SHADOW FURY is a cheap-ass 2001 sci-fi action movie about clones. It has one of those inexcusable keyboard-pretending-to-be-an-orchestra scores and the acting and dialogue are at higher cheesiness levels than I’ll usually put up with, i.e. worse than a SCANNERS sequel. But I really liked this movie because it rarely goes more than a couple minutes without a really cool action scene, a clever concept or a (usually unintentional) laugh. It has a similar energy to an early Isaac Florentine, so it fits that the director, Makoto Yokoyama, did second unit and stunts for the Power Rangers. An IMDb search finds 7 specific episodes directed by Florentine with Yokoyama on 2nd unit. So let’s call him the 2nd unit Florentine.
Although not on the level of BEST OF THE BEST 2 I consider this a real good find, and movies like this are the reason why I keep giving a shot to seemingly hopeless cases. The American DVD cover is so lame I didn’t even want to include it with this review, and since it’s not a book I was happy to judge it by its cover. I figured it was most likely unwatchable (I’ll explain later why I sought it out), so I was pleasantly surprised by the great opening ninja-assassination. The ninja (who we later learn is a clone made by feudal-Japan-obsessed mad scientist Pat Morita to kill rival scientists) jumps on top of a moving car, stabs his sword through the roof into the driver, causing the car to crash, sending him flying but then he somersaults smoothly onto his feet and of course does an awesome unflinching walk away as the car explodes behind him. Cut to the title. It would be an OUT FOR JUSTICE level opening for the record books if not for the shitty title font and keyboard soundtrack. Where is the RZA when you need him to re-score a movie?
Right away you notice this is not some generic throwaway ninja. He’s unmasked and has a striking screen presence. I figured he was a famous Japanese actor, but the Wikipedia tells me Masakatsu Funaki is the co-founder of Pancrase (a Japanese mixed martial arts competition where Ken Shamrock and others did their “shootfighting” before the UFC existed) and considered one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time. And when we meet our main character Mitch Madsen, played by Sam Bottoms (MERCENARY II: THICK AND THIN, SHERRYBABY) it definitely seems like this is gonna be one of those movies where you root for the villain more than the hero.
Madsen is a washed up alcoholic mercenary who receives a letter saying he can’t get the liver transplant he needs, then moments later a creepy bald giant in a suit and sunglasses shows up at his door talking about a clone research firm hiring him for a job. Madsen must be hard up for work, because after baldie falls into a pit and starts his pitch over verbatim like a skipping record it cuts to the two in a car together. For me personally if I catch somebody in a boobytrap and find out they’re some kind of a clone or robot I usually don’t accept their job offer. But that might be kind of prejudiced, I’m not sure. It’s how I was raised. This is supposed to be in the near future, maybe Madsen is of a more enlightened generation I guess.
So he’s hired by a team of clone researchers who are being targeted by ex-colleague Morita and his pet ninja clone. Once Madsen gets almost killed by the ninja he’s ready to give the gig up, but they promise if he kills the ninja they’ll let him keep the liver. They’ll even throw in the transplant operation, they’re all surgeons and they like doing favors like that for people. Not a bad deal.
Madsen is a really funny character because he’s so much less awesome than he’s obviously trying to be. He has lines like “Great town. Shit town,” and “Waddya say, killer? Time to boogie?,” and he grunts them in a forced Clint Eastwood one-liner type of voice. When he first faces the ninja he somehow knows his name is Takeru, but says, “Bring it on Tocca-roo. I’m right here, baby.”
He’s the type of guy who addresses male scientists as “Doc” and female ones as “Dollface.” He also tries to define himself as someone who prefers something other than what is being discussed at the moment. For example when the scientists show him a cloned chicken he says, “More of a steak man, myself,” and when they tell him the ninja has a sword he says, “I prefer guns myself.” His hair looks like a comfortable home for a rat, and he does kind of seem like he’s been through the ringer a couple times, but he still comes off like a poser because he places way too much faith in the grittiness of of the phrase “god damn.” He talks about a “god damn killing machine” more than once, as well as a “god damn monster” and a “god damn merchant of destruction” and “your god damn weapons.” When (SPOILER) the ninja offers him his liver Madsen says, “I don’t want your god damn liver. I want your help. I wanna take Hillier down – and that god damn killing clone!”
And why does he want to do that? Well, because “It’s god damn justice!”
He makes it sound so corny I might have to swear off using the Lord’s name in vain. I prefer “motherfuckin” myself.
On the other hand this guy has a legitimately cool set-up when it comes to weaponry. When Pat Morita (who by the way has his hair sticking about a foot straight out from the back of his head, and only appears in a few scenes) steals Madsen’s gun, Madsen pulls out a detonator and blows it up in his hand. Later Madsen is at a bar tended by Fred Williamson and asks for “something stronger,” at which point Fred brings him into a back room and shows him a bunch of high tech weaponry. In other words The Hammer is both his bartender and his Q.
