Toru Tanaka as the imaginatively named character “Tanaka.” You may know the professor from his scholarly work in THE RUNNING MAN or as the fat rich kid’s butler in PEE-WEE’S INCREDIBLE JOURNEY. He’s the Hawaiin (supposedly Japanese) ex-pro-wrestler with the giant head and shoulders. In this movie he is always wearing a nice suit and he looks like he could bite the head off of a car. In fact, when he gets trapped in a sideways car with another car balanced on top of it he actually opens the door and pushes the other car aside. He’s like the incredible hulk. The cops shock him and take him into custody but when he comes to he busts out of the back of the cop car. Honestly it’s probaly for the best because if they put him in a cell he woulda busted out of there like Kool Aid Man. Easier to get a new car than fix a hole in a brick wall.
He’s so tough in fact that even though he’s the #2 villain he survives longer than the #1 villain and has the climactic showdown (and a pretty good death by chemical explosion).
And it got me wondering. How come nobody ever made a movie starring this guy? I looked through his filmography and it looks like he never got a lead role (he died in 2000). He was in the tradition of Oddjob from GOLDFINGER, always playing the faithful asskicking Asian bodyguard. Many of his character names ended with the word “Guard,” “Aide,” “Servant,” or “Bodyguard,” if not a #1 or #2.
But in my opinion he was the Perfect Weapon. Well, okay, he got blown up, so he wasn’t quite perfect. But human weapons are only human. He is almost the perfect weapon. To me he stole the movie. I was more interested in watching him than watching Jeff Speakman. I’m sure any filmatist faced with the task of creating a Professor Toru Tanaka vehicle would’ve thought he wasn’t a good enough actor, but clearly nobody worried about that with Jeff Speakman. Let’s be fair here. If Jeff could pull it off then so could the Professor. And it would be so much more interesting to watch a guy like this, because you don’t ever see a guy like this as a lead. What is it like to live your life at that size? It helps him kick ass, but also it’s hard to find a seat that fits him. It must be expensive for him to get those nice suits tailored. And let’s face it, it’s gonna be a handicap in the dating scene. He’s more badass than Jeff — he knows jiujitsu but if he’d rather he could just palm your face and shake you around — but you also feel more sorry for him. Damn, somebody should’ve tried it at least once.
Jeff Speakman graduated from “Mansion Security Man” in LIONHEART to “Jeff” in this one. And Mariska Hargitay went from non-speaking karate friend “Jennifer” in this movie to Emmy winner for LAW AND ORDER SPECIAL VICTIM UNIT. So why couldn’t Toru Tanaka go from “Tough Asian Man” in THE LAST ACTION HERO to, say, Jason Patric’s role in SPEED 2? Wouldn’t that have been better?
You blew it, Hollywood. Shame on you.
Anyway, thanks for the tip guys.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.