But meanwhile Takeru the god damn killing clone has a subplot that slowly takes over the movie. First there’s what could be a throwaway joke where a hooker is pulling on a thread hanging off her stockings and he cuts it for her with his sword. Later the same hooker (named Sasha and played by Cassandra Grae) takes him in and gives him stitches (she is highly skilled so I hope she gets good tips), and he ends up beating up her pimp and taking her with him.
I know wire work is considered as out of fashion as Zubaz pants in the 2000s, but I don’t got a problem with it and I like how they use it in this one. There’s a great shot of Takeru holding the hooker, jumping out a third story window and landing gently on his feet in front of a bunch of witnesses. Usually he’s not the one hooked to the wires, though. They use them to give him super powered strikes, making his targets fly against a wall or flip through the air.
Sasha is one of the least convincing street people you can imagine, she’s just way too soft and clean. She looks like a pretty kindergarten teacher, not a troubled individual whose traumatic past and current addictions have forced her to degrade herself. On the other hand she does have nipple rings. But I was glad they didn’t give her some silly backstory to explain why she was a ho, like she needed the money to buy new reading books for her kindergarteners or whatever. She’s a real nice lady who tries to teach Takeru not to be a killer despite his “obedience string,” something that is quite compelling to him even if it doesn’t do him on the roof like Sasha does.
This storyline reminds me alot of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, and there’s another thing that’s just like UNIVERSAL SOLDIER III: UNFINISHED BUSINESS where one of the scientists is developing a cloned super-warrior by combing genetic profiles of various types of soldiers and athletes. An ultimate fighter, if you will. He starts out as a little kid who can beat up the old bald giant. At the end of the movie he matures into famous mixed martial artist Bas Rutten.
This brings me to why I watched this movie. Some people have an addictive personality in their genetics, and they just gotta realize it. My friends, I am confessing to you that I have recently developed an MMA problem. This is not something that’s been going on for very long. I mean I’ve experimented before, I’ve dabble recreationally, which is not a good idea for someone like me.
During my pre-Expendables marathon I checked out a couple Randy Couture fights. And I had just seen PREDATORS so I found a couple Oleg Taktarovs too. I’d also just seen THE A-TEAM so I watched some Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. And I saw an Andrei Arlovsky on one of the DVDs, that’s the guy from UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION. And a couple Gina Caranos to get ready for HAYWIRE. You can see how this just snowballs out of control, man. I started to get a taste for it, I started to enjoy the spectacle of it and become interested in the evolution of this type of fighting, from the early days when nobody knew what would happen if you had boxers and karate experts and sumo wrestlers fighting each other.
I watched the early UFC VHSs, when it was still a tournament, like in the movies. The winner had to win 3 grueling fights in one day. There were no weight classes, and not many rules. You were allowed to head butt. You were allowed to pull hair. Action movie fans are always speculating about who could beat up who, and these tournaments actually gave us some insight. It turns out a regular sized kickboxer really could beat up a 6′ 8″ 650+ pound sumo champion if he got behind him and kept punching him in the back of the head. But he’d break his hand doing it and have to drop out of the tournament.
What I don’t think they expected back then was how the fighters would learn from each other’s styles and have to completely change their approach in order to compete. At first it was the grapplers who dominated, especially Brazilian Jiujitsu fighter Royce Gracie (whose brother started UFC, but I think he would’ve won anyway). A knockout punch or kick is great, but it’s hard to get one in before this guy gets you to the ground and chokes you or nearly snaps your arm or leg. So the punchers and kickers had to learn how to grapple, which forced the grapplers to learn how to punch and kick, creating a whole new class of fighter, not as powerful as the god damn killing clone, but pretty god damn powerful.
Well I was at a place in my life where I was vulnerable so I ended up binging on UFCs, a little bit of EliteXC, and I knew I was in deep when I rented the box set of Pride FC 1-5. Pride is some Japanese shit, started by a pro-wrestler because he wanted to fight a Gracie. He did and got his ass kicked. In later ones he got better and even had me jumping out of my seat in shock when he beat Mark “The Hammer” Coleman, but the internet tells me those fights were fixed. And now I understand REDBELT a little better.
The rules of these early Pride competitions are weird and lead to some bizarrely bad fights. They use a regular boxing or pro wrestling type of ring, but they’re not allowed to grab onto the ropes. And of course people do it anyway and they’re not disqualified, so it just seems like a bad idea to have the ropes at all. The strangest part is when the fighters wrestle and go too far under the ropes. They have to hold that pose while 3 or 4 officials lift them up and carry them to the middle of the ring! Mark Kerr (the guy from the John Hyams documentary THE SMASHING MACHINE) seems to have especially bad luck for weird fights. In his first Pride fight his opponent got disqualified before any fighting really happened, so Kerr took the microphone and humbly apologized to the crowd. In another one his opponent seemed scared and kept running out of the ring over and over again, like Andy Kaufman vs. Jerry Lawler.
And in those early days there were no time limits, just unlimited ten minute rounds, which leads to long, uneventful fights where both sides are just trying to outlast the other guy. The saving grace is the English language color commentary by two guys who are so unflinchingly honest and critical of the boring fights that I started to hope for bad matches just to see what they’d say. Sometimes they’ll say “Maybe it’s time to tell a joke,” or discuss a topic I have always wondered about myself: if the guy on the bottom ever considers tickling the guy on top to escape. I enjoyed their conversations so much I started to just leave the DVDs on in the background and not even watch the fights.
The commenters are “Fight Professor” Stephen Quadros, who trained DMX to fight for EXIT WOUNDS, but sounds so much like Anderson Cooper that I just picture that’s who I’m listening to. His partner is Bas Rutten, a tough as nails fighter I’ve seen on UFC and also in THE SMASHING MACHINE, and just made the connection that he was getting laughed at a while back when clips of his street fighting instructional video were on Youtube. He says he never did tickle a guy in a fight but did consider it. His combination of toughness and humor made me think he would make a good future Expendable.
Some people, especially in the smarmy non-action-fan movie writing circles, question why a Bas Rutten or a Randy Couture should go from fighting to being a movie star. What they’re not taking into account is that we who like these types of movies are open to, say, a bodybuilder turned star of many classic action movies. We’re fans of Seagal and Van Damme and people like that, whose reputations in the early days were based on legends of martial arts experience. Most of us didn’t really know what it meant to read that so-and-so was a third-degree black belt in such and such or champion of whatever kickboxing, but it sounded pretty badass when we read it somewhere, repeated from a press release.
These days it’s different, because that shit’s verifiable. There are numerous guys like Bas Rutten who have spent years in competitions not that much different from the fictional ones we saw in BLOODSPORT and KICKBOXER. And you can watch alot of it on DVD or youtube:
So although there hasn’t been a stand-out MMA-turned-actor vehicle yet I’m convinced there will be eventually, and Rutten would be one good candidate for it. In ’04 he starred in THE ELIMINATOR, which looks pretty shitty and I couldn’t find it for rent anyway. His first IMDb credit is as “Kismet” in a ’92 movie called SHADOW OF THE DRAGON (also an alternate title for this one). Although his SHADOW FURY character has the same name it doesn’t seem to be a sequel at all – no overlapping filmatists, characters or concepts. He just strikes people as a Kismet, I guess.
Well, SHADOW FURY doesn’t show us Rutten’s sense of humor. He just plays a terminator with no lines. He does get a good rematch against Funaki (who beat him in Pancrase), and also gets to shoot a chicken. But the jury’s still out on whether his unique appeal can translate to the big screen. Still, I’m glad he found an entertaining movie to be in. It’s definitely more exciting than that endless match between Dan Severn and Kimo.
So here I thought I discovered a good obscure chopsocky that nobody ever heard of, but when I went to find a picture for this review I typed “shadow fu” into Google Images and “shadow fury kismet” popped up as a popular search. I was surprised that other people were looking for pictures of Bas Rutten’s character in SHADOW FURY. Maybe they were trying to figure out this SHADOW OF THE DRAGON vs. SHADOW FURY business too.
But for some reason when you type that in you don’t get pictures of Bas Rutten, you get, uh… well, this is what I got. The shirtless meathead kid we all know from the ads for Twilight. At first I thought it was just one of those things, everything on the internet is about Twilight now, so no matter what you type into Google Images, whether it’s “banana cream pie recipe” or “carburetor choke” you’re gonna get a bunch of pictures of dudes from Twilight.
But then I realized oh, wait a minute. I knew there was something familiar about that squinty eyed little sprout doing the karate. The clone that grows up into Bas Rutten is that kid, Sharkboy. It’s his first movie. So my obscure Sam Bottoms vs. ninja clone movie is not actually as unknown as I thought it was, it’s one that all Twilight trekkies (or “Twikkies”) already know about. I bet this thing has taken on a whole new life, it probly rents and sells very well because of him, and I’m just the latest to jump on the bandwagon.
In the end, Mitch Madsen has gone through alot. We can tell, because he has a pony tail. He’s still pouring himself shots (at a ninja’s grave!) but he says “I still drink the good stuff. But I savor it.” I don’t know if I want to look at this dude as any sort of a role model, and my hair’s not long enough for a ponytail anyway. But if he’s genuinely got the drinking under control then good for him. I’m gonna have to start “savoring” some of this UFC so I can get some work done.
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